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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Bemidji State’s Sam Pogatchnik stepping up into giant, ‘go-to’ role

Sam Pogatchnik has been perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for the Beavers this season. She doesn’t play timidly, but rather attacks with purpose and defends with versatility.

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Bemidji State sophomore Sam Pogatchnik (22) moves the ball up the court during the second half against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at the BSU Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- For her first two seasons with the Bemidji State women’s basketball team, Sam Pogatchnik largely sat on the bench.

But she’s certainly not doing that anymore.

“It’s been a big change,” the redshirt sophomore said. “I’m just really happy to be out there and playing with my team. I love it. It’s definitely a lot more pressure than I was used to last year, but it’s everything you want coming into college basketball.”

The Proctor native has been perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for the Beavers this season. She doesn’t play timidly, as could be expected as she gets her fledgling feet wet. Rather, Pogatchnik attacks with purpose and defends with versatility.

She leads BSU by playing 30.9 minutes per game and averages 8.9 points, third-best on the team. She’s a guard standing just 5-foot-9, but she ranks fourth in the NSIC with 7.4 rebounds per game.

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Bemidji State's Sam Pogatchnik (22) guards Minot State’s Kate Head (11) in the first half against Minot State on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at the BSU Gymnasium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Pogatchnik already has a pair of double-doubles this season, and with one more, she will become the program’s first guard with at least three double-doubles in a single season in recorded history.

“She was one of those where you’re (asking) if they’re going to be ready without any experience playing,” Bemidji State head coach Chelsea Stoltenberg said. “She definitely was and is. She’s one of our go-to players right now.”

This season, Pogatchnik’s focus has changed to hone in more on the little details and be more of a leader. Now more than ever, she feels a sense of responsibility to step up her game.

“My mindset has completely changed,” Pogatchnik said. “Just making sure that I’m really taking a step and focusing on (improving). And just really being there for my teammates in every aspect. It’s a big change, but I love it.”

Stoltenberg has deployed Pogatchnik in a variety of ways this season, and the returns have likely locked in a starting job for the foreseeable future.

“She developed her perimeter shot where she’s that dual threat,” Stoltenberg said. “You have to close out on her, and then she can go by you. She’s a longer guard who can also create some mismatch problems (for opponents). Defensively, she has picked up on the game and the IQ of what we want to do.”

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Bemidji State sophomore Sam Pogatchnik (22) looks to shoot the ball during the first half against Minnesota Crookston on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, at the BSU Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

One area that still needs to improve, however, is the win column. The Beavers (3-6, 0-5 NSIC) sit last in the NSIC North Division, and the past four losses have all come by at least 14 points. Moving forward, it’s up to Pogatchnik and others to correct course before it’s too late.

“I don’t think it’s so much the record that’s bothering me right now but the losses, how they’ve looked,” Stoltenberg said. “We need to start competing and have a little more pride in what we’re putting out there and how we’re showing up to each competition.”

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Bemidji State has its next chance to do so against Minnesota Crookston (3-8, 2-3 NSIC) at noon on Saturday, Dec. 17, in Crookston. The matchup is a late schedule adjustment due to weather, one that delays an originally-scheduled home weekend against U-Mary and Minot State.

“Honestly, it’s just really frustrating at this point,” Pogatchnik said of the losses. “But we’re still coming, we’re still practicing. We’re coming for the next few teams, all of them.”

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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