BEMIDJI -- On her left leg, Toni Bailey wears a captain’s band. On her right leg, she sports a brace. After scoring her first collegiate goal on Friday, Bailey leapt up in celebration not bound by the latter.
“I kind of just gasped for air. I was like, ‘Oh, that just happened,’” the senior midfielder said of the goal. “It took my breath away, and all my teammates just rushed to me. (They’ve been) supporting me this whole journey.”
With three ACL tears behind her, Bailey scored the final goal for the Bemidji State women’s soccer team in a 3-0 win over Wayne State at Chet Anderson Stadium. She tapped in a low cross from Emily Baurr, quickly raised her hands in celebration and jumped into the waiting arms of Kennedy Michel.
“Toni’s been through so much. She’s just a warrior,” BSU head coach Jim Stone said. “I’ve played the game for a long time. Sometimes you forget how much it takes to put into it -- mentally, emotionally, physically. She pours herself into the game and into our team, and I love her. I was just so happy for her.”
Bailey missed the majority of her senior season at Elk River High School due to her first ACL tear. The second tear came on the final day of the 2018 preseason. The third came on a freak accident six months later.
“At times, it was mentally exhausting. I really leaned on my support system,” Bailey said. “Coach was awesome, my teammates were amazing and obviously my family was there for me. I can’t thank them enough for just being there and supporting me through it all.”
But she came to a crossroads after the third injury.
“I had the option to quit soccer or to get surgery again and take the redshirt. But I didn’t feel like that was God’s plan for me,” said Bailey, who missed the entire 2018 season. “So I decided to do something that nobody really ever heard of and I put a brace on.”
The choice to bypass a third surgery led Bailey to Friday, a dominant victory for the Beavers (9-4-1, 8-2-1 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference). Erin Becker scored twice in the first 20 minutes, and Bailey added her milestone score in the 43rd.
“The team piece behind scoring is that we have to be in the right place at the right time, and then we have to rotate the ball enough to get the ball there,” Stone said. “That was one of the emphases. Can we create more crosses today, and can we have a better connection between our midfield and our forwards? I thought they did it well.”
The backline hardly let anything through, as just one hopeful shot from distance went on goal for the Wildcats (5-5-4, 5-4-2 NSIC) in the 87th minute.
“They’ve been good all year,” Stone said of his defense. “If we can eliminate that one little mistake and then attack like we did today, we’re going to be really good. Today… that mistake didn’t come out, and the shutout was the result.”
And while a 3-0 result will help in the win column, as the victory snaps a meager two-game skid, Bailey’s goal -- and what made it possible -- will likely leave a longer-lasting impression.
“I honestly think that Coach Stone has created an atmosphere at Bemidji State University where it’s your home away from home,” Bailey said. “You’re leaving your home to come to college, but you find a new Beaver family.”
And as for the goal itself, Bailey is hooked.
“It was really exciting,” she said with a smile. “I want more now.”
Bemidji State 3, Wayne State 0
WSC 0 0 -- 0
BSU 3 0 -- 3
First half -- 1, BSU GOAL, Becker (Kos, Wendt) 3’; 2, BSU GOAL, Becker (Hallock, Wendt) 20’; 3, BSU GOAL, Bailey (Baurr, French), 43’.
Second half -- No scoring.
Saves -- Riedi (BSU) 0, Harber (BSU) 1; Grisham (WSC) 0, Ott (WSC) 3.