(Pictured: Anna Tobias, UMD)
We only have 5 games left in the NSIC season and there is so much left to play for. #11 Bemidji State finally overtook Minot at the top of the conference standings, while Mankato has found their form and has made their way back to a #25 national ranking in the recent Coaches Poll and 2nd place in the NSIC. The top 8 squads will qualify for the Conference tournament and there are 5 Minnesota schools with a chance at making the cut. We've also got UMD on a win streak, St Cloud playing a nightmare roadtrip, and a chase for the National Golden Boot with Jenny Vetter and Sarah Wendt.
Race for the Conference Tournament
There are two big things to keep an eye on in regards to the postseason tournament, who will make the final 8, and who will take the top seed and therefore, the right to host the final rounds at home. You'd be hard pressed to make a good prediction on either at the moment, given the tight race at the top and for the last few playoff spots. Here's how the standings shake out right now with 5 games to play:
1. Bemidji State - 26 points (8-0-2)
2. Mankato - 25 points (8-1-1)
3. Minot State - 25 points (8-1-1)
4. Augustana - 23 points (7-1-2)
5. Mary - 20 points (6-3-1)
6. Concordia St Paul - 19 points (6-3-1)
7. Northern State - 15 points (4-3-3)
8. Wayne State - 14 points (4-4-2)
9. Upper Iowa - 12 points (4-6)
10. St Cloud State - 11 points (3-4-2)
11. Winona State - 10 points (3-6-1)
12. Sioux Falls - 9 points (2-5-3)
13. Southwest MN State - 7 points (2-7-1)
14. UMD - 7 points (2-7-1)
15. Minnesota Crookston - 3 points (1-8)
16. MSU Moorhead - 0 points (0-10)
We can probably assume (sorry coaches, don't want to jynx you) that Bemidji, Mankato, Minot, Augustana, Mary and Concordia will make the tournament, given the 7+ point lead that they hold on Upper Iowa who is the closest competitor. Barring a big collapse, all of those 6 teams will likely play in the tournament. The final two spots will be fiercely contested, with 6 teams in contention and multiple matchups between them in the final 5 games. Northern State and Wayne State hold the last playoff positions now but both play St Cloud away this weekend, who hopes to climb up from 10th along with Winona who currently sit in 11th with 10 points.
As for the top spot, a lot of it will come down to how Minot handles both Bemidji(Oct 31) and Mankato(Oct 22) at home. Bemidji plays 4 of their last 5 at home with the lone road trip being at Minot, while Mankato 4 of their last 5 away (including Minot and Mary) before ending at Concordia St Paul. It looks like we are in for a photo finish with plenty of (freely streamable) games that will come down to the last weekend. On paper it looks like Bemidji may have the easier end of the schedule, but the games are won on grass (hopefully not snow), so you better tune in to find out.
UMD gets first wins back to back
It can be clique but true to say a teams record may not reflect their overall ability. UMD might just buy into that as they picked up their first two wins of the season. Prior to their 4-0 win at Crookston on October 10, UMD had 1 goal losses to #11 Bemidji State, U of Mary, SW MN State, Upper Iowa and Rockhurst. They turned the corner with the 4-0 win where all 4 scorers were recording their first goal. All they did as an encore was bus down to St Paul for an upset win over the Concordia Golden Bears. Nothing like 16 hours of driving to snag 6 points. Freshman Anna Tobias recorded the game winning goal against Concordia and earned the cover photo above as a result!
Jenny Vetter and Sara Wendt: Chase for the Golden Boot
I have no idea if the nation's leading scorer gets a Golden Boot, as is customary with pro and international soccer, but if they don't, we may have to make an investment. Both Sara Wendt of Bemidji and Jenny Vetter of Mankato are currently sitting on 14 goals, tied for 5th in the country. The 1st place scorer has 16 currently, and I see no reason that Jenny or Sara can't end the season on top. While both players would no doubt stress the overall team dynamic that brings them their goals, it nevertheless tends to come down to them in the clutch. One thing both Vetter and Wendt already lead the nation in is Game Winning Goals, with 6 a piece. Both will be extremely motivated to lead their teams to a #1 seed in the NSIC Tournament and ultimately, a NCAA Tournament run.
St Cloud goes through fire, looks to rally into top 8
In the middle of October St Cloud State got the toughest road trip double in the league (although Augustana may have something to say about it), away at Bemidji, away at Mankato. After a tough 3-0 loss at Bemidji on October 10, they traveled to Mankato and almost held out for a point in a tough 1-0 loss. All they had to do two days after that is play at Sea Foam stadium against a formidable Concordia squad. The good news is, the Huskies arguably still control their own destiny. They start with a crucial 3 game stand at home against Augustana (Oct 22), Wayne State (Oct 24) and Northern State (Oct 29). If they can somehow win two of those games against 3 squads currently ahead of them, they will feel great going into the last two games. You'd have to think they need at least 4 points in that stand to stay alive going into the last 3 games, which are all winnable. St Cloud ends with games at Moorhead (Oct 31), at Crookston (Nov 2), and at home against UMD (Nov 5). I'm a sucker for an underdog so I'm saying Equal Time guest Joc Martinez and co will snag a tournament bid.
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