BEMIDJI -- Most fans couldn’t help but notice Katie Alto during Lumberjack games. But hardly any saw what went on behind the scenes.

“No one necessarily sees the time I put into each sport and how many hours I practice the little things,” she said. “Now, that’s actually gotten noticed. Everything I’ve done to get to where I am now has paid off.”

Alto, named Bemidji High School’s Female Athlete of the Year on Wednesday, has poured extra hours into her craft in order to be the best competitor she can be. That’s often meant arriving early or staying late at practices, as well as using her free weekends for even more training.

“At first, my parents would get mad at me because they’d have to pick me up and they’d wonder where I’m at,” Alto said. “(Eventually) they knew that I’d want to stay an hour or two after practice each day.”

But she doesn’t do it for show, as her soccer coach attests.

“(The extra work) is being done when people aren’t watching, which makes it more special,” BHS girls soccer head coach Logan Larsen said. “She helped create a better atmosphere for the whole team despite being the player that never really did anything for attention or for stats.”

Alto’s motivation has instead been rooted in a lead-by-example mentality. Outside of practice, her training has consisted of running, agility drills and lifting weights, and her commitment was an above-and-beyond sacrifice for the sake of her teams.

“If I’m out there working hard, it’ll push my teammates to get better and make our team better,” Alto said. “If you’re not working hard, someone else is. … So I just keep pushing myself.”

Bemidji High School senior Katie Alto (17) battles for the ball in a September 2019 game against Hillcrest Lutheran at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji High School senior Katie Alto (17) battles for the ball in a September 2019 game against Hillcrest Lutheran at Bemidji Middle School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Some special moments have come from Alto’s level of dedication. Her favorite was during her sophomore season of soccer, when she scored the game-winning goal from 35 yards out in the Section 8A semifinals. Those heroics kickstarted a current run of three straight section championships.

Alto’s work ethic has produced success on the basketball court, too. She highlighted this year’s Section 8-3A championship appearance, the program’s first in 10 years, because it was the latest step in “breaking through that next barrier and letting the girls behind us follow what we did.”

Alto first debuted on the soccer pitch in eighth grade. As she developed from a role player and into a starting force, Larsen quickly rewarded her relentless motor with playing time. And soon enough, Alto was an integral piece of a formidable defensive core.

“She’s been huge since her freshman year,” Larsen said. “Everybody wants to win, so it’s all those extra steps for that one little thing that gives a player an advantage. In overtime, when someone still has gas in the tank and everyone else doesn’t, I think that’s when her work ethic really shines.”

Alto didn’t have the chance to return to track and field this spring, a season canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, but she will still walk away with an appreciation of the opportunity she’s had to represent her hometown.

“It’s been amazing, the whole atmosphere and culture of Bemidji athletics,” she said. “Having everyone support you is special. (So is) having all the younger kids coming to watch the games and knowing you’re a role model for them because they will soon have a Bemidji Lumberjack jersey on.”