BEMIDJI -- Sure, the Bemidji State women’s soccer team plugged the pandemic gap with exhibitions, scrimmages and even a brief spring season. But it certainly doesn’t compare to the real thing.

“Last spring, we were pretty fortunate to get some games. But this is the real deal now,” senior captain Allyson Smith said. “I’m just excited because we have some talent on this team. We could go pretty far if we put our head down and go to work.”

The Beavers are back to establishing themselves as one of the top-tier teams in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, something they didn’t get to do when the league canceled the 2020 season. Undoubtedly, BSU is thankful to be back on the pitch with a full season on the horizon.

“We’ve been waiting a long time,” fellow senior captain Megan Dahl said. “It was really hard to get through last year with everything. But it’s super fun to be back and have big things to look forward to.”

Bemidji State is fresh off an undefeated spring, where they played three “regular season” games but didn’t have the payoff of a postseason to follow. You have to go back to November 2019 to get the latest results of a full season, which was a 12-6-1 campaign.

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Bemidji State senior Allyson Smith practices dribbling on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at BSU. (Christian Babcock / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State senior Allyson Smith practices dribbling on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at BSU. (Christian Babcock / Bemidji Pioneer)

“With COVID, it just feels like you’re coming out of a cocoon a little bit,” head coach Jim Stone said. “They’re all excited and happy to be able to have some more normal. To be able to play meaningful games, that’s what I’m excited about.”

Although the team has already topped St. Catherine in a 2-0 exhibition, the new season officially begins at 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, against North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D. After a pair of home nonconference games against Michigan Tech (Sept. 10) and Northern Michigan (Sept. 12), the NSIC schedule kicks off Sept. 17.

And that’s when the “big stuff” begins.

“Yeah, we wanted to win the whole spring, but it only meant something to us. It didn’t really mean anything to the rest of D-II soccer or anything,” Dahl said. “Now that we have a legitimate season, we have something to look forward to: the conference tournament and NCAAs, the big stuff that we want to achieve.”

Bemidji State senior Emma Mortensen passes the ball to a teammate on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at BSU. (Christian Babcock / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State senior Emma Mortensen passes the ball to a teammate on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at BSU. (Christian Babcock / Bemidji Pioneer)

The Beavers have high hopes for their 10-player freshman class -- and, really, the six sophomores on the roster haven’t yet experienced a full season, either -- so Bemidji State believes a youth movement is incoming.

“Our young talent and how they’re going to cultivate a new kind of culture for us (will surprise people),” Smith said. “I think we’re going to be one of the hardest-working teams, and we’ll have some players who come out and surprise people like, ‘Oh, who is she?’”

If all goes according to plan, BSU will blend its veteran experience and youthful spark to return to the NCAA Tournament, much like its teams from 2017 and 2018.

“I’m really excited,” Stone said. “All of the competitive juices are starting to flow, and it’s cool that (the season) sure seems like it’s going to be a reality.”