Bethel University women’s soccer program was picked to finish last in the MIAC in the preseason polls and have now locked up a spot in the playoffs.
By Conrad Engstrom
The buzzer sounded on Halloween of 2015, and the season for Bethel women’s soccer was over. The scoreboard that afternoon read 2-0 in favor of Macalester College. The Royals record last year: 3-15. Their conference record: 0-11. The total amount of goals scored in conference play: two.
A year later, the Royals find themselves at the top of MIAC standings. They broke the school record for conference wins. They clinched a spot in the MIAC playoffs. And with key players being young it seems like this is something that could last. How did it all happen?
Coach Amanda Maxwell has seen the team grow up right before her eyes. Coming into the 2016 season with eleven newcomers on the roster, she was not going to promise anything to anyone.
“During our first meeting as a team, they said they were going to have to cut girls,” freshman goalie Dylan Melby said. “We were surprised and we were all trying our best because we knew no spot was guaranteed.”
Melby is a freshman on the soccer team, one of two freshman goalies to enter the program this year. Melby started in every game this season and has impressed a broader audience, winning MIAC Player of the Week in early October.
Pre-season practice felt different from previous years, according to senior forward Mikayla Nordin. During conditioning tests at the start of the season, players that had already passed the test would run alongside the women that had not yet completed it.
“That is one thing that is cool about our team,” Melby said. “We do it all together.”
“It was cool because you felt like you were running as a team inside of trying to beat someone else,” sophomore forward Maggie Sipe said.
Sipe is another newcomer, a transfer from Wisconsin Eau-Claire. She wanted to be closer to the city, and Bethel seemed like the best fit for her. Sipe has been one of the key contributors to the Royals this season. She leads the team in both goals and assists, and her 26 points on the season makes her fourth in the MIAC. She, like Melby, was awarded MIAC Player of the Week this season.
“She is a fantastic dribbler and creator,” Maxwell said. “It’s fun to see her open up other players by the work she does with the ball. Each game, she continues to grow in confidence and has been a great addition.”
The Royals played nationally ranked Augustana College for the first game of the season. They played tough and stuck with Augustana the entire game. They would end up dropping their opener 1-0 on a penalty kick, but inside the locker room after the game Coach Maxwell remembers that she was very proud of the way the team played.
After a tie in their second game against North Central College, the Royals rattled off a ten-game winning streak and took the MIAC by storm.
“The mental toughness and focus of losing last year has helped to set us up for a different type of success this year,” Maxwell said.
Nordin has been on the team since they won six conference games in 2014, a school record at the time. Nordin is one of only six upperclassman on the team and one of the three seniors. Her 23 points on the season rank her second on the team and fifth in the MIAC.
“Since her freshman year she has continued to get stronger and more confident in going towards (the) goal,” Maxwell said. “It’s so fun to see her have success in that way this year as she has been 120 percent committed to Bethel soccer.”
Nordin feeds off of the energy from the young freshman and has seen much change in the team’s playing this year.
“The big difference from last year is that people are playing for each other, and it shows all over the field,” Nordin said. “In the past it was just people playing as individuals and trying to make themselves stand out. But this year everyone is willing to sacrifice for each other.”
After the ten-game winning streak, the Royals dropped their next three against some of the MIAC top teams. They bounced back to win their next two games and clinch a spot in the MIAC playoffs and a chance to make the national tournament.