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Bemidji State volleyball team is young but experienced

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BEMIDJI – Youth and experience are not always synonymous.

Take the Bemidji State University volleyball team. The Beavers’ 14-player roster contains only two upperclassmen in senior Rachel Thompson and junior Halee Staskivige.

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One might see 12 sophomores and freshmen on that roster and assume the worst – they’re young and untested.

Only one of those statements would be correct.

“In this league (the NSIC), you tend to age quickly,” BSU head coach Wayne Chadwick said.

Coaches picked the Beavers to finish 13th in a league that features five-time defending national champions Concordia-St. Paul as well as perennial top-25 teams Southwest Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth and Wayne State. All four are in the preseason top 25 this year, along with Minnesota State-Mankato.

The Beavers aren’t necessarily miffed at being picked in the lower half of the league – after all, it’s one of the best in the nation. They just think they might surprise some people.

“Hopefully we will prove the NSIC wrong and finish better than 13th,” Bethany Thompson said. “We’re always shooting for top half. I mean, in this league it’s tough. But we think we’ll have a better record this year.”

BSU finished 6-22 overall last season and 3-17 in the league. The Beavers took their lumps last year, for sure. But the positive is that all of the players got a chance to take their lumps. Of the six sophomores on this year’s roster, all of them saw plenty of playing time a year ago. Five started a match at some point last season.

“We’ve got a roster of 14, and 12 are freshmen or sophomores,” Chadwick said. “I prefer to think of it as a roster of 14, with eight who were here last year. We’ve got a core group returning.”

Thompson highlights that group as the lone senior. The outside hitter led the team in kills, total attacks, kills per set and points per set.

Also returning is sophomore Rachel Craig who was named the BSU athletic department’s Newcomer of the Year as a freshman for 2011-12.

Chadwick said those two, along with sophomore setter Courtney Volkman, will be key to the Beavers’ success this year.

Chelsea Frison, a middle blocker from Whitewater, Wis., and Courtney Fox, a defensive specialist from Hutchinson, are a pair of freshmen who could make an immediate impact.

Chadwick is counting on Thompson, Craig and Volkman to help the youngsters get acclimated on and off the court.

“Our biggest thing we’re trying to do is move the program forward,” he said. “This is the toughest league in the country. It’s more of the same again this year. Against the top teams, it’s about being mentally strong. Playing our game and doing what we do.”

One of the major issues last season was allowing opponents to make long scoring runs which effectively knocked BSU out of the game before it began. That needs to stop this year.

“They get a point on the sideout, let’s not let them get four points on the serve,” Chadwick said. “Let’s limit them to two points on serve at most. As long as we can limit team’s runs, we can be pretty competitive.”

Part of that, though, is mental.

“We’re the underdogs for a lot of the teams here,” Thompson said. “That’s almost better for us mentally, because we can just go in and give it all we’ve got.”

The Beavers open the season next weekend. A trip to Pittsburg, Kan., to play in the Pittsburg State Gorilla Classic will be a good test for a team trying to move up in the conference standings.

“We’re just trying to win games and upset some teams,” Volkman said. “That’s pretty much what we’re going for right now.

“We can’t really worry too much about being intimidated, we’ve just got to do our best and keep playing.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. 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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