BEMIDJI, Minn. – The arrival of crisp October air this week has awakened Northern Minnesotans to the reality that winter weather is on its way, but that is not the only sign of of Jack Frost's imminent arrival. Tomorrow (Oct. 15th) the Bemidji State University men's and women's basketball teams will officially get the 2004-05 winter sports season underway when they take to the court for their first practices.
The upcoming season is one that comes with great anticipation for followers of BSU basketball. The 2003-04 season was filled with excitement and some of the greatest success in recent memory.
The Bemidji State women's team is coming off of its winningest season in in eight years, posting a 14-15 overall record and advancing to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament semifinal round for the first time in the program's history. The men's team made history of its own posting its first 20-win season and participating in the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time in its Division II era.
BSU Women's Basketball Head Coach Mike Power begins his third season at the helm of the BSU women's team with a cautions optimism. "It's always fun to begin practice each year. You feel a little like a child on Christmas morning--The feeling of anticipation looking at what you have to work with." Unlike his two previous campaigns, Power has the majority of his squad returning. Although the team lost two key players to graduation, it returns nine players and gains four freshman with a lot of promise and with that comes the opportunity and hope of picking up right where the team left off. "It is a little bit different this year because we already know what we have," said Power. "This year's team has some good athletes but more than that we have a good group of quality people. I tell people all the time that we may not have the best team in the country according to the polls, but we have quality kids and quality can take you a long way."
That sediment was echoed by 2003 First Team All-NSIC performer and co-captain Stacia Swanson, one of three seniors on this year's squad. "I am really excited to start practice tomorrow," said Swanson. "We have a great bunch of girls and really good team chemistry right now and that gets me even more pumped up to start playing."
The men's season comes with equaled anticipation but with much more uncertainty. The 2003-04 team that posted a 20-10 overall record, won the school's first NSIC men's basketball championship in nearly 40 years on its way to its inaugural trip to the NCAA Tournament disbanded after former head coach Jeff Guiot announced he was leaving BSU.
Since the team last stepped on the court it has gone through a metamorphosis. Four players were lost to graduation, four more transferred, Patrick Smith has come on board as the team's new head coach and 17 new student-athletes are looking to make their way onto the BSU roster.
Smith a 21-year head coach at the junior college level comes to BSU with a proven track record of winning. The veteran coach has recorded an all-time winning percentage of .605 racking up 416 wins. Of his first practice at BSU, Smith commented, "I am excited about tomorrow. I have always said that the year that I am not excited about the first day of practice is the time for me to find something else to do." Asked about the composition of this year's Beavers he commented, "I think we are a very athletic, but at the same time what really excites me is that I will find out a lot about our team tomorrow morning and we'll find out some more tomorrow night." The team will take advantage of a day off of classes to practice twice. "That's the nice thing about starting practice on a day we don't have school," Smith laughed.
The men will not waste any time getting in the gym. They will begin the first of two, two-hour practices at 5:30 a.m. with the second to follow at 8:00 p.m. The women begin their three-hour drill session at 10:00 a.m.
Due to the renovation of the BSU Gymnasium, the teams will be playing a portion of their seasons in BSU's Memorial Hall, vacated some 40 years ago (1959) due to the construction of the new gym. The facility will also be host to all the Bemidji State basketball practices until the floor replacement project is completed.
The women open their season in Memorial Hall with a non-confrence battle versus St. Cloud State University Nov. 15th at 6:00 p.m. The men get underway Nov. 3rd with an exhibition at home against the Grand Forks Air Force Base at 7:00 p.m.