2009 Sports in Review: Frozen Four run highlighted Bemidji State performances
The Bemidji State men's hockey team captured the attention of the college hockey world and the heart of the national sports community with a feel-good Cinderella story of success last spring.
It was a playoff journey that started in March with an overtime victory at the College Hockey America Tournament in Bemidji and ended with a stick salute to the fans at the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C in April.
The Beavers knocked off Robert Morris in a 3-2 classic for the CHA title in front of a packed John Glas Fieldhouse and advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament as the 16th seeded team in the field of 16.
The Beavers went to the Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids, Michigan and upset second seeded Notre Dame with a 5-1 win. The Irish were a team picked by pundits to be a serious contender for the national championship.
It was a win the Wall Street Journal characterized as one of the biggest upsets ever in collegiate sports.
Bemidji State then defeated Cornell 4-1 to advance to the Frozen Four, which casted a spotlight like never before on the team, the university and the city.
It all coincided with BSU's push to ensure the long-term future of the program by becoming part of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Frozen Four fervor and community support culminated in a rally at Memorial Hall the week before the Frozen Four.
The rally was held on the day ground was broken for the Bemidji Regional Event Center, the future home of Bemidji State hockey, with ceremonies featuring hockey legends and legislative dignitaries.
BSU was defeated by Miami in the Frozen Four semifinals 4-1, but left the ice with their heads - and sticks - held high in a salute to the few thousand fans in the corner of the arena who found a way to reach D.C. to follow the Beavers in person.
It brought the entire town together for a short time in the spring and those memories the players made for themselves and the community will be remembered.
The magic of that run seemed to carry through the summer and into the fall.
The WCHA accepted Bemidji State as a member in June along with Nebraska-Omaha and the Beavers will begin play in that league in 2010.
Bemidji State did not skip a beat to start the 2009-10 season and ended the first half of the season 13-4-1.
The Beavers rose as high as No. 4 in the national rankings in a stretch that included wins over the University of Minnesota at Mariucci Arena in October and a win over No. 1 ranked Miami at the Grand Forks Holiday Tournament in November.
While the BSU men's hockey team in large part defined the 2009 sports scene in Bemidji, there were notable performances in BSU's Division II program.
The men's basketball team began the year last January by defeating nationally ranked teams in back-to-back games.
The Beavers defeated then No. 24 St. Cloud State at home and then No. 11 Northern State on the road in a double overtime thriller. That game was just one of three double-overtime plus games the Beavers played in last season.
They won a triple overtime game at Dickinson State and lost a four overtime game against Minnesota-Duluth in the final weekend of the season.
BSU finished 8-19 overall and 6-14 in an improved year and are playing well to start 2009-10 season. Through the first half of the 2009-10 campaign, the Beavers are 5-5 overall (2-2 NSIC).
The Bemidji State women's basketball team suffered through a forgettable season last year, winning just one game.
But the Beavers have turned things around in 2009 and are 8-3 overall (2-2 NSIC) heading into this weekend's conference games.
Bemidji State turned in one of the more shocking victories of the winter sports season, beating No. 11 ranked and defending national champion MSU, Mankato 80-72 on Dec. 19 at BSU Gymnasium.
The Bemidji State women's hockey team finished 6-24-4 last season and have already reached that win total in the first half of 2009-10.
Much of BSU's turnaround success can be attributed to sophomore goalie Zuzana Tomcikova, who was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association all-star team last season.
Plenty is in store for the Beavers in 2010. Tomcikova will anchor the Slovakian squad at the Vancouver Olympic games in February and BSU will play in the first outdoor women's collegiate hockey game February at the Camp Randall Classic in Madison, Wis against the Badgers.
Kristi Buerkle and Zac Preble were the stars of the Bemidji State track and field teams.
Buerkle won the conference title in the 300 meter run and set school indoor records in the 200, 300 and 400 and broke the a 22-year old outdoor school record in the 400.
She finished fourth in the 400 at the NCAA Division II Championships in May.
Preble reached the Division II Championships and took fourth in the decathlon. It capped off a strong season for the Coleraine native, who won his third straight conference decathlon title in April.
Preble was named the 2009-10 NSIC preseason indoor field athlete of the year and he holds the school and conference records in the heptathlon.
Bemidji State golfer Mitch Mackedanz became a NSIC champion in April when won the 72-hole tournament at The Jewel in Lake City.
The Beaver men's golf team would go on to compete in the NCAA Super Regional in Lincoln, Neb in May.
In September, the BSU men's golf team took first in the BSU Invite at Bemidji Town & Country Club, finishing atop the 15-team field. A few weeks later, Casey Hill led the Beavers at the St. John's Invite with a medalist finish.
The Bemidji State tennis team finished a strong season in May with Amy Erickson and Farrah Steinke placing at the conference tournament.
Erickson won the No. 6 singles title and Steinke took fourth place at No. 3 singles.
The BSU softball team finished the 2009 season with an 8-28 overall record and were 3-21 in NSIC play.
Mara Johnson was named as one of 14 NSIC Student-Athlete Award Winners and was also named to the All-NSIC second team.
The highlight for the Beavers in 2009 was returning home for a pair of games against Augustana on April 18.
It marked the first games at BSU since May, 1 2007 as the Beavers were unable to play at home in 2008 due to weather related postponements and cancellations.
The BSU baseball team finished 17-36 overall and 8-22 in NSIC play.
The team was led by Justin Huether, who appeared in every game and finished with a .331 batting average, 20 runs scored and 27 RBI. He appeared in 12 games as a pitcher.
Colton Smith led the team in RBI with 33, runs scored with 30 and was second in hits only to Huether.
The BSU soccer team finished 11-6-2 overall and 7-5-1 in NSIC play to qualify for the conference tournament in November.
Ashlee Ellefsen and Alysha Domiano had standout seasons and were named to the All-Region team and NSIC all-academic teams.
Ellefsen had 13 goals and seven assists for the Beavers in 2009. She broke school records for most career points (80), goals (32), game-winning goals (11) and tied the school record for assists in one season.
Domiano was an integral part of the defense and helped the Beavers limit opponents to 17 goals on the season, which also set a new school record. The defense recorded seven shutouts and a scoreless streak that stretched from Sept. 20-27.
The volleyball team continued improvement under third year head coach Laurie Bitter, who guided the team to an 11-20 finish in 2009. It was the most wins for a BSU volleyball team since 2003.
The BSU football team finished 8-3 overall and 7-3 in NSIC play. The Beavers challenged for a national tournament playoff spot for much of the season until the NCAA issued a penalty on BSU. The penalty stemmed from an administrative error that led the use of an ineligible player and may have cost the chance at the postseason.
Despite the sour ending, the Beavers were a success on the field in 2009 and one of the biggest surprises in the conference.
Bemidji State came off its first losing season in years and responded by winning three of its first four games of the season.
The only loss in that stretch came to No. 10 MSU, Mankato and that was a 37-34 overtime classic that BSU came out on the wrong end of.
The following week, the Beavers responded with a 24-19 win over No. 20 Winona State at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Three weeks later, the Beavers took down No. 14 Wayne State in the snow and ice at Chet Anderson Stadium.
The Beavers threatened to take down another nationally ranked team in defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth in October. But a wild ending capped off by a missed extra point with no time remaining allowed the then unbeaten No. 7 Bulldogs to escape with a 35-34 victory.
The Beavers went on to win their two final games on the road to finish with eight wins for the fifth time under head coach Jeff Tesch, who has guided the Beavers for the last 14 years.
In the 70 years prior to Tesch, BSU had just one eight win season.
Bemidji State's rushing defense was one of the best in the nation (ranked No. 7) and Jake Anderson was the leader of that group.
The senior was named to the Daktronics All-American team and led the NSIC with 10.5 sacks and ranked second on the team with 69 tackles.
Quarterback Derek Edholm and defensive end Jordan Lardinois were named to the All-NSIC first team.