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Bemidji State head volleyball coach Wayne Chadwick explains a drill to the Beavers during practice Wednesday at the BSU gymnasium. The Beavers finished 4-23 last season and have a group of experienced underclassmen ready to improve. JACK HITTINGER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

Bemidji State volleyball set for improvement in 2013

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BEMIDJI -- To say the 2012 season disappointed Wayne Chadwick would be an understatement.

"Had you told me at this time last year that we would have finished tied for last in the conference, I'd have laughed at you," Chadwick said. "It was pretty disappointing for all of us."

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The Bemidji State volleyball team won just two matches in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and finished with an overall record of 4-23. Nineteen times last year the Beavers were swept in straight games. At one point they lost 13 straight matches, going more than a month between wins.

In short, it was a season Rachel Craig and her teammates would soon forget.

"That was rough," the junior middle hitter from Wadena said. "It seemed like we had so many matches last year where we started well but couldn't keep it up. Or we stayed close but couldn't close the game out.

"We just never put it together, it seems like. It was frustrating."

The Beavers started practice for the 2013 season Monday and just three days in, they're already determined for at least some slight improvements on last year.

"We're looking forward to winning more matches we think we could have won last year," Craig said. "Or at least, winning a few more games. I think with our experience coming back we're going to be a lot better this season."

The Beavers did lose one pretty important piece from their 2012 squad in hitter Bethany Thompson -- Thompson was an all-NSIC second-teamer and responsible for half BSU's kills on the season.

But Thompson was the only senior on that squad and the Beavers have five juniors and five sophomores that return this season -- all 10 of whom saw at least some playing time in 2012. But perhaps most importantly, BSU's roster contains no seniors.

"That's a nice thing about the team this year," Chadwick said. "It really sets us up moving forward, especially in the next two years. This league (the NSIC) is very tough and when you have kids that know how to play in it, it's always a good thing."

Craig will be one of the more valuable pieces on the BSU offense this season, as the middle hitter led the team with 56 blocks and was second with 158 kills.

"She had a phenomenal freshman year but struggled a bit last year," Chadwick said. "That wasn't really her fault. I think she's going to be great for us this season, she developed her game a lot this offseason."

Another Wadena native, Kelsi Crawford, is the only other returner who had more than 100 kills last season.

Also back up front are junior Kristen Thingvold and sophomores Molly Monahan and Chelsea Frison.

Courtney Volkmann -- the third Wadena native on the team -- showed a lot of improvement in the offseason, according to Chadwick, and will be another important part of the offense.

He also said the team's four freshmen -- including Bemidji High School graduate Jess Yost and Fosston's Kami Vikenen -- will be expected to contribute right away. An outside, Yost is one of three freshman hitters on the team, including outside hitter Amanda Tronick and middle hitter MaKenzie Franklin.

"All three of the hitters were top-75 recruits in the state of Minnesota," Chadwick said. "They're all between 6-feet and 6-3. They'll be able to help us right away and we're adding some height right away."

Craig, a team captain, was impressed with how everybody reported to camp this season. Especially the freshmen.

"It's only three days in and everyone's already excited," she said. "The girls we have returning were all ready to help the freshmen out. But even the freshmen all came in very confident and in shape. They were ready to go.

"I think that's a good sign for the season."

Yost, who plans on playing volleyball and softball at BSU, said she was already starting to adjust to the college pace.

"I feel like the older girls who have been here before are doing a good job getting us used to the college game," she said. "I had no idea what to expect but it's been OK so far. I know we're going to be working hard this season, and we're all excited."

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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