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Bemidji State's Melissa McNeely hammers down a spike over Northern State's Megan Gilbraith (1) during the second set of Friday's match at BSU Gymnasium. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State volleyball team hopes to make playoff run

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Bemidji State volleyball team hopes to make playoff run
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Bemidji State volleyball team is playing with more confidence this season.

And that showed Friday night as the Beavers defeated Northern State 3-0 behind set scores of 25-13, 25-21 and 25-20 at BSU Gymnasium.

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"I think we've finally come together as a team to play with the confidence and fight we know we can play with," Bemidji State junior Brie Groskreutz said. "When we played Northern State earlier on the road, we lost and didn't play our greatest. This time, we wanted to play well in our house and show how good we can play."

The win improved Bemidji State to 8-14 overall and 5-6 in NSIC play. Bemidji State wraps up weekend play Saturday at BSU Gymnasium against U-Mary at 3 p.m.

In Friday night's game, Laura Slinger, Nicole Olson and Courtney Bitter led the offense with eight kills each. Bethany Thompson and Melissa McNeely each had five.

Bitter set the offense for much of the night with 30 set assists and had a team-high three aces.

Samantha Hertaus had a team high 14 digs and Groskreutz had 13 digs.

"I think we played composed and in control the whole game," Bemidji State head coach Laurie Bitter said. "The second set has given us some problems this year and it was good to have composure. We've had problems being up and down. Tonight we were consistent in all three games."

Bemidji State entered weekend play in eighth place in the conference standings with nine games left to play.

The top eight teams in the NCAA Central Region at the end of the year qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

The Beavers are not ranked in the region, but a strong run down the home stretch could propel the Beavers into a playoff position.

"Right now, we're right there and it's going to be a fight all the way down to the end," Groskreutz said. "I think there is potential there for wins down the stretch ... everyone on the team is just more athletic this year and us juniors on the team really want to turn the program around. We have the talent to make the playoffs."

Just the thought of Bemidji State and the playoffs shows the steps forward the volleyball team has taken this year.The Beavers finished in second to last place last season with a 3-17 record and ended the year 7-25 overall.

"We're just playing a lot better this year and we're just playing confident," Bitter said. "We have different kids in here who play with better control and we're really a lot more athletic."

The NSIC is home to the best teams in NCAA Division II volleyball in two-time defending national champ and current No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul, No. 10 Mankato, No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 15 Southwest Minnesota State.

The Beavers have played seven matches against ranked opponents so far this season. While BSU has not won any of those matches, the Beavers have taken three of those matches to five sets.

Against Concordia-St. Paul last weekend, Bemidji State took a set from the Golden Bears. The Beavers are the only team in the NSIC this season to win a set against Concordia and one of only three teams this season to take Concordia to four sets.That was part of a four-game road trip, one of the longest this season for BSU.

Now, the Beavers are home for five of the next nine games to finish the season.

"This is so nice to be back and we all have been looking forward so much to getting back here," Groskreutz said. "It feels nice to be back in our house."

estromgren@bemidjipioneer.com

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