BSU breaking through?: After seasons of struggling, Beaver volleyball hope to show their growth this year
BEMIDJI — After four years of “banging their heads against a brick wall,” as Wayne Chadwick put it, the Bemidji State head volleyball coach is hoping this is the year the Beavers finally break through.
“I talk to coaches throughout the league, and coaches we play who say, ‘Oh man, you guys are so close,” said Chadwick, who is entering his fifth year as head coach. “It hurts after a while banging your head against that brick wall but eventually the brick wall comes down. We just have to keep plugging away. We hope we can do some good things this year.”
The Beavers started practice for the 2014 season Monday and enter the season trying to put a 14-year string of losing seasons behind them.
The Beavers haven’t had a winning record since a 22-7 season in 1999. Chadwick, who took over in 2010, has tried to reverse that trend but it’s been a struggle. BSU finished 6-22 last season, 4-24 the season before that and 6-22 again in 2011.
But this year, with four seniors — the most Chadwick has had since 2010 — and a number of experienced upperclassmen, the BSU coach thinks this could be the year.
“I wish the progress we’ve made over the past couple years was a little more obvious when it comes to wins and losses and box scores, but we have made progress,” he said. “We’re finally in the position now where we can take some more obvious steps forward. We’ve got some good balance in terms of number of players in each class. I think we’re finally in a position to make some moves.”
Last season there wasn’t a single senior on the BSU squad. The year before there was just one — all-NSIC player Bethany Thompson.
The group of underclassmen saw a lot of playing time in those two years. Now, it seems, they’re ready to climb the ladder in the always-tough Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
“We have four of us now and I don’t think you realize how much you grow as a player until you’re at the point we’re at,” said outside hitter Kelsi Crawford, one of the four seniors.
“It definitely helps having four juniors and four seniors, just experience-wise, to help everyone else with how the game runs and how to deal with stress and everything.”
Crawford, along with fellow seniors Rachel Craig, Courtney Voklmann and Elissa Christensen have seen more playing time in four years than most seniors do, simply by virtue of necessity — without upperclassmen it forces underclassmen into key roles early.
Chadwick said he’s thankful to have more maturity on the team this season — not only because the four are talented but because they can all take a leadership role that is lacking on a team with no seniors.
“It’s great when you can play young kids and get them experienced, get them up to speed, but you have to have maturity on the rest of the team to balance that out. We haven’t had a lot of that maturity until this year.”
The younger players on the team — which include two sophomores and five freshmen — also appreciate it.
“We aren’t going to be surprised by the competition that we face with them out there,” sophomore outside Jess Yost said. “With the leadership we have, if we lose a big point or something, they’re good at getting us back into it.”
Yost, a former Bemidji High School star, and fellow sophomore outside Amanda Tronick both benefitted from the extra playing time as freshmen. Yost was the team’s co-offensive MVP and led the team with 341 kills while Tronick also started every game and was second with 231 kills.
In addition to the strong outside play, BSU’s middle blocker tandem of Craig (226 kills, 17 solo blocks) and Chelsea Frison (71 blocks) should give the Beavers a strong presence up front.
Setter Volkmann was had a career-best 879 assists as a junior and will also be a big part of BSU’s offense.
“I think we’re a lot more comfortable in our roles because we’ve had that year of experience,” Tronick said.
Now, the Beavers are hoping that experience pays off — if not with a winning record, at least with some big wins and a mid-table conference finish. BSU hasn’t finished in the top half in the NSIC since 1999.
“Over my four years i feel like we’ve grown so much as a team,” Crawford said. “I feel like the progress is definitely there. We’re hoping this year is the year we can finally show what we’ve been doing.”
The Beavers begin their season Sept. 5-6 with a trip to the Keweenaw Classic at Michigan Tech. They’ll play Lake Superior State in their first game. The NSIC campaign begins Sept. 16 at home against Minnesota Crookston.