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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Bemidji State hopes to take another step this season

Entering his ninth season, Bemidji State head women’s basketball coach Mike Curfman runs his players, including Rachel Valley, through a ball handling drill during Wednesday’s practice. The Beavers travel to South Dakota State for an exhibition game Sunday. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji State women’s basketball team has produced steady improvement over the last three seasons; winning seven games in 2010-11, nine in 2011-12, and 11 last season.

With the season starting Sunday with an exhibition game at Division I South Dakota State, the Beavers believe they have all of the pieces in place to continue their improvement as they aim to have the best season since 2009-10 when the team won 12 games.

The key to a successful campaign will begin with BSU’s three seniors: Morgan Lee, Kate Warmack and Jessie Althoff.

Lee led all BSU players  in scoring last season with 13.8 points per game, while knocking down a team-high 64 three-pointers as she started all 27 games.

“From the time she stepped on campus, she has been someone that can score,” Beaver coach Mike Curfman said of Lee. “The thing I have been most impressed with her this year is her improvement on defense. I am looking forward to hopefully seeing her best and most complete season.”

Entering her senior campaign Lee needs just 72 points to become the 16th player in school history to score 1,000 points. She also ranks sixth with 149 career 3-pointers.

“I want to finish strong and I really hope to be a positive role model to my teammates, but as long as we are getting the win, it does not matter,” Lee said, downplaying her individual accomplishments.

Warmack and Althoff return as the Beavers’ third and fourth leading scorers as well as two of the top four rebounders from last year’s team.

“They both can score on the low block and can also step out and shoot outside,” Curfman said. “They are both very versatile and can contribute in several different ways. Whether it is scoring, rebounding or defending, Jessie and Kate will be a big part of our team this season.”

After they both averaged more than 24 minutes per game last season, Warmack believes the experience gained last winter will give the posts an edge that they did not have in the past.

“Being one year older, we are a lot wiser than we were last season,” Warmack said. “Hopefully our experience will show on the court.”

Another aspect that will help the posts is new assistant coach Ella Olson, who joined the Beavers after two seasons as a graduate assistant at Minnesota-Duluth.

“Coach Olson has brought a lot of perspective,” Althoff said. “She was a post like myself so she has helped both me and the team develop.”

The praises of Olson were echoed by Curfman, who is enjoying the presence of a second assistant coach on his staff.

“When you look to bring in a new assistant coach, you look at coaches who can bring help to areas where you want to do better,” Curfman said. “Defense is an area where we can certainly get better and she comes from a very good defensive program and has worked with posts before. Her presence and experience is going to help everybody get better.”

Outside of the seniors perhaps the Beavers’ biggest asset will be the health of sophomore guard Erica Trabing. Trabing has suffered a pair of season-ending injuries in the last two seasons.

“I just hope she can stay healthy and be productive this season,” Curfman said. “Nobody works harder than she does. Her attitude has been great throughout the two seasons.”

Despite playing in only eight career collegiate games, Trabing joins Lee and Warmack as a captain for BSU.

“Erica is a great leader for this team,” Lee said of her fellow captain. “She is always showing a positive attitude, whether she is healthy or not. I really hope she can stay healthy this year because we can definitely use her.”

BSU’s seniors will be asked to guide the seven freshmen on this season’s roster.

“I think it was a very good recruiting year for us,” Curfman said. “There is a good mix between athleticism, good basketball knowledge and talent. If they can carry forward their success they had in high school, I think we have a very good group.”

The Beavers know the 11-win team last year could have been better if it had only been more consistent during conference play.

“We have to put both halves together,” Lee said. “We have shown we can play with whoever it is during the first half and then we would slip up in the second half.

“I am hoping to be a leader this year to make sure we push through those hard times and stay strong in the second half.”

Both Curfman and his group of experienced seniors see the potential in this year’s team. They know it is up to them to continue the trend of improvement in 2013-14.

“I know that the team has gotten better each year,” Althoff said. “I see that this team has a lot of potential and I hope to add to it to make this my best year here.”