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WOMEN’S SOCCER: 16-match unbeaten streak has Bemidji State back in Sweet 16

Mid-September represented a low point for a Bemidji State team struggling to score and struggling to win. But the Beavers haven’t lost since, and they’re riding a current 16-match unbeaten streak all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

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The Beavers celebrate after freshman Katrina Barthelt scored during the second half against Northern State on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- Mid-September may as well be centuries ago.

The Bemidji State women’s soccer team probably aged just as much from Sept. 16-18, when the Beavers faced perhaps their toughest pill to swallow all year. They lost control of the NSIC standings when Minnesota State scored a 90th-minute equalizer for a dissatisfying draw, and then Concordia-St. Paul dealt BSU its first regular season home loss since 2016.

For this program? A foreign feeling, to say the least.

“It was a reality check,” senior defender Emily Baurr said. “Anyone can beat us on any given day. We’re not guaranteed a win.”

Bemidji State licked its wounds after that weekend, going back to the drawing board in some regards. But the Beavers haven’t lost ever since, and they’re riding a current 16-match unbeaten streak all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

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Bemidji State senior Emily Baurr (7) takes a throw-in during the first half against Minot State on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“Credit to them. There wasn’t a lot of finger pointing,” BSU head coach Jim Stone said. “They were resilient and bought into the message that I brought. I think that’s ultimately why we were able to grow and get to where we’re at now.”

Last year’s run to the Sweet 16 -- the first in Bemidji State history -- was the culmination of a season where almost everything went right. But the return trip means even more, Baurr said.

“Everything last year kind of fell into place for us,” she said. “We obviously worked for it, but I feel like this year, we worked a little more for it.”

The Beavers gutted through a stretch where goals were in high demand and hard to come by. They made progress offensively and managed to place second in the league. And they shifted their primary focus to the NSIC Tournament, something the program had never won.

Seven weeks after the low point in the season, BSU raised the NSIC Tournament championship trophy. Seven days after that, Bemidji State had its most dominant weekend in the team’s NCAA Tournament history.

“Everybody has a lot of heart and a lot of passion,” senior forward Lexi Larson said. “I feel like we’re put together all around -- forwards, defense and midfield. We’re all coming together really well.”

Peaking at tournament time

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The Beavers raise the NSIC Tournament championship trophy after defeating Minot State 2-0 on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Mankato.
Courtesy / SPX Sports

The Beavers have flipped their early-season woes into a late-season surge. The selection committee rewarded their conference crown with a No. 2 seed -- and the right to host the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history.

The Beavers proved they were peaking with a 3-0 win over Central Oklahoma in the first round. And Bemidji State’s 4-2 overtime win over No. 12 Minnesota State in the second round avenged that sour regular season letdown against the rival Mavericks.

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Now this weekend, BSU will host the third and fourth rounds for the first time ever.

The No. 24 Beavers (16-2-5) will meet fourth-seeded Emporia State at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at a snowy Chet Anderson Stadium in the Central Region championship. The Hornets (13-6-4) knocked off top-seeded Central Missouri in the second round -- which ironically afforded Bemidji State the opportunity to host this weekend as the region’s top remaining seed.

Friday’s winner will play either Ferris State or No. 5 Grand Valley State -- the two-time defending national champion -- in the national quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Chet.

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Bemidji State senior Lexi Larson (31) moves the ball during the first half in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Everybody really wants to go as far as we possibly can,” Larson said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to make it as far as we did last year. Hopefully, we can make it even further.”

BSU is 72-13-5 all-time at Chet Anderson Stadium, and the cold conditions will likely add an extra layer to the home-field advantage.

The national semifinals and finals are on Dec. 1 and Dec. 3 in Seattle, meaning this is the last weekend of soccer in Bemidji no matter how things go. But the Beavers sure have an idea of how it should play out.

“This is a regional championship. This isn’t just a game,” Stone said of Friday’s match. “There are only eight regions in the entire country, and we’re in the Central Region championship. We couldn’t be more excited. You dream about championships.

“(Last Sunday) was an incredible experience, and there was unbelievable celebration in that moment. … But it’s less like, ‘Hey, we’ve arrived,’ and more like, ‘There’s a lot more out there for us.’”

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A weekend for the stats

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Bemidji State fifth-year Sara Wendt (14) controls the ball during the second half against Central Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Bemidji State made a significant impact on the stats page over the weekend. Here are a few noteworthy feats from its first two NCAA Tournament games of the year.

  • BSU more than doubled its all-time goal output in the NCAA Tournament. The Beavers had five goals in six NCAA Tournament games coming into 2022; they have seven goals in two games so far this year.
  • Bemidji State’s four goals on Sunday were a program high in an NCAA Tournament game.
  • BSU never had more than two different goal scorers in an NCAA Tournament game until doing it in both games so far this year.
  • Sara Wendt has a goal in four straight games, tied for the longest such streak of her career. Her 48 career goals are one shy of tying Rachael Norton for the most in Bemidji State history.
  • Allyson Smith has scored in three of the Beavers’ four NCAA Tournament wins all time. She has a program-high four goals, plus an assist, in BSU's eight postseason games.
  • On Sunday, Maria Stocke became the first player in program history to score in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. She's tied with Sara Wendt and Halle Peterson for the second-most NCAA Tournament goals in program history (2). Wendt and Peterson have both of their goals this year.
  • Maggie Cade is the first player in Bemidji State history with multiple assists in NCAA Tournament play. She's gotten both of her helpers this season.
  • Before conceding the first goal to Minnesota State in the 26th minute on Sunday, the Beavers established a new program record with a 753-minute shutout streak.
  • BSU is now 4-2-2 in NCAA Tournament history while outscoring opponents 12-9.
Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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