WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Bemidji State finally realized what could be in 2021

"They had a little taste of success, but they wanted it to be something more -- like what this year looked like," BSU head coach Chelsea DeVille said.

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The Beavers hold up the Century Trophy after defeating Minnesota State Moorhead on Jan. 16 at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- In early 1988, a gallon of gas went for under a dollar, Twins pitcher Frank Viola was the reigning World Series MVP and Ronald Reagan was president. It was also the last time the Bemidji State women’s basketball team had a year like this.

The Beavers earned a winning season, won seven games in a row and reached the conference semifinals in 2021 -- the first time they’ve had that combination in 33 years. On top of that, they did it all in the midst of a pandemic.

“It was greatly satisfying to see some big steps taken,” said BSU head coach Chelsea DeVille, the NSIC North Coach of the Year. “It was just satisfying to get through a season when we weren’t sure how optimistic we could be. A lot of great things that we saw this year.”

It’s rare for teams to accomplish as much as Bemidji State did in any given year. But the Beavers have been building toward this.

“In the past season or two, we saw those little steps being taken, but we just weren’t there. We preached that it was going to take more hard work,” DeVille said. “It went top-down with our returners really buying into there being no offseason, just a change in season. … They had a little taste of success, but they wanted it to be something more -- like what this year looked like.”


Headlining the season was Rachael Heittola, the typically dominant sophomore center who earned First Team All-Conference honors. The Belleville, Wis., native averaged 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, respectively ranking seventh and fifth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Brooklyn Bachmann also landed a spot on the league’s All-NSIC Second Team by posting 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and a team-high 3.9 assists to rank third in the conference. The senior guard, who has committed to returning next season due to the NCAA’s coronavirus eligibility waiver, is 15 points shy of 1,000 in her career.

Other stalwarts like Trinity Myer, Sydney Zerr and Gabby DuBois in the starting lineup, plus the likes of Taylor Bray and Taylor Vold off the bench, helped contribute to a season that ended with a 10-6 overall record and an 8-4 mark in league play.

“There’s so many (players) who took the next step,” DeVille said. “There’s not just one player that stands out to me. Every day I went into a game saying, ‘It doesn’t matter who has a breakout game. As long as everyone plays their role, we’re going to have a shot.’”

Landmark wins included the program’s first since 2012 over preseason-favorite Minnesota State, a sweep against Minnesota State Moorhead for the first time since 2004 and a quarterfinal victory over Concordia-St. Paul that clinched the program’s first semifinal appearance since 2004.

“It takes time to win tight games,” DeVille said. “It takes time to take the next step in maturity. And it takes a lot of hard work.”

Moving forward, DeVille’s focus becomes making sure that the 2021 run wasn’t a one-hit-wonder kind of season. She wants this to be the norm, and she wants all hands on deck.

“A big thing for me is to become a coach to get more players on the floor, get them prepared and get them ready so we have a longer bench,” she said. “I’m excited to coach up some of the players we have and give them bigger roles so some of our top players don’t have to play so many minutes. We’ll just be that much better, having more weapons out there and giving more players opportunities.”

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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