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FRIEZ COLUMN: Now that the Beavs are back, here’s what to watch for

Bemidji State is abuzz this week with the return of students to campus. Athletes have been around for a bit longer than that, and by Friday, games officially kick off for the Beavers.

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The Beavers run onto the field ahead of the homecoming game against Augustana on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer
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Maybe the iconic Thin Lizzy guitars are rocking only inside my head, but the theme song of this week always spoofs in my brain as “The Beavs Are Back in Town.”

Indeed, Bemidji State is abuzz this week with the return of students to campus. Athletes have been around for a bit longer than that, and by Friday, games officially kick off for the Beavers.

Just as the track “The Boys Are Back in Town” became an instant hit in 1976, BSU’s fall sports teams will try to make a name for themselves in 2022.

And much like the aforementioned song’s twin-guitar lead, Bemidji State has a pair of national contenders headlining the lineup. My interest has been piqued at Chet Anderson Stadium, home of both the Beavers’ football and women’s soccer programs.

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The Beavers celebrate after Emma Huelsnitz (10) scored the winning penalty kick in a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Central Oklahoma on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Emporia, Kan.
Courtesy / Emporia State Athletics

With the particular musical theme of this column, it’s only fair to start with the boys who are back on the turf. The BSU football team opens the new season with a gauntlet of games (vs. Minnesota State; at Augustana; vs. Winona State), and by the end of Week 3, we’ll have a much clearer picture of what to expect from this group.

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But heading into the season, expectations seem to be sky-high.

Bemidji State returns pretty much everybody to one of the best offenses in the country in 2021. Quarterback Brandon Alt shattered almost any single-season throwing record you could think of for the program, and wideout Brendan Beaulieu is back to give Alt a lethal weapon for every snap. Add All-American Jalen Frye back into the mix and, after he missed 2021 with injury, you’ve got a huge boost to the backfield.

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Bemidji State running back Jalen Frye (1) scores a touchdown in an October 2019 game against Winona State at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Offensive linemen don’t get much recognition, but BSU’s biggest men on campus deserve some love too. The unit withstood season-ending injuries from two senior starters early in 2021 and, despite starting three freshmen down the stretch, were one of the best positional groups in the nation.

The team’s biggest question mark is a defense that lost its trademark “Gang Green” identity for much of the season. Senior linebackers Zollie Kaplan and Colbey Wadsworth will have the most sway in their fortunes -- and perhaps how far the team will go this season.

It all begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, against the Mavericks at the Chet.

On the pitch, the Bemidji State women’s soccer team will attempt an equally exciting encore.

Like their gridiron counterparts, they made a historic run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2021. They bring back a bulk of their core, including fifth-years in Erin Becker, Megan Dahl, Megan Majewski, Allyson Smith and Sara Wendt.

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Bemidji State's Erin Becker (11) scores on a penalty kick in the first half of the NSIC Tournament quarterfinals against Northern State on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

But any national power needs a dependable team all over the field. Goalkeeper Alyssa Stumbaugh broke multiple records last year, in part because of efforts from defenders like Halle Peterson on the backline. Midfielder Emma Huelsnitz was an all-conference pick last year, while returning starters Maggie Cade and Annika Fingal are battle-tested heading into 2022.

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BSU also brings in nine freshmen to the team. The Beavers had major contributions from last year’s freshman class, but after losing Mariah Nguyen to St. Thomas and NSIC Freshman of the Year Mason Schilling to Southeastern (Fla.), big holes will need refilling by the younger classes.

Bemidji State opens the regular season at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, at South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. The Beavers will first be home at 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 against Northern State.

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Bemidji State's Meeghen Dahlager (17) passes a serve in the third set against Augustana on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

But the team that first gets to kick off the fall season is Bemidji State’s volleyball squad. BSU has four matches in two days this weekend in Marquette, Mich., first clashing with Cedarville and Central Oklahoma on Friday, Aug. 26. They’ll finally pack the BSU Gymnasium on Sept. 16 to host U-Mary.

Unfortunately for the Beavers, they play in the toughest conference in the country. The NSIC is a weekly gauntlet of powerful program after powerful program -- half the conference is nationally ranked or receiving votes in the national poll -- and Bemidji State is on the outside looking in at that tier of talent.

It’ll be up to seniors like Meeghen Dahlager, Annie Hopp and Rylee Pompa to start righting the ship this year, while returners like Lauren Justesen and Bemidji native Emily Wade figure to take another step forward.

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Bemidji State football fans cheer on the Beavers during the first half against Augustana on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

On the golf course, Seth Schricker and Ben Corbid will lead the charge for the men and attempt to replace the efforts of all-conference performer Brandon Nelson. For the women, junior Mollie Albrecht and sophomore Katie Leblanc factor in as the top returners on a young team.

After opening the season on the road, both teams will be home at the Bemidji Town and Country Club for two-day invites on Sept. 12-13.

And finally, the women’s cross country team gets off and running on Sept. 9 with the Dragon Twilight in Moorhead. The Beavers won’t race at home all fall, but Mary Goodwin and Zoey Mills return as viable leaders for the program. The big question mark surrounds who can make up for the departure of Ryne Prigge, a BSU record holder and one of the best runners to ever come through the program.

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Bemidji State athletics will be back in full swing soon enough, and all this and more will unfold over the next few months. And our town is better off for it.

Related Topics: BEMIDJI STATE BEAVERS
Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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