Reaching for the NSIC

Minot State soccer has already accomplished one of its season goals by claiming its first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular season title.

But coach Jason Spain believes that was only the first step toward setting up a long postseason run. The top-seeded Beavers begin the NSIC tournament at 5 p.m. today, hosting No. 8 Upper Iowa at Herb Parker Stadium. If victorious, they would host the winner of the No. 4 Augustana and No. 5 Minnesota Duluth quarterfinal matchup on Friday and would be in line to host the championship game on 1 p.m. Sunday. Minot State (15-1-1) last won the NSIC tournament in 2012 and was eliminated by Augustana in the semifinals last year.

“We’ve won this tournament before and we can win it again,” Spain said. “I know if we win it, it will lock us into hosting the NCAAs which, was a goal to be at home for that and get a first round bye. I think we’re certainly good enough to do this.”

Upper Iowa and Minot State last met on Oct. 16 at Herb Parker Stadium. The Beavers and Peacocks were scoreless at halftime, but MSU scored three second half goals to win 3-0.

“They’re going to run a 3-6-1 against us, so they’ll be the fifth team to do it to us this year,” Spain said. “All five teams made us struggle to get out of the first half, but all five games we were able to take care of the second half. Hopefully we can get a faster start than last time.”

Spain added the lack of travel will be a nice change of pace for the Beavers. Last season, Minot State — ranked No. 11 in the national polls — traveled to Mankato for a second round NSIC Tournament matchup and then turned around to travel to Warrensburg, Mo., for the NCAA Tournament. That equated to about a 1,200-mile trip.

“Going Wednesday to Sunday in Mankato and then turning around and going Wednesday to Sunday in Central Missouri, we’ve done that multiple times now,” Spain said. “Regardless of what happens, just being at home is going to take a lot less toll on our girls than years past.”

There can be no ties in the playoffs, so Spain and company have been preparing for penalty kick situations if a postseason match can’t be decided in regulation or overtime.

“We’ve been working on penalty kicks for about a month now,” Spain said. “We’re confident that our five kickers will make any kick if it comes to that point. We feel like we’re in a position to win games in overtime, and we only trailed for 3 minutes and 45 seconds all season, so I think we’ll be okay as long as we keep doing what we do.”

The seventh-year coach said he anticipates postseason opponents trying to put Minot State in that position.

“Oh, I think that’s coming. Bring it on, we’ll make five (shots),” Spain said. “And I have the best two goalkeepers in the conference. (Goalie) Leila Torres is a monster at saving penalties, I can tell you that. So if they want to get there, go ahead.”

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.