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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Tori Bott finds new purpose through sports after losing basketball, childhood friend

Tori Bott, the Bemidji State women’s basketball senior who has lost far too much this year, remains drawn to the game she loves.

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Bemidji State's Tori Bott (13) watches a play develop during a game against Winona State on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2022, at the BSU Gymnasium.
BSU photo
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BEMIDJI — Basketball is good for the soul.

That’s why Tori Bott, the Bemidji State women’s basketball senior who has lost far too much this year, remains drawn to the game she loves.

“Yes, I want to be playing, but there’s so much more to basketball than being on the court,” Bott said. “I had to let go of that on-court fantasy… but it made it a little easier because I’m not letting go of the part that means the most to me.”

Bott has battled injuries her whole BSU career, but that came to a head in November when she faced a career-ending shoulder injury. Far worse than that, her childhood friend Chloe Hietala died at 20 years old in September.

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Chloe Hietala, a childhood friend of Bemidji State senior Tori Bott, died on Sept. 12, 2022, at the age of 20.
Contributed

Bott intended to dedicate this season to Hietala, who was a volleyball player at Crown College, only to lose out on that chance. Or so she thought.

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“I wanted to do these things and dedicate them to Chloe. Have her live through me,” Bott said. “With the injury, I can’t really do that now, but there are so many other ways where I can do those things, even if it’s not playing.

“I think about that almost every day: I can live for her and still be a part of college athletics for somebody who can’t anymore.”

Discovering a new direction

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Childhood friends, from left, Chloe Hietala, Grace Hietala and Tori Bott grew up together in Two Harbors.
Contributed

When Bott was running around Two Harbors in her youth, she and best friend Grace Hietala were joined at the hip.

Chloe Hietala often tagged along.

“She was always like that little sister I never had, following us around like the annoying little sister,” Bott said. “As we got older, she developed more into a really close friend. I got to be a part of her life, and she got to be a part of mine thankfully.”

Bott and Grace Hietala graduated high school in 2019, while Grace’s little sister Chloe was a year behind in 2020. Bott shipped off to Bemidji State and waited patiently on the bench for three seasons as a veteran lineup played above her.

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Bemidji State's Tori Bott warms up before an NSIC Tournament quarterfinal game against Concordia-St. Paul on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer

Bott saw her window arriving in 2022-23 when that core left the program. But Oct. 28 became an eerily unfortunate day on the calendar.

On Oct. 28, 2021, Bott dislocated her shoulder. It came completely out of its socket, and she tore her labrum. She rehabbed the injury and was able to practice by the end of the season, but lingering problems persisted over the offseason. She tore her labrum again on Oct. 28, 2022, sidelining her once more.

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About a month later, after meeting with her surgeon who explained the extent of the damage, Bott reached the conclusion that it was time to hang it up for good.

“In the beginning, I didn’t really deal with it,” she said. “I kind of pushed it to the side, pretending like it wasn’t happening and obviously not wanting it to be true. I have been in the program -- this is my fourth year -- waiting for an opportunity.”

She hasn’t had a fully healthy season in her four years at BSU. But Bott was adamant: “I wouldn't change any of it.”

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Bemidji State's Tori Bott, second from left, cheers with teammates on the bench during an NSIC Tournament quarterfinal game against Concordia-St. Paul on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer

Bott finds value in the long road trips with dear teammates. She finds it every time she cries from laughter in the locker room and in the relationships she’s forged with those in and around the program.

“It’s so much bigger than basketball,” she said. “The environment that Bemidji State basketball has created, it’s unreal. The people are so uplifting and so supportive. So many of them expressed to me, ‘Tori, we still want you around.’ I’m super thankful that I get to be in that role for the team.”

She’s present at practice and remains active on the bench. She does it because of her love for the sport and in honor of a late friend. After all, basketball is good for the soul.

“I can still be the kind of person that I want to be,” Bott said. “Chloe can’t be a part of a team and can’t feel that love from the team anymore, (so I’m) being the teammate she would’ve wanted me to be.”

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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