Bemidji St. volleyball team determined to build a winning tradition
Most of the Bemidji State volleyball players were gasping for air in the stuffy BSU Gymnasium during the last two-a-day practice session Saturday afternoon.
A large fan gave little relief to the team and some of the players hobbled out of the gym at the end after what amounted to 35 combined hours of practice this week.
And the team would have been happy to stay a little longer.
"It's funny because earlier this week when we were in the locker room I heard someone say that they didn't want practice to end," Bemidji State senior co-captain Brie Groskreutz said. "That really hasn't happened before."
The excitement among the players is part of a new attitude the Beavers hope to bring to the court this fall under first-year coach Wayne Chadwick.
Chadwick was hired earlier this summer and replaces Laurie Bitter, who coached BSU for three years.
He was an assistant coach at Division I Tulsa and though the transition is early for the players and coach, Groskreutz said the team already has respect for Chadwick.
"He's really amazing," senior Nicole Olson said. "We want to work really hard for him. He pushes us to do more in practice and we like to push back for him."
The Beavers will need to keep the upbeat attitude as it begins another season in the tough Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Bemidji State was picked to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the NSIC Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing 11-20 overall (8-12 NSIC) last season. The 11 wins were the most wins by BSU since 2003.
"It's tough for me to say where we're at right now because I'm new and I have no basis of comparison," Chadwick said. "What I do know is that the conference is brutal ... I am happy with who we have on our team and all the effort, energy and excitement the girls have brought this week."
Chadwick said he wants BSU volleyball to place in the top half of the NSIC every year. It is a challenge with three-time defending national champion and No. 1 nationally ranked Concordia-St. Paul on the schedule along with No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 15 Southwest Minnesota State, No. 17 Wayne State and No. 18 Minnesota State, Mankato.
"We want to start a new tradition here," Chadwick said. "There's nothing out there that says Bemidji State can't be in the top half of the conference every year. If you get to that point year in and year out it means you have a solid program. I don't know if we're going to be able to do it this year, but we're going to at least lay the foundation so the girls can understand my systems and my terminology. Hopefully we can get there."
The players have bought into Chadwick's mentality.
"Winning is good, but it's not the most important thing for us," Olson said. "It's really about how we feel. If we play great in a game and we don't win, we can't get too down on ourselves. We want to be happy with how we play."
Olson was named an NSIC player to watch in the preseason poll and will be back to lead the offense again this year after pacing the Beavers with 239 kills last season.
"I've been very impressed with her," Chadwick said. "Nicole is athletic and a big, strong kid. We're going to have to have good ball control and be better at passing to keep her in the offense."
Chadwick also likes what Groskretuz brings to the table in defensive ability and her platforming skill of bumping the ball with her arms locked together. He compared that skill to an All-American honorable mention player he coached at Tulsa last season.
Junior Jessi-Beth McCannell will likely step into the setter's role this year. She will take over Courtney Bitter's position after the former Bemidji High School star transferred to North Dakota in the offseason.
Junior Melissa McNeely and senior co-captain Nicole Solum will help provide the offense up front with Olson.
Solum had one of the highlights of Saturday's practice. With a taped leg, Solumn displayed her spiking power by leaping at the net and driving the ball into the face of one of her teammates.
It was one of those 'wow' moments that drew a smile from everyone on the court.
Then the focus quickly turned back to the fundamentals and formations of Chadwick's new systems.
"Everyone gets along so well on this team and I think we're all playing at a high skill level," Solum said. "We need to finish in the top half of the league this year. We know if we work hard we can do it."