Aug. 25—Many have searched for a fountain of youth.
Herodotus, a Greek historian in the fifth century BC, had one of the first accounts of the mythical fountain in the land of the Microbioans. Alexander the Great claimed to have come across a healing river of paradise a century later. King Prester John spoke of the fountain on the land he ruled in the 12th century A.D. Juan Ponce de Leon is the name most commonly linked with the fountain as he sailed with Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the new world, hoping to find it in Florida.
To this day, the fountain of youth remains a myth. However, if the people who spent their lives searching for it lived to see the 2023 Bemidji State women’s soccer team, they might start asking questions.
The Beavers’ lists of firsts from a year ago will extend to this fall. They are the defending
Central Region Tournament
champions for the first time in program history. It’s also the first taste of college ball for 12 BSU freshmen. They replace the 11 players who moved on from
2022’s historic team
“It’s a little bit of an unknown in terms of who those (new) faces will be, but we’re going to have to rely on youth at times,” head coach Jim Stone said. “Obviously, there are learning mistakes and a learning curve that comes with that territory. But there’s also that youthful exuberance. It bodes well for the future because it gives them experience as they progress through our program.”
One of the most prominent unknowns is scoring. Of the 39 goals scored by Bemidji State last fall, 27 came from departed senior, fifth-year and graduate-student players.
“There are a lot of question marks and a lot of unknowns. But the thing that we’re seeing consistency in is talent,” Stone said. “We believe there’s talent in the room. It’s just a matter of whether it’s scoring by committee or if there are a few people in that room who will step up.
“I think of girls like (sophomore) Katrina Barthelt, who can be one of those players that scores seven, eight goals in a season. … We don’t know how it’s going to work out yet, but it’ll become more clear as the season progresses.”
Even more opportunities presented themselves for new Beavers to emerge defensively. BSU lost three graduating defenders. On top of that, three underclassman players didn’t return, including and Annika Fingal, who played regular minutes during their freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively.
“We had a lot of defenders graduate, which means we have a lot of incoming girls stepping in,” fifth-year defender Halle Peterson said. “New opportunities come up for newcomers and returners. New girls will be in new roles, and it’ll be exciting. And I think it’ll be a strong backline like it always is. Coach Stone and coach (Mike) Korman are good at making us defensively sound.”
Despite a need for reinforcements, Peterson enters the season as one of the most accomplished defenders in the conference. It earned her the honor of
NSIC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
and the role of captain.
“There’s definitely pressure that comes with that,” Peterson said. “I want to come out as strong this year as I did last year and years before. Obviously, that’s something I can’t do without my teammates. They help me do my best and be my best.”
Bemidji State’s defense-first play style will bode well for junior goalkeeper Edie Frantzen. She played behind graduates Alyssa Stumbaugh and Georgiana Harbe. Frantzen made her debut during her freshman season against Minnesota State in 2021. BSU also added former Bemidji High School keeper Kiera Nelson and Ana Steadman of Little Falls.
“It’s a day-to-day evaluation,” Stone said of finding a starting goalkeeper. “Edie, our junior goalkeeper, we feel like she’s in a good place. We expect her to carry a heavy load and perform really well this year.”
There’s no doubt the 2023 Beavers are built through the midfield. Of all 11 departures from last fall, none were rostered midfielders, paving the way for an experienced group to handle more on their plate.
“I love playing with every single one of the midfielders,” fifth-year captain and midfielder Maggie Cade said. “There’s so much talent in the midfield, and all of us are different. There aren’t two girls who are exactly the same. I love being a part of it.”
“Midfield play is going to be huge for us,” Stone said. “I think we’re going to be deeper in the midfield than we’ve ever been. I think we’re going to be as talented or more talented than we’ve ever been in the midfield. I think we could see more goals coming from the midfield, but also more assists and more possession.”
For players like Peterson and Cade, there’s an itch to turn the page from last fall. Without dwelling on the bar-setting successes of 2022, new leaders have emerged as Bemidji State attempts to go a step further.
“At the end of the day, we just want to play soccer,” Cade said. “Ultimately, we just want to be the best we can be. I don’t think we feel any more or less pressure because of how well we did last year. We’re just trying to be the best team we can be.”
For the newcomers, adjusting to the collegiate game is half the battle. Building connections with unfamiliar players on and off the pitch has become paramount for the Beavers. Before practices started, BSU women’s soccer players went on a camping trip to jumpstart the bonding process.
“We got to know all of the freshmen before we were put into that soccer setting, which is kind of fun,” Peterson said. “They’re nervous, but it’s fun to see them step out of their shells. When they get to practice, you see those relationships already built. The new girls develop faster because we focus on the relationship part of becoming a team.”
One thing Bemidji State’s returners hope carries over from last season was an ability to push through a rugged stretch of games. Through the first seven matches in 2022, the Beavers held a record of 3-2-2 before finishing the season with a mark of 16-3-6.
“Last year, we had some known goal scorers in our program. But the ball wasn’t going into the net, so we had to lean on our defensive identity,” Stone said. “We’ve been pounding that this preseason. This is who we are and the foundation we want to build upon. If we defend well, and the goals aren’t coming, we can still have some success and be in a competitive position knowing that those goals are going to come later on.”
In 2018, Bemidji State came off of an 18-1-2 season — one of the best in program history that led the Beavers to a second-round exit in the NCAA Division II Soccer Tournament. BSU pushed to match its success with another younger group a year later before finishing the 2019 season 12-6-1.
This fall feels eerily similar to 2019 for Stone, who feels more equipped for another following act that begins on Sept. 1 in St. Joseph, Mo., against Missouri Western State.
“I feel like the second time you go through this, it’s a little easier to manage,” Stone continued. “You figure out how you want to deal with that, those expectations and that pressure. Our roster is pretty green, so they’re going into it with a blank canvas. Hopefully, that allows us to stay loose, laugh and giggle a little bit as we try to accomplish what we can accomplish.”