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WOMEN’S SOCCER: Bemidji State’s 3 seed the latest step in rise to national power

Bemidji State earned the No. 3 seed in the Central Region for the NCAA Tournament. But the drama-free berth to the national tourney is far from where the program has been previously.

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The Beavers celebrate after hearing their name called in the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Bemidji. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- In the early 2000s, some Bemidji State students heard a knock at their doors. Waiting for them to answer was Jim Stone, desperate to find enough players for his new team.

“I think I was hired about six weeks before the season began,” said the BSU women’s soccer head coach. “There were two failed searches, so I was like the last choice. They brought me up here, and here I am 20 years later.”

The days of ragtag rosters are long gone now. In Stone’s 20-year tenure, the Beavers have risen to a national power. The latest example of proof came Monday, when the team earned the No. 3 seed in the Central Region of the NCAA Tournament.

“To go from literally posting signs in dorms to getting to this point, it’s pretty phenomenal and pretty humbling,” Stone said. “It’s been a great journey.”

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Bemidji State head coach Jim Stone, right, is in his 20th season coaching BSU in 2021. He has over 200 career wins, placing him 46th all-time among the winningest coaches in Division II women's soccer history. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji State will face sixth-seeded Central Oklahoma in the first round at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, on a neutral pitch in Emporia, Kan. While BSU doesn’t know much yet about a new opponent residing 1,000 miles away, the Beavers are optimistic about their postseason path.

“This team, I really don’t have any words for how far we’ve come,” senior midfielder Megan French said. “We’ve all greatly improved individually and as a team. We haven’t hit our peak yet, and I’m excited to see where we can go with it.”

A program holding national championship hopes is a far cry from the program Stone inherited in 2002.

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Bemidji State senior Megan French (3) reaches the ball before Concordia-St. Paul’s Abby Kloiber (30) in the NSIC Tournament semifinals on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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That team had to forfeit its first game of the year. Finally they convinced two women’s hockey players to join -- with one of them even scoring during a 3-1 win in the season opener. But the hockey players soon returned to the ice, and the soccer team faced lopsided losses while still battling shortages on the frontlines.

“I remember one game, I hadn’t seen a kid in like two weeks,” Stone said. “Well, she shows up to pregame. And she ended up starting for us. It was an experience that I’ll never forget and one that I never want to partake in again.”

Those are certainly not days Stone misses.

“I was kind of concerned because I was only on a one-year contract,” he said. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on here?’ I was tenured where I was, too. I was thinking, ‘Did I make the right choice?’ Our (old) house hadn’t sold yet. I’m like, ‘Do I just take off and go home?’ It was a really, really stressful time.”

Stone survived his first season and even stuck around. By 2004, Bemidji State had double-digit wins for the first time ever. And the program has zero losing records since 2005, and they’ve made the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four seasons.

Oh, and as for recruiting, Stone’s not going door-to-door anymore.

“Coach played a big role in why a lot of us want to come and play here,” junior midfielder Maggie Cade said. “He is a Godly man and he treats everyone with respect and love. You know that he cares about you.”

The Central Region field

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Bemidji State junior Maggie Cade (22) heads the ball in the NSIC Tournament semifinals against Concordia-St. Paul on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Central Missouri pulled down the No. 1 field in the region, while Emporia State jumped BSU for the No. 2 seed. The Beavers (18-1-2) dropped to No. 3 after losing to Minnesota State in Sunday’s NSIC Tournament championship game .

“God has a plan for us, whatever we do accomplish,” Cade said. “We just want to make it as far as we can and do that by playing our game, trusting in ourselves and what our coaches tell us.”

The Mavericks earned the No. 4 seed as the only other NSIC team in the field. They’ll face fifth-seeded Oklahoma Baptist in the opening round. Seventh-seeded Northwest Missouri State and eighth-seeded Southwestern Oklahoma snuck in with the final two spots in the region.

Undoubtedly, the Beavers will have plenty of former players hoping to cheer them through the region.

“Our alumni are still a big part of this program,” French said. “They’re still a part of who we are today, and they’ve built the program into what it is.”

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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