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YEAR IN REVIEW: Season of change for Bemidji State in 2013

Tracy Dill speaks to members of the Bemidji community during a meet-and-greet session earlier this year. Dill was named BSU’s athletic director in April, replacing former AD Rick Gorb at the start of the 2013-14 school year. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 3
Bemidji State second baseman Joey Hanowski completes a double play cycle during a game against Southwest Minnesota State in April. The Beavers had just six home games all season and put together a nine-game winning streak to squak into the NSIC playoffs for the first time since 2008. They made it all the way to the championship game before losing to eventual national runners-up MSU-Mankato. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 3
BSU forward Jessie Voeller blows over Missouri Western for a goal during a game earlier this season. The game was the first on the new turf at Chet Anderson Stadium and the Beavers won 2-0. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer3 / 3

BEMIDJI — With Tracy Dill, Bemidji State University found itself not only a new athletic director, but also a new beginning.

For the Beaver athletic programs, 2013 signified something of a change in culture after longtime athletic director Rick Goeb was essentially fired at the end of 2012.

The reason administrators cited for Goeb’s termination was the need for increased scholarship funding and marketing efforts.

Goeb finished out his term in the 2012-13 school year, but school officials announced in April of 2013 that they were going to hire Dill — former associate athletic director at St. Cloud State — to take his place starting in 2013-14.

BSU officials felt they needed someone with versatility and in Dill they found an administrator who has done it all — a former football and track coach with an English degree and someone who is experienced in fundraising, ticket sales and marketing.

Dill had spent the last few years at St. Cloud being responsible for the athletic department’s ticketing, marketing and media presence.

That’s exactly what BSU was looking for — after all, marketing and fundraising had been major concerns.

It was especially a concern as the men’s hockey program made the transition into the new-look Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

This season the WCHA changed dramatically, as big-name stalwarts like Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and St. Cloud State left for the newly-formed conferences like the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

In their place the WCHA absorbed smaller schools from the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association as well as formerly independent Alabama-Huntsville.

From a marketing perspective, tempting fans to show up for the likes of Lake Superior State and Alaska Fairbanks instead of Minnesota and North Dakota has been a challenge, but from a competitive standpoint there’s no denying the Beavers are in a better place.

After finishing the 2012-13 season a disappointing 6-22-8 overall and 5-16-7 in league play — one of the worst seasons in Tom Serratore’s 12 seasons at the helm — the first half of the 2013-14 season has been an improvement.

At the holiday break the Beavers are tied for third in the WCHA with 14 points and a 5-9-6 overall record. They have a decent shot at hosting a first-round playoff series — their first at home since joining the WCHA.

The BSU women, too, have shown improvement over last season when they struggled to a 6-22-6 overall record and last-place league finish.

This season the Beavers had already eclipsed their 2012-13 overall win total with a 7-9-2 record; they’re in fifth place at the break. BSU and the Sanford Center hosts the 2014 WCHA Final Faceoff so getting at least one home playoff series would be a great improvement for the Beavers.

In addition to overseeing new marketing campaigns for the university, the start of Dill’s tenure also coincided with the installation of a new FieldTurf playing surface at Chet Anderson Stadium.

The new turf — the first part of a planned project to overhaul the 74-year-old BSU athletic facility — made its debut Sept. 6 with a doubleheader. The Bemidji State women’s soccer team beat Missouri Western 2-0 to officially kick off the new turf, then the Bemidji High School football team followed suit with a 45-22 victory against Sauk Rapids-Rice..

Hoops, baseball also pleasant surprises

A few other BSU athletic teams defied expectations and made surprising playoff runs.

The BSU men’s basketball team, under first-year head coach Mike Boschee, was picked to finish 12th out of 16 teams in a preseason Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coaches’ poll.

Instead, the Beavers went 18-12 overall, 13-9 in conference play and made it all the way to the NSIC/Sanford Health Tournament in Rochester, where they upset two ranked teams and nearly toppled a third (Minnesota State Mankato) in the final.

This season the Beavers were similarly picked to finish 12th in the preseason poll but are currently sitting pretty with a 7-3 overall and 4-2 conference record going into this weekend’s conference games against Winona State and Upper Iowa.

Also bucking assumptions this season? The BSU baseball team.

The Beavers were picked seventh in the preseason poll and didn’t play their first home game until May 1 — the final week of the regular season.

But thanks in part to a nine-game win streak in the middle of the season the Beavers qualified for the NSIC tournament for the first time since 2008.

There, the eighth-seeded Beavers upset top-seeded St. Cloud in the first round and made it all the way to the championship game in the double-elimination tournament before falling to eventual national NCAA Division II runner-up MSU-Mankato.

BSU head coach Tim Bellew was named the NSIC coach of the Year for guiding the team to the tournament.

BSU shortstop Lewis Baumann and designated hitter Logan Kalis were also both selected first-team All-NSIC.

Kalis was also named a third-team All-American by Daktronics, the second player under Bellew’s tenure to be named to an All-America team.

Baumann was an Academic All-America selection as well.

Mixed results for other Beaver sports teams

Other BSU programs had mixed success. Here are some highlights (and lowlights):

•A year after a 7-4 finish and an NSIC North Division title, the BSU football team struggled to a 3-8 season with a shaky offense.

There were bright spots, however: Punter/kicker Zach Pulkinen was named AFCA Division II All-American.

Senior running back Avery Walker also had a breakout season, running for 1,314 yards (third in the NCIS) to become BSU’s first 1,000-plus-yard rusher since 2004.

•The BSU soccer team went 12-7 and made the NSIC tournament once again but fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round. Senior midfielder Tiffany VanHaaften was named an All-Central Region Player of the Year.

•The BSU volleyball struggled once again, going 6-22 overall and 2-18 in one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the nation.

•Much like the baseball team, the BSU softball team didn’t have a home game due to inclement weather and struggled to an 8-39 overall record.

•The BSU tennis team went 1-13 and 0-11 in conference play under first-year head coach Mark Fodness.

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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