Katie Alto always had a knack for big moments.
During this year’s girls basketball Section 8-3A semifinal, the Bemidji High School senior didn’t hesitate to shoot a momentum-grabbing 3-pointer. And as I watched from the stands, I reflexively said to myself, “That’s going in.”
To no surprise, but much to the delight of the Lumberjack faithful, Alto drained the 3-pointer (and then another the next time down) to help BHS to its first section championship appearance in a decade.
That moment was perhaps an ultimately inconsequential play from the first half of a 15-point win. But it sticks out to me because it was a microcosm of the athlete Katie Alto had grown to be: reliable, clutch and more than worthy of the Lumberjack of the Year award.
Alto and fellow senior Silas Hess earned the coveted distinction of Athletes of the Year on Wednesday in a virtual awards ceremony by the high school. Normally, the awards are presented in person, coupled with the annual Hall of Fame ceremony, and given to a male and female senior.
This year’s format is obviously different, and not for the better, but that shouldn’t take away from two of the most decorated BHS athletes in recent memory.
Alto has always had a quiet demeanor about her, and she lets her game do the talking. She’s not a flashy player on the soccer pitch, instead a defensive-minded midfielder whose heavy influence doesn’t always result with her name on the scoresheet. But, in moments of need, she also stepped up and launched some of the biggest goals of the program’s Section 8A three-peat.
The parallels extended onto the basketball hardwood, where Alto established herself as a premier defender before evolving into an offensive weapon, as well. She participated in both track and field and softball during her prep career, proving that she’s equally adept no matter what sport you throw her into.
Hess, by his own admission, likes to talk a little more (and perhaps a bit too much at times). He’ll crack a smile and tell you as much, but, like Alto, he nearly always gets the job done when it counts.
He raced through the soccer record books and became the most accomplished goal producer in program history. He had six goals and four assists during a dream playoff run to the 2018 Class A state championship game, and he exits as a part of the winningest class in program history.
In basketball, his relentless hustle and sharp facilitating made the Lumberjacks a better team, and he was integral to the program breaking a 34-year state tournament drought. If not for a pandemic, he might have aided the tennis team to its first section title this spring, as well.
Both have been cornerstone pieces to some of the most successful eras in their sports, soccer in particular. And, boy, were they fun to watch.
Character, meanwhile, is also a qualifier for the Athlete of the Year award. Alto and Hess both have it in spades.
My job is great because I watch sports for a living. But, more than that, it affords me the opportunity to get to know athletes and coaches as people. I don’t always attain a first-name basis with every person I’ve covered, but, thankfully, I now know these two as Katie and Si.
When the recorder is off, when there’s no story to write and when I can just shoot the breeze with an athlete because we’ve built a relationship over several years -- that’s the most rewarding part of the job.
No, Katie Alto and Silas Hess weren’t recognized the way they deserved. A pandemic stole that from them, but it hasn’t stolen an appropriate honor for two of the best I’ve witnessed during my time in Bemidji.
Both are off to Division II soccer next fall; Alto will attend Concordia-St. Paul, while Hess will be at Colorado Christian alongside his twin brother, Ben.
But even as they depart, both have done enough in Lumberjack uniforms for fans, years down the road, to reminisce, “Remember when…?”