For Jim Stone and Bemidji State University soccer, the 2017 season was 16 years in the making.
Bemidji State has made steady progress and enjoyed quiet success under Stone, who joined BSU as head coach in 2002.
Then came this year’s great leap forward. The Beavers were undefeated in regular season play, attained a No. 14 national ranking in NCAA Division II and earned their first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament.
“What happened this season was more than a goal,” said Stone, the program’s winningest coach. “I’d say it was a dream. It is something we have envisioned for a long time, so when it came full circle and we saw the fruit of our labor, it was something special.”
BSU started strong, with three straight shutout victories that stretched to an eight-game winning streak, matching a program record. In October, the Beavers entered the United Soccer Coaches NCAA rankings for the first time ever. By season’s end, the 14-0-3 Beavers were one of just four teams in all of Division II with an unbeaten record.
Though its streak ended with a semifinal loss to Augustana University in the NSIC Tournament, Bemidji State’s stellar season was good enough to earn an at-large NCAA berth, nixed in the first round by the Auggies, whom BSU had tied at home on Oct. 15.
The Beavers’ balance and depth, so evident throughout the season, were validated Nov. 2 with an unprecedented sweep of the NSIC individual awards: Rachael Norton (junior, Mounds View), Offensive Player of the Year; Catherine Arneson (senior, Fort Collins, Colo.), NSIC Goalkeeper of the Year; Miranda Famestad (senior, Sioux Falls, S.D.), Defensive Player of the Year; Allyson Smith (Brainerd), freshman of the year; and Stone, NSIC Coach of the Year.
The accolades kept coming. Norton, Arneson, Famestad and Dani Nelson, a senior from Woodbury, each won all-region honors. Famestad became just the third player in BSU soccer history to earn national postseason recognition when she was named First Team All-American by the NCAA Division II Collegiate Commissioners Association. Arneson earned a place on the CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team and joined Nelson and Famestad as United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-Americans.
Statistically speaking, Norton matched Katie Meinhardt (2003-06) for the greatest individual season in BSU history. She netted 14 goals (second all-time) to go with her 10 assists (second all-time) and 38 points. Arneson’s six shutouts placed her in a tie for third on BSU’s single-season shutouts list, while she combined with Anna Fobbe, a junior goalkeeper from St. Paul, to post a team record, finishing the 2017 season with 11 shutouts.
As successful as BSU was on the pitch, the team equaled that in the classroom, placing 13 on the NSIC All-Academic Team. Among them was Fobbe, who earned the 2017 NSIC Elite 18 Award for individuals with the highest academic standing in their respective sports.
While the Beavers will lose five strong players to graduation in May, the bar has clearly been raised.
Stone believes a talented and experienced 2018 team can reach even higher.
“Once you experience something like the NCAA Tournament, you want to experience it again,” he said. “What we do with that motivation is up to us. We want to make sure this wasn’t just a one-time thing.”