The Bemidji State soccer team has a little bit less time than usual to prepare for the fast-approaching season.
That challenging task is made easier with the experience of 20 returning players from last year's playoff team and their expectations to reach the playoffs once again.
"We're a little bit behind the eight-ball this year because the NCAA changed some rules and we weren't able to get on to the practice field until just a few days ago," Bemidji State head coach Jim Stone said. "The great news is that all the girls did a really nice job of getting fit over the summer and now we can just focus on the soccer part."
The Beavers host the annual alumni game at 1 p.m. today at BSU Soccer Field. The team will then play in preseason exhibitions against St. Kate's next Tuesday at home and at Minot State next Friday.
The season opener is Sept. 3 at North Dakota and the first home game is Sept. 5 against Viterbo.
Bemidji State is coming of a superb 2009 season. The Beavers finished 11-6-1 overall (7-5-1 NSIC) and reached the NSIC playoffs.
BSU had the chance to set a new school record for wins against St. Cloud State in the NSIC playoff opener, but the Huskies rallied late and beat BSU on penalty kicks in seven rounds.
The difficult loss motivated the Beavers in the offseason according to Stone, who has guided BSU to five seasons with at least 10 wins in his eight years as head coach.
"We want to get back to the playoffs again," Stone said. "We hope we can do that."
BSU was picked to finish sixth out of 14 teams in the NSIC Preseason Coaches Poll. In that poll, senior co-captain Jaime Ford and senior goalie Samantha Ross were selected as BSU's players to watch.
Ford is back after having to medical redshirt last season following a leg injury and she likes BSU's chances to return to the playoffs in part because of the team's chemistry.
"We really have a fun group of girls and we're very eclectic," Ford said.
Senior co-captain Alysha Domiano looked at Ford and agreed with a laugh.
"We have a lot of different personalities on this team but we all seam together nicely."
Senior co-captain Ashlee Ellefsen is back following her record-breaking and all-conference season. She scored 13 goals last year and currently holds BSU's school record for career goals (32) and points (80).
"We're really deep at every position," Ellefsen said. "It's going to make it hard for coach Stone to pick the starting lineup everyday."
Ross and Domiano will help anchor the defense, which should be a team strength again this year.
Ross set the BSU record for season goals against average (0.89) last season and also set the school shutout streak record (523.07).
Along with Domiano on defense are experienced players in Domiano, Sara Dalton, Brianna Duff and Kelly Pointon.
Ellefsen and Ford will lead the offensive charge with returning players Bri Scanlan, Kara Smyth and Tiffany VanHaaften.
"The biggest thing for us this year is going to be consistency," Ford said.
BSU is expected to play an up-tempo, aggressive style by putting constant pressure around the ball carrier.
In addition to the rematch against St. Cloud State (Oct. 3), Ellefsen said the players are looking forward to games against rival Minnesota-Duluth (Oct. 22) and Winona (Sept. 25).
Winona State was picked to win the NSIC this season with nine of the 14 first-place votes in the preseason poll. The difference between second place and Bemidji State in sixth was a mere 48 points.
That means the NSIC soccer season could bring some surprises since the talent gap is so small between the teams in the top half of the conference.
"In our conference anyone can beat anyone in any given game on any given day," Domiano said. "It really does come down to who wants it more."
Aug. 21 Alumni Game 1 p.m.
Aug. 24 St. Kate's* 4 p.m.
Aug. 27 at Minot State* 7 p.m.
Sept. 3 at North Dakota 4 p.m.
Sept. 5 Viterbo 3 p.m.
Sept. 7 at UM-Crookston 4 p.m.
Sept. 18 MSU-Moorhead^ 1 p.m.
Sept. 19 UM-Crookston 1 p.m.
Sept. 25 Winona State 1 p.m.
Sept. 26 Upper Iowa 1 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Concordia-SP 4:30
Oct. 3 at St. Cloud State 3 p.m.
Oct. 9 Northern State** 1 p.m.
Oct. 10 U-Mary 1 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Wayne State 11 a.m.
Oct. 17 at Augustana 1 p.m.
Oct. 22 at UM-Duluth 3 p.m.
Oct. 23 Minot State^^ 3 p.m.
Oct. 30 at Southwest Minn. St. noon
Oct. 21 at MSU, Mankato 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 NSIC Playoffs First Round
Nov. 5 NSIC Playoffs semifinal
Nov. 7 NSIC Championship