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WOMEN'S SOCCER: Emma Mortensen leading mental health advocacy for undefeated Beavers

Bemidji State senior Emma Mortensen has partnered this year with The Hidden Opponent, a non-profit organization focused on the mental health of collegiate student-athletes.

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Bemidji State senior Emma Mortensen has partnered this year with The Hidden Opponent, a non-profit organization focused on the mental health of collegiate student-athletes. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)
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Emma Mortensen’s gone through it herself. She’s seen her teammates go through it. She’s watched her loved ones go through it.

But there’s no elephant in the room here. Mortensen is addressing it head-on.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” Mortensen said. “I just always want to be there for others and make sure they know they’re loved and cared for and supported.”

Mortensen doesn’t just wear the captain’s armband for the Bemidji State women’s soccer team. The fifth-year senior is also a “campus captain” for The Hidden Opponent, an organization “all about student-athletes’ mental health,” as Mortensen puts it.

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Bemidji State senior Emma Mortensen (4) stops an attack from Southwest Minnesota State during an Oct. 22, 2021, game at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

Mortensen’s own experiences at BSU have given her a passion that aligns with such a mission statement. And she isn’t shying away from them.

“Actually, it was soccer,” she said. “My junior year, I had to redshirt for medical reasons. It was super hard.”

As the Beavers enjoyed the encore to the greatest season in program history, Mortensen sat injured on the bench in 2019. She was absent from the lineup, and that affected more than just Bemidji State’s chances on the pitch.

“Injuries are really tough, because you’re sitting on the sidelines and you’re not always in the role you want to be for your team,” Mortensen said. “You get down on yourself. You lose your own role as a person.”

But the story didn’t end there.

Mortensen returned from her injury in more ways than one. Not only was she healthy enough to play, her mental state elevated, as well.

“Ever since then, I sought help and did all of that,” she said. “Then I wanted to be the grounds for my teammates and support them in that way, too.”

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New team, common cause

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The Beavers huddle during warmups before a game against Southwest Minnesota State on Oct. 22, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

Since returning to the field, Mortensen has played every match in BSU’s 16-0-2 unbeaten streak. The Apple Valley native anchors a backline that surrenders just 0.73 goals per game -- second-best in the NSIC -- and has the program up to No. 6 in the country.

But just as important as her Beavers are impressive, Mortensen has championed change within the Bemidji State athletic community.

“With my own experience at BSU and seeing my teammates go through it, I wanted to be a part of (The Hidden Opponent),” Mortensen said. “I thought it was really important to have some representation from the organization at BSU. It’s an issue that’s always relevant.”

The Hidden Opponent is an accredited non-profit focused on raising awareness and addressing the stigma surrounding mental health within sports culture. The female-led organization was founded by former University of Southern California volleyball player Victoria Garrick and has a presence from Division I to NAIA.

Among the NSIC, Concordia-St. Paul has campus captains in women’s soccer player Sarah Golemme and football player Davaris Cheeks. Minot State has women’s basketball player Calli Delsman leading its chapter.

And Bemidji State has Emma Mortensen.

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“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” said Bemidji State senior Emma Mortensen. “I just always want to be there for others and make sure they know they’re loved and cared for and supported.” (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

“I’ve become super passionate about mental health,” said Mortensen, who joined The Hidden Opponent prior to the 2021-22 school year. “It’s important, especially as a senior, to not just be involved on the field but also off. I’ve always made it a priority to make sure I’m involved in my teammates' lives and know what’s going on.”

When soccer season ends, Mortensen hopes to continue working with BSU’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee to set up events. In the meantime, she’s been able to share information with her team and help provide resources to those who need it.

So, yes, she’s going to address the elephant in the room.

“Like I said before, it’s just as important as physical health,” Mortensen said. “That’s what’s key about mental health nowadays: You have to erase that stigma. Just make it known that it’s OK to seek help.”

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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