The road to a state championship wasn’t paved as a perfectly groomed Interstate 29 freeway for the Fargo North Spartans women’s soccer team in 2015. The Eastern Dakota Conference underdogs were a mere afterthought and their leader, a former Bison soccer player, would need to do the impossible.
The Spartans lost their 12 senior navigators from last season, leaving two juniors at the helm to lead a trailer full of girls who’d seen limited action on the varsity pitch. And the trailer was light. The team was down in numbers, creating a unique situation for an EDC school to place five freshmen on the roster of 17. Before shifting into first gear down the uncharted trail, was the defending state champion, juggernaut Fargo Davies High School team that the Spartans would have the pleasure of playing in the first game.
As you’d suspect, it didn’t go very well. The 8-0 loss wasn’t what head coach Michelle (Martinez) Crary had envisioned for her team to begin the season, but the good news was it couldn’t get any worse.
“We basically had to reevaluate what we’d do,” Crary said while sitting in the Fargo North bleachers after the conclusion of the season. “That in itself shows you how much, not just the girls that were coming back, but the freshman had to improve in order to come back and play the way we did at the state tournament.”
The Spartans finished the regular season 10-6-2 and they earned a three-seed out of the EDC. Fargo North would pitch three-straight shutouts in the state tournament to become one of the most unlikely teams to win the state championship in recent memory.
“I know a lot of the girls, this was their ultimate goal and what they wanted to do coming into the season,” Crary said. “They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they wanted to do it. They wanted to win the championship so they were determined and they were focused.”
The second-year coach knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.
Crary came to the Bison soccer program at the beginning of the division I transition. In her first year in 2004, the Bison didn’t play a single home game and finished with a 5-11-1 record. The Bison would end the season traveling the equivalent of going from New York to Los Angeles five times.
Crary led the Bison with six goals that season and was named the team’s offensive most valuable player. But Bison fans were speculating if the move to division I was the right decision.
“You don’t really pay attention to all that other stuff during the season,” Crary remembers. “You have one job to do and you have to focus on that.”
The Bison avoided the outside noise and in 2005, the team finished with an 11-5-1 record. Crary was named to the NCAA all-Independent team and emerged as an elite goal scorer from the forward position.
In 2006, the Bison joined the temporary United Soccer Conference. They rolled through conference play entering the end of the year conference tournament. But they were upset by South Dakota State in the conference championship game 1-0.[/text_output]
[image type=”none” float=”none” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” src=”3636″ alt=”Michelle (Martinez) Crary ndsu bison women’s soccer fargo north soccer”]
[text_output]NDSU Athletics made the leap to the Summit League for all but two of its sports in 2007. The Bison had finally found a home and starting in 2009, the Bison have finished in the top four every season, making them eligible for the conference tournament.
There’s no argument the offensive expertise and leadership of Crary made the soccer team’s transition to division I easier for the program. She finished her career third on the all-time goals list with 30 and fifth with 69 points.
“It’s one of those things where if I see a game, I just want to play, I just want to get on the field and put a jersey on and play,” Crary, who still has a close relationship with NDSU assistant and former teammate Karli Kopietz, said. “I miss it and I loved every minute of it.”
Crary didn’t steer far from soccer after she graduated in 2008. During college, she helped during NDSU’s summer camps and was an assistant for the Red River Soccer Club. She then became a women’s soccer assistant coach at Davies High School when it opened its doors in 2011.
Crary was subbing at surrounding Fargo elementary schools immediately after getting her degree and married her husband Pat, who she met while at NDSU. She’s now a physical education teacher at Kennedy Elementary.
At 27 years old, Crary coached her first game for the women’s soccer team at Fargo North in 2014, and with her first title out of the way, the sky is the limit for this Winnipeg native.
When asked about following in the footsteps of her teammate Kopietz and joining the college game, Crary isn’t sure. “The traveling, the recruiting, you know, that takes a lot of time away from the family and stuff like that,” Crary said. “It wouldn’t just be my decision; it would have to be an all-family type decision.”
For now, the former Bison will keep the ship steady at Fargo North and continue chipping away at her master’s degree. With a group of returning state champions, it’s only a matter of time until the NCAA comes calling again and Crary will make her return to the collegiate pitch.[/text_output]