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Bemidji State senior midfielder Bronwyn Boyd looks for the ball during a drill at a BSU soccer practice last week. Boyd, a Bemidji High School graduate, is one of five seniors on an experienced BSU team. JACK HITTINGER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

SOCCER: Experienced Bemidji State team ready for season

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BEMIDJI -- If the Bemidji State soccer team looks like a more cohesive unit when its season begins Friday against Missouri Western State, there's a reason for this: Whitewater rafting.

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Yes, whitewater rafting.

One wouldn't think a rafting excursion would have much to do with soccer but as senior midfielder Alex Pates puts it, the Beavers' recent team trip to Costa Rica was about more than just soccer anyway.

"That rafting trip was a huge team-building moment for us," Pates said. " I mean, you had to keep in sync with your teammates and you had to be able to follow instruction and listen. It was a good learning experience for us as a team as a whole."

Of course, the rafting wasn't the only reason the Beavers went to Costa Rica last month. While there they had the opportunity to train, play against some top-quality competition and work with underprivileged children.

In all, head coach Jim Stone said the trip made the Beavers a more well-rounded team -- physically, mentally and emotionally.

"It was an amazing experience for all of us, I think," Stone said. "The girls got to do a lot of things they wouldich desperately wants to improve from a solid 10-7-2 season and make it to the upper echelon of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, it's important for a group of veterans to be so comfortable around each other.

"None of us said we got sick of each other," senior midfielder Bronwyn Boyd said with a laugh. "I mean, when you're with a group of girls for a week it's kind of hard not to but I think for us it just brought us closer. We all loved every moment we had."

The Costa Rica trip offered the Beavers a chance to practice for an extra week before they left. They also played three exhibition games against local teams -- one against the professional team San Carlos and two against Costa Rican national women's teams. The Beavers played the U-17 and U-20 national squads. The Beavers beat San Carlos 5-1 and lost to the two national teams.

But the players agreed it wasn't about the results or the scorelines.

"Every team that we played kinda played different than us," Boyd said. "They were much more technical... they played a lot quicker than us, and we have a pretty quick team.

"I think it will kinda prepare us, help us get that rust out. Especially for all the returning players."

The Beavers are only missing two players from their main rotation last season -- Mallory Lowe and Megan Castro.

Otherwise, BSU returns a ton of talent.

"Our team's old if anything, so that's good," said midfielder Jessie Voeller, one of five seniors on the team.

Senior midfielder Tiffany VanHaaften, senior defender Sam Lumberg and junior midfielder Maria McLeod were all-NSIC selections last year and will be asked to lead the team on and off the field as captains.

The Beavers also return their leading scorer, junior midfielder Mary O'Brien. She finished second in the NSIC with 10 goals.

Pates said depth is the most important thing about the team this year. Of the 22 returning players on the roster, 11 started in at least one game last season.

"I think we have a lot of players coming off the bench that could be starting at many schools in our conference," she said. "We're really deep as a team in every position. There's really only one or two positions that are locked in but other than that it's kind of nice that anyone can step in and start."

Stone said looking at the results from their exhibition games in Costa Rica and a few of the scrimmages they've played (including North Dakota State and St. Thomas), he has reason to be excited about the year -- although, ever the coach, he's still careful not to read too much into things.

"It's one of those things where you want to be cautious," he said. "But at the same time, you look at some of our preseason scrimmages last year, both score wise and as far as what's going on on the field, we're light years ahead. So that measuring stick I think is a positive reflection of where we're at."

The Beavers won't know much until their match against Missouri Western Friday at Chet Anderson Stadium. The game kicks off at 4 p.m. -- the first-ever event held on the new turf at the stadium. Stone hopes they can get one or two practices on the turf before the first match. Either way, he thinks playing on the artificial surface will benefit the Beavers' game.

"I think we have some fairly technical players. A nice, clean surface like that I think plays exactly into how we want to play," he said. "In terms of our passing game, we like to be quick up top and have a lot of speed. I think that will play into how we like to play. We're all excited."

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. 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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