BEMIDJI – Just get it to Tiff.
That’s been something of a motto for the young players on the Bemidji State soccer team this season.
The Beavers, off to a 3-2-1 start, knew having 12 freshmen and eight sophomores on the squad would give them lots of talent with little playing experience.
But luckily for those youngsters, Tiffany VanHaaften is back and better than ever.
“She’s an amazing player,” freshman midfielder Emily Olson said of her partner in the middle of the field.
“It’s always comforting to have her there in the middle. Whenever in doubt, pass it to Tiff.”
Olson and the rest of her teammates are lucky to have VanHaaften back after last season. The midfielder tore her ACL in a preseason scrimmage last year, forcing her to sit out the entire season and take a redshirt.
“Last year I took it to heart and followed in one of my old teammates’ footsteps (Analey Skog, who had a similar injury),” VanHaaften said. “I just kinda worked hard and tried to be smart and be really fit.”
It was the second ACL injury she’s suffered in her short collegiate career. She suffered an injury to the other knee midway through her freshman season.
This time, she was determined to be back in time for what would have been her senior year (although she’ll get an extra year of eligibility with the redshirt).
“I definitely thought I’d be back,” she said. “They say for ACLs it takes about a year to be fully back and ready to go. And it’s been about a year now. So I knew I’d be ready; it’s just a matter of mentally getting over the scare of having it again.”
For now, it seems like nothing can faze VanHaaften. She’s leading the Beavers in goals scored, is tied for the team lead in assists and already has two game-winning goals.
BSU head coach Jim Stone expected her to come back, but said he maybe didn’t expect her to be playing like her old self this quickly.
“We envisioned her to serve as that leader and hoped she’d be playing back at the high level,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say she surprised us. We’re mostly excited about how fast it happened.
“To have two reconstructed knees and to be playing at the level she’s playing right now says a lot. I think she’s one of the best players in our conference right now.”
VanHaaften is on the NSIC top-10 leaderboard in all the aforementioned categories.
Against Michigan Tech, VanHaaften scored in overtime to lift the Beavers over the Huskies 3-2. But she said she just got lucky – Megan Castro took a shot that just missed hitting the post.
“It bounced right to my head, so I can’t take too much credit,” she said. “I just finished it off.”
VanHaaften also scored the game-winner against Minnesota-Crookston and helped fuel a comeback against Concordia-St. Paul.
The Beavers rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the Golden Bears in overtime.
While the Chaska native is happy to be scoring, she said it doesn’t matter how the team is winning.
“I am just very competitive,” VanHaaften said. “I want to contribute as a player, but as long as we are playing well as a team and winning, I’m happy.
“And just so far it has happened to be me scoring,” she added with a laugh. “But it doesn’t matter to me.”
Stone sees her helping out with more than just scoring.
“Just the way she battles in the middle of the field,” he said. “She’s allowed us to get four in the attack and take the pressure off our back line.”
Her teammates have been grateful to soak up whatever knowledge they can get.
Olson and Castro, both freshmen, have been starting at midfield along with VanHaaften. Olson said she’s already seen how much the veteran has helped them.
“She’s definitely a leader for us,” Olson said. “Especially for the freshmen this year. I can always count on her to tell me what to do on the field, where to go.
“She’s just a great role model.”
VanHaaften, likewise, is happy to teach.
“Emily has been playing side by side with me, and we’ve been playing well together,” she said. “It’s been really easy. Megan’s also been great. She’s really great on the ball and knows how to get those through balls.
“Really, we have a lot of freshman and sophomores playing all over the field, but they’re all making a difference.”
BSU is currently 1-1-1 in the conference following the overtime draw against Concordia and a 5-0 loss at MSU-Mankato. But the Beavers are still right in the thick of the conference race.
They return home for a pair of games this weekend, against Wayne State and Augustana.
“Our goal is to get a home game for the playoffs,” VanHaaften said. “We didn’t get one last year and lost in the first round. This weekend will define us.
“We come out with two victories and our confidence will definitely be boosted.”