Three hundred and forty-three.

In what the Bemidji State women’s basketball program calls its most important workout of the year, members of the team did 343 reps at Chet Anderson Stadium on Friday, Sept. 11, in honor of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks.

“There’s a big meaning to every rep they’re doing. It’s a firefighter’s life,” head coach Chelsea DeVille said. “There’s that meaning, but we also preach selflessness. There’s nothing more selfless than that.”

Before the sun was up, the Beavers were. Not all players were present, as group sizes are limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Friday’s contingent consisted mostly of freshmen and seniors. Assistant coach Jamie Schultz prepared the workout for them, and, although demanding, was well worth the effort.

“My body feels tired, but I know that we did it for a good cause. It’s a good remembrance,” senior Taylor Bray said after completing the workout for the fourth time in her career. “All the girls can back me up on this when I say that, when we’re going through it, it sucks and it’s hard obviously, but it doesn’t compare at all to what the firefighters on 9/11 went through.”

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The Bemidji State women's basketball team forms a circle to complete its workout with 43 burpees to honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the Sept. 11 attacks. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
The Bemidji State women's basketball team forms a circle to complete its workout with 43 burpees to honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the Sept. 11 attacks. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Players faced combinations of sprints, pushups, burpees and more during the wee hours of the morning. Nobody would have punished them for cutting corners, which they knew going in, but the significance of this particular workout was motivation enough.

“It’s a gruesome workout. But we purposely don’t correct them for not going hard enough,” DeVille said. “Really preaching in the beginning that it’s someone’s life that you’re skipping a rep for, that’s a gut punch. That’s why it means so much.”

The team makes it enjoyable, too, dressing up in a patriotic red, white and blue theme. A few players proudly donned the letters “USA” on their garb, and sophomore Rumer Flatness sported a star-spangled hat to go with her matching mask. Despite temperatures in the 30s, freshman guard and Alaska native Lily Weimann was even in shorts and a T-shirt.

“They don’t look forward to a lot of runs on the turf, but they know this one means a lot,” DeVille said. “It puts things in perspective for that workout. I think the returners kind of look forward to this one, knowing how much it means.”

Nobody on the team has a personal connection to 9/11, according to DeVille. Freshman Amme Sheforgen was born on Sept. 10, 2001, though that’s perhaps as close as it comes. But that’s not the point.

Bemidji State senior Brooklyn Bachmann participates in a workout Friday morning to honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the Sept. 11 attacks. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State senior Brooklyn Bachmann participates in a workout Friday morning to honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the Sept. 11 attacks. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

DeVille gave a passionate speech before the workout, emphasizing the selflessness displayed by so many firefighters that day and how Bemidji State wants to embed the same principle within its own program.

“This is the best workout we do all year,” DeVille told her players. “It’s not about you, about being tired, about not wanting to do another burpee. No one cares. Every single rep today is for a firefighter who woke up 19 years ago today and was selfless.”

The annual tribute is now in its fifth year. Quite simply, it’s become a tradition.

“The older I become, the more it means to me,” Bray said. “… That’s kind of our saying that we always go through: Any time we do any drill, it’s not just women’s basketball. We’re doing it for something so much bigger than us.”

Gartner joins staff as assistant coach

After four years of playing in the program, Erica Gartner has joined the Bemidji State coaching staff as an assistant.

Gartner transitions to a coaching role from the point guard position, where she appeared in 106 career games and scored 356 career points. Her best numbers came when averaging 5.2 points over 21 minutes as a sophomore, while she most recently posted 2.0 ppg on 11 minutes a night as a senior in 2019-20.

The 2020-21 season will be BSU’s first with an all-female coaching staff since 1999-2000. The Beavers are also now one of four basketball programs in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference led entirely by women coaches, joining Concordia-St. Paul, Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota State Moorhead.

Gartner fills the vacancy left by Micheal Poncelet, who left the program after coaching for one year in 2019-20.