WOMEN’S SOCCER: The swan song of Allyson Smith, the veteran behind Bemidji State’s national ascent
Not long ago, the Bemidji State women’s soccer team hadn’t established its tradition of conference championships and NCAA Tournaments. But ever since the arrival of Allyson Smith, it’s more habit than happenstance.
BEMIDJI -- Not long ago, the Bemidji State women’s soccer team hadn’t established its tradition of conference championships and NCAA Tournaments.
But ever since the arrival of Allyson Smith, it’s more habit than happenstance.
“I came in when the program was on the rise, and ever since, we’ve gotten better and better,” Smith said. “It shows that, when you love something and put in hard work, you’re rewarded. And this program is a reward.”
As the Beavers searched for a new crop of recruits, they found Smith already playing in their own backyard. Then a headlining attacker for Brainerd, Smith terrorized Bemidji High School whenever she came to town.
It was here, at Chet Anderson Stadium, where Smith first drew the interest of her future coaches. On a sunny Saturday in September 2015, the junior forward had three assists for the Warriors and played herself onto BSU’s radar.
Half a decade later, she’s been playing for the Beavers longer than anybody else on the team. She’s experienced the highs of championship seasons and all-conference awards, and the lows of missing a season due to blood clots in her lungs and another due to the pandemic.
But now -- standing on six years’ worth of blue-collar work -- Smith is the common denominator of the program’s greatest era.
She’s not done yet -- still awaiting one more postseason run -- but Smith has long cemented her legacy as one of the best and most integral players in Bemidji State history.
“We’ve gotten over the hump and gone from good to great,” BSU head coach Jim Stone said. “Obviously there are a couple other mountains to climb here, but Ally’s been a huge piece of that. She’s led us in many ways to some of those summit moments.”
Embracing her true curtain call
This isn’t the first time that Smith has been in her final season. She was content to hang it up at the end of last year, foregoing an extra year of eligibility offered by a COVID-19 waiver.
She was ready to move on from school, to start her teaching career. But ultimately, Smith said, “the decision was easy.”
“How can you leave a program like this if you don’t have to?” she reasoned. “Come back, play soccer one more year, be with your best friends, be in a great program. It worked out school-wise. It was actually easy in the end.”
Smith is now a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in teaching. In the meantime, she’s schooled plenty of opponents on the pitch.
She zips around in neon yellow cleats, impossible to miss until you’re trying to slow her down. She motors around the attacking third and pounces when the moment’s right.
“She’s a great athlete,” Stone said. “That jumps out when you’re around her, just her first couple steps and the way she can strike a ball. But, really, what sets her apart is her mentality and her work rate. She’s a pretty positive thinker. She’s resilient, and she’s onto the next play. She’s very coachable. She just has great energy and a great work rate. You couple all those things together, and you get a great player.”
Smith has 32 goals and 29 assists in her Bemidji State career, numbers that respectively rank fifth and tied for first in program history. Fellow forward Sara Wendt has 44 goals of her own, which ranks second all-time, while forward Erin Becker is nearing the top 10 in assists and is the Beavers’ primary option for penalty kicks. Wendt and Becker have played in 85 career matches, a program record, and Smith is close behind with 82 appearances.
Those three veterans will be vital to the attack as BSU enters postseason play.
“There are quite a few of us older girls who have been here before, and we know what it takes to go play well. And we want to go far this year,” Smith said. “This year, I really feel that this is it. This is all I have left. So I’m going to pour out every single thing I have in me.”
Bemidji State will enter into the NSIC Tournament as the No. 2 seed and host seventh-seeded U-Mary in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
“All of a sudden, you get this second wind,” Stone said of the playoffs. “You get energized. It’s like new life gets breathed into you. There’s excitement and enthusiasm, and you hope to harness it.”
For Smith, that means going out with a bang in both the NSIC and NCAA Tournaments. But regardless of how her career ends, it’s been one well lived in Beaver green and white.
“I’m very proud of this program and where we’ve taken it,” Smith said. “I know, when I leave, it’s in a good spot. I know the people coming in and (Stone) will continue to make it grow. I’m excited to see what they can do in the future off of what we’ve built here.”