BEMIDJI — Mid-September may as well be centuries ago.
The Bemidji State women’s soccer team probably aged just as much from Sept. 16-18, when the Beavers faced perhaps their toughest pill to swallow all year. They lost control of the NSIC standings when Minnesota State scored a 90th-minute equalizer for a dissatisfying draw, and then Concordia-St. Paul dealt BSU its first regular season home loss since 2016.
For this program? A foreign feeling, to say the least.
“It was a reality check,” senior defender Emily Baurr said. “Anyone can beat us on any given day. We’re not guaranteed a win.”
Bemidji State licked its wounds after that weekend, going back to the drawing board in some regards. But the Beavers haven’t lost ever since, and they’re riding a current 16-match unbeaten streak all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
“Credit to them. There wasn’t a lot of finger pointing,” BSU head coach Jim Stone said. “They were resilient and bought into the message that I brought. I think that’s ultimately why we were able to grow and get to where we’re at now.”
Last year’s run to the Sweet 16 — the first in Bemidji State history — was the culmination of a season where almost everything went right. But the return trip means even more, Baurr said.
“Everything last year kind of fell into place for us,” she said. “We obviously worked for it, but I feel like this year, we worked a little more for it.”
The Beavers gutted through a stretch where goals were in high demand and hard to come by. They made progress offensively and managed to place second in the league. And they shifted their primary focus to the NSIC Tournament, something the program had never won.
Seven weeks after the low point in the season, BSU raised the NSIC Tournament championship trophy. Seven days after that, Bemidji State had its most dominant weekend in the team’s NCAA Tournament history.
“Everybody has a lot of heart and a lot of passion,” senior forward Lexi Larson said. “I feel like we’re put together all around — forwards, defense and midfield. We’re all coming together really well.”
The Beavers have flipped their early-season woes into a late-season surge. The selection committee rewarded their conference crown with a No. 2 seed — and the right to host the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history.
The Beavers proved they were peaking with a 3-0 win over Central Oklahoma in the first round. And Bemidji State’s 4-2 overtime win over No. 12 Minnesota State in the second round avenged that sour regular season letdown against the rival Mavericks.
Now this weekend, BSU will host the third and fourth rounds for the first time ever.
The No. 24 Beavers (16-2-5) will meet fourth-seeded Emporia State at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at a snowy Chet Anderson Stadium in the Central Region championship. The Hornets (13-6-4) knocked off top-seeded Central Missouri in the second round — which ironically afforded Bemidji State the opportunity to host this weekend as the region’s top remaining seed.
Friday’s winner will play either Ferris State or No. 5 Grand Valley State — the two-time defending national champion — in the national quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Chet.
“Everybody really wants to go as far as we possibly can,” Larson said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to make it as far as we did last year. Hopefully, we can make it even further.”
BSU is 72-13-5 all-time at Chet Anderson Stadium, and the cold conditions will likely add an extra layer to the home-field advantage.
The national semifinals and finals are on Dec. 1 and Dec. 3 in Seattle, meaning this is the last weekend of soccer in Bemidji no matter how things go. But the Beavers sure have an idea of how it should play out.
“This is a regional championship. This isn’t just a game,” Stone said of Friday’s match. “There are only eight regions in the entire country, and we’re in the Central Region championship. We couldn’t be more excited. You dream about championships.
“(Last Sunday) was an incredible experience, and there was unbelievable celebration in that moment. … But it’s less like, ‘Hey, we’ve arrived,’ and more like, ‘There’s a lot more out there for us.’”
Bemidji State made a significant impact on the stats page over the weekend. Here are a few noteworthy feats from its first two NCAA Tournament games of the year.