BEMIDJI - Following a rough 6-21 season in 2011, the Bemidji State volleyball team might have its work cut out for it in 2012. At least, that's what the NSIC coaches think.
The Beavers were ranked No. 13 in the 2012 preseason poll, released Thursday.
BSU finished 12th in the 14-team conference last season with an NSIC record of 3-17. And now that the conference has two more teams, coaches expect the Beavers to finish similarly this season.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, defending Division-II national champions Concordia-St. Paul are overwhelming favorites to win the conference this season. The Golden Bears have won five straight national titles and return three AVCA All-Americans, including Kayla Koenecke, the coaches' choice for Preseason Player of the Year.
Although Bemidji State doesn't rank highly in the poll, garnering 59 points, the Beavers do have one key element on their side: Experience. There were only two seniors on last year's squad, which meant a lot of playing time for the underclassmen.
This year's squad is led by outside hitter Bethany Thompson, one of two seniors on the roster and one of the NSIC's preseason players to watch.
Thompson started all 28 matches for the Beavers in 2011 and tallied 294 kills on 949 total attacks, which led the team. She recorded 245 digs. She led the team in kills, total attacks, kills/set, and points/set.
Sophomore Rachel Craig, the 2011-12 BSU Athletics Newcomer of the Year, also returns for the Beavers. Craig, a middle blocker, started in all 28 games and led the team in hitting percentage in blocking.
In all, the Beavers have seven sophomores on the team - most of whom have experience - and no juniors.
Minnesota Duluth finished in second in the coaches poll as they edge out Southwest Minnesota State by two points, 202 to 200. However, the Mustangs received the other first place vote. Wayne State (183) and Minnesota State (166) rounded out the top five in the poll.
Preseason Coaches' Poll Points
1. Concordia-St. Paul (15) 225
2. Minnesota Duluth 202
3. Southwest Minnesota State (1) 200
4. Wayne State 183
5. Minnesota State 166
6. Augustana 151
7. MSU Moorhead 146
8. Winona State 125
9. Northern State 101
10. Upper Iowa 95
11. Minnesota, Crookston 81
12. St. Cloud State 77
13. Bemidji State 59
14. Sioux Falls 41
T15. U-Mary 34
T15. Minot State 34
Kakatolis joins coaching staff
Also Thursday, Bemidji State announced the addidition of Elaina Kakatolis as assistant coach to the Beavers' volleyball staff.
Kakatolis played Division 1 volleyball at Ball State and was a graduate assistant at D-I Northwestern State.
The addition of an assistant at BSU is due to an NCAA Grant for Advancement of Monitory Women. BSU was one of 18 schools around the country selected for the grant of assuring two-years of matching funds for a new coaching position.