Dec. 1—BEMIDJI — Before every game, a Sharpie gets passed around the Bemidji State women's soccer locker room.
It started with maybe six games left in the regular season. The origins are a little foggy, but the tradition is now iron-clad: One by one, players take the permanent marker and write their source of motivation on their skin.
"It's fun because no one said, 'Hey, you have to write this on your hand,'" senior Emma Mortensen said. "Everyone just did it."
It's up to each player what they inscribe. Some write words, some make drawings and others use symbols.
"It's very individualized," Mortensen said. "Some people have what they play for, like crosses. Some people have a little box, like you check the box (after a win) and move onto the next."
The movement wasn't necessarily planned, but rather one that sprouted organically. It stemmed from the coaching staff's push to motivate the team toward the regular season conference championship. The Beavers clinched that title with a closing six-game win streak and have now reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
"I write 'confidence' and 'grit,'" senior Isabelle Morin said. "The whole team does it now, and it's fun. It's a whole pregame ritual that everyone's gotten into.
"Everyone's words are different, but the meaning is all the same. It's something that motivates you to be your best on the field."
Mortensen draws a cross on her hand, the same as Miah Olson and Alyssa Stumbaugh, because "it's the bigger picture of who you're playing for," she said.
The Sharpie, like BSU, will travel to Allendale, Mich., this week as Bemidji State makes its latest step in pursuit of a national championship. The Beavers face Central Missouri in the Central Region championship at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 3, with a spot in Sunday's national quarterfinals on the line.
It won't be the first time BSU plays Central Missouri. The Jennies defeated Bemidji State 2-0 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and the teams met again in 2019 — a 1-0 overtime win for UCM early in the regular season.
"A lot of our roster has played Central Missouri," head coach Jim Stone said. "Even though those weren't wins... those experiences are important because they alleviate nerves a little bit, and they build confidence. It allows us to not have the David vs. Goliath mentality."
Central Missouri won the national championship in 2017. If Bemidji State wins Friday, the Beavers will likely next face Grand Valley State — the defending national champion from 2019 and a six-time champion since 2009.
No doubt, it's a gauntlet of a regional. But BSU will head in undeterred. After all, these experiences don't come around all the time.
"It's fun watching (the freshmen) experience it because when I was a freshman in '18 and we were winning the conference, it was so exciting," Morin said. "Now being a senior and experiencing it all over again, but with three years of hard work underneath it, it's a lot different. It's a little bit sweeter, but it's also fun to watch the freshmen enjoy it."
Alongside Morin and Mortensen, the team's eight seniors have led the program to unprecedented success. And it's not gone unnoticed by their coaches.
"We've had really good leadership this year, and it's created a really unique culture," Stone said. "The camaraderie is a big piece of that, but within it, there's a lot of talent. ... Those two things are why we're here right now."
No matter how far the Beavers go, this season will leave a lasting mark on them long after the Sharpie ink washes away.
"You can just tell that everyone on the field just loves each other," Morin said. "You just work a lot harder for people you care about, and that's what sets us apart."