SOCCER: Early NDSU exhibition shows Beavers what they need to do
BEMIDJI — Most teams get at least a week from the time of their first official practice to their first game — enough time, at least, to install some sort of offensive and defensive system and get the basics.
The Bemidji State soccer team didn’t have that luxury this season.
The Beavers, who had their first official team practice Monday, had just one day to prepare for Tuesday’s season opener at North Dakota State.
Granted, it was only an exhibition game and the Division I Bison won the game 2-1.
But the Beavers were grateful to be thrust into a game situation so soon after their first practice.
“We saw a lot of depth in positions,” junior defender Abigail Nyquist said.
“I don’t think we’ll struggle to find players who can fill different sports from our starters that we lost last year. And we played really well together as a team for it being just our second day.”
“It’s the easiest way to see our new players,” senior defender Molly Flahavan added. “The only way to see how they’re going to mesh with our team is watching them play.
“Also it was good for us to into game shape. There’s really no way to do it other than just going out there and playing a game. So it was the best way physically for us to get some fitness in early.”
Last season the Beavers didn’t play their first game until Sept. 6. They also had the luxury of starting practice earlier by virtue of their preseason trip to Costa Rica.
This time around the circumstances are slightly different. Despite the early exhibition start the Beavers now have more than a week and a half until their next game — Sept. 7 at South Dakota State.
BSU head coach Jim Stone said playing NDSU this early in the season will help the Beavers down the stretch.
“You don’t want to make any major judgements or decisions based on an exhibition game on your second day of camp, but that being said I thought there were a lot of positives,” he said. “We did some nice things offensively and I thought we looked pretty solid defensively too. I think it’s a good indicator of the fact we have some potential. Now we just need to tap into that potential and keep building on the little learning that’s taken place so far.”
The Beavers return six regular starters from last season and 14 more letterwinners, most significantly a highly experienced defensive unit that includes defenders Nyquist, Flahavan, senior Mari Wallestad and goalkeeper Sonja Barr.
“I think we’re going to have a really good back line this year,” Wallestad said. “We lost a few players but it will be nice to have that core defense to direct and help us back there.”
“We have a strong group,” Nyquist added. “It was hard to lose some of the defenders we lost last season but I think we’ve also brought in some really good talent that’s going to be able to contribute a ton right away.”
The Beavers will have more holes to fill in the forward and midfield positions but Stone thinks the talent is there to fill in and replace those losses.
“I think we’re going to be able to attack pretty well,” he said. “I think we have some players on our roster who are pretty talented offensively, so I think on paper at least we should be good. If we’re able to finish is always the toughest piece, but I think we’re going to be able to create lots of opportunities to score.”
Forward Jessie Voeller graduated, as did vital midfield cog Tiffany VanHaaften, but the Beavers have some quick, creative players returning in forwards Sarah Stram, Bayley Ertl and Nicole Parsons as well as midfielders Rachel Scheller, Emily Olson and Christine Szurek.
“We have a lot of physical talent this year. A lot of height, which has been a new thing we haven’t had a lot of recently,” Flahavan said. “We have a lot of skill players that will fill in different gaps so I think we’re going to mesh well. Coach has always recruited girls that he thinks can play together and this year is no different.”
BSU went 12-7 overall last season and 9-6 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference; after the trip to SDSU the Beavers will open their NSIC slate Tuesday, Sept. 9 at Minnesota Crookston.
The Beavers start their season with eight straight road games and don’t play at home until the first weekend in October.
Stone said being on the road for an entire month will be rough but coming home for the final stretch will be rewarding.
“I don’t think anyone looks at our schedule and says this is an ideal schedule, but we’re looking at it as we’re going to be at home during that home stretch when we’re fighting for a playoff spot,” he said.
“If we can stay strong in the away trips for the first month it will really help to have those home games at the end and not be travelling as much at the end of the season when we start to wear down and break down,” Nyquist added.