WOMEN’S SOCCER: Beavers play with frigid fervor, win NCAA Tournament opener 3-0
With Chet Anderson Stadium peppered with fresh snow and glacial gusts of wind, Allyson Smith and the Beavers played with ice in their veins for a 3-0 win over Central Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
BEMIDJI -- Friday’s environment was the perfect ecosystem for a cold-blooded striker like Allyson Smith.
“It was a good atmosphere, and we handled it really well,” said Smith, who embraced the knee-buckling cold with open (albeit frozen) arms. “I thought it was really fun.”
With Chet Anderson Stadium peppered with fresh snow and glacial gusts of wind, the veteran Smith played with ice in her veins and lifted the No. 24 Bemidji State women’s soccer team to 3-0 win over Central Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Being able to battle through these elements, it was nice,” said Smith, who scored the game-winning goal in the 21st minute and broke a program record in the second half. “A lot of us have been here before, and it definitely played into our strengths.”
The conditions were chillingly similar to the team’s 2018 postseason, the first time that the Beavers hosted a regional in their natural habitat. The 2022 edition was almost identical in every aspect, including Smith on the scoresheet and a first-round win for BSU.
On Friday, second-seeded Bemidji State (15-2-5) delivered time and time again in similar fashion. All three goals came on corner kicks, but the balls chaotically pinged around in the 18-yard box until a Beaver corralled it and sent it to the back of the net.
Being in the right place at the right time is one thing, but there’s also a degree of unpredictability in the middle of a scrum like that.
“It’s luck,” head coach Jim Stone admitted through a laugh. “But with everything, there’s a hunger and a desire, too. It’s two-fold. This kind of weather, the ball being crisp, who knows where the ball’s going to go? But there’s a desire to get to the ball. So you’ve got to give them credit for that, for sure.”
Smith opened the scoring off a Megan Majewski corner kick. After Sara Wendt’s shot was deflected high in the air, Smith swiveled on the ball as it returned to the turf and tucked away a 1-0 lead.
Wendt found the scoresheet herself in the 49th minute. Bronchos keeper Caroline Faulkner fumbled a Maggie Cade shot as Halle Peterson converged to try a header, and the ball trickled outward for Wendt to bury.
“I just get so proud of whoever scores and whoever played the ball in,” Cade said. “It’s just an amazing feeling because we’re such a family out here, so it’s like your sister scoring. You want to run up as fast as you can to go hug them.”
They had one more chance for just that in the 87th minute, when Peterson put the decisive bow on the match. With Jordan Schaden crossing in an outswinging corner kick, Smith took hold and dished for Peterson to poke in a goal.
Smith earned the assist for the 30th of her career, which breaks the program’s all-time record of 29 helpers, originally set by Sarah Stram in 2016.
“It’s all about not shutting off on the second ball,” Smith said of those rebound opportunities, which were the difference on Friday. “Second balls are very dangerous, so we know we have to stay plugged in and get ready for any bounce that’s coming our way.”
Friday’s three goals are a spoil of riches for a defense that rarely needs more than one. Goalkeeper Alyssa Stumbaugh was dependable in making nine saves, and the Beavers have now stretched their shutout streak to a program-record 727 consecutive minutes.
BSU is also unbeaten in its past 15 matches, a testament to the group’s progress since the start of the year. Right when it matters most, Bemidji State is peaking.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t know how it was going to look,” Cade said. “But now we’re really hitting our stride. We’re all playing confident, composed, strong soccer. It’s amazing seeing where we’re at now, and I think we can be even better in the future.”
The second round of the NCAA Tournament will feature an all-NSIC showdown, as third-seeded Minnesota State will challenge the Beavers at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13, back at the Chet.
The Mavericks tied sixth-seeded Northwest Missouri State 1-1 in Friday’s opening round and prevailed 3-1 in penalty kicks.
In their lone matchup against BSU this year, Minnesota State scored a 90th-minute goal to salvage a 1-1 draw back on Sept. 16.
It’s a chance at redemption for a Bemidji State team that wanted this matchup.
“Now the focus shifts to Mankato,” Stone said. “That’s all you can do, take who’s next on the list and prepare for them. That’s what we’re going to do now. We’ll try to enjoy this tonight, but obviously that’s in the back of our minds.”
Bemidji State 3, Central Oklahoma 0
UCO 0 0 -- 0
BSU 1 2 -- 3
First half -- 1, BSU GOAL, Smith (unassisted), 21’.
Second half -- 2, BSU GOAL, Wendt (Cade), 49’; 3, BSU GOAL, Peterson (Smith) 87’.
Saves -- Stumbaugh (BSU) 9; Faulkner (UCO) 5.