Baraga, FU hoops ace was always in motion

BARAGA – An opposing coach once described her as “almost impossible” to slow down.

But Beth Koski’s greatest attribute may have been that she was always in perpetual motion.

Northland College skipper Ron Robinson described Koski’s style after a 2003 game versus Finlandia University.

“She (Koski) is such a complete player that you have to try to keep the ball away from her as much as possible,” Robinson noted. “She’s almost impossible to contain.”

The Baraga native frustrated many opponents during a four-year career at Baraga High School and a similar span at Finlandia.

And while she had a solid (All-U.P. and all-league) career at Baraga, she was even more outstanding at Finlandia.

Her career total of 1,687 points easily stands as the standard for the Lions, and she was named Most Valuable Player at the 2004 USCAA Finals held in Portland, Maine.

The Steve Nordstrom-coached Lions ended up winning the tournament as Koski totaled 30, 38 and 21 points.

“Beth more or less willed us to winning the tournament,” Nordstrom said afterward. “She was just outstanding against some pretty stiff competition.”

In semifinal and final overtime wins against Keynote College and Arkansas Baptist, Koski received a big boost from teammates Sarah Bennett, Trista Wills and former L’Anse High standout Brooke Sirard.

“Brooke (Sirard) really gave us a boost underneath,” Koski recalled recently. “She used her size (6-foot-2) against some girls who could really jump.”

Sirard, who averaged an unheard of triple-double in her senior season at LHS with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks per game, transferred to Michigan Tech the following year. Knee injuries ended her career prematurely.

Dennis Ruuspakka, who coached Koski in high school, said she was the kind of player a coach dreams of coaching.

“She was the first player at practice … and the last … to leave,” Ruuspakka said. “She always gave you 110 percent, just a complete player who played at both ends of the court.”

Growing up in a family where sports was a dominant subject didn’t hurt. Her father, Russ, was a standout at Baraga High and a top independent basketball player, and several of her brothers were also stars at BHS in football and basketball.

“There was never any doubt about how important sports was in our family,” she said.

Mike Williams was her first coach at Finlandia and he immediately recognized her work ethic.

“She was a a gym rat in the truest sense,” said Williams, now an assistant at Saginaw Valley State. “She plays the game of basketball every day of the year.”

In games against Division II rivals Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan University in her senior season, Koski accounted for 23 points and 14 rebounds versus the Huskies and 29 points and 15 rebounds against the Wildcats.

After graduating from FU, Beth took a job as a math teacher at the Baraga Middle School.

She and her husband, former Calumet hockey standout Matt Helminen, are raising two young sons in Hancock.

“But most of the talk in this household centers around hockey,” she said with a laugh.

She played in the recent Negaunee Invitational Tournament with former Tech players Sarah Stream, Elizabeth Pietila and Kim Cameron as well as sister-in-law Shannon Helminen. The team finished as the runner-up.

The women’s division at the event was won by a team led by ex-NMU star and Baraga High girls’ coach Mariah Dunham.