BEMIDJI, Minn. – The Bemidji State University women’s basketball team travels to Grand Forks, N.D. Nov. 1 for a 7 p.m. exhibition game against NCAA Division I University of North Dakota before it hosts Lakehead University out of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada to open the 2012-13 season Nov. 2-3. The Beavers will do battle in a hockey-style weekend series with the Thunderwolves with 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday. The contest Friday will mark the earliest start to the regular season in the program’s 43-year history.
The Bemidji State University women’s basketball team posted a 9-18 overall and 7-15 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference record a season ago, but the 2012-13 edition of the Beavers has valuable experience, leaving eighth year head coach Mike Curfman optimistic for the upcoming campaign.
“I think there is a lot of optimism around the team and coaching staff this year,” Curfman said. “Not only because of the significant minutes our returners saw last year and our newcomers we have coming in, but the return of two players that missed all of last year due to injury in Jessie Altoff and Erica Trabing. If we can work together and get all the pieces figured out, I think it is going to be a fun year for Bemidji State basketball.”
BSU returns seven players that saw action in at least 14 games last season and not only gain Altoff (redshirt junior) and Trabing (redshirt freshman), but add two transfers and welcome two signees with state tournament experience. The roster also touts student-athletes that can play multiple positions and have varied skill sets, creating excitement for the new year.
“The bottom line is the more pieces you have, the more components you have in your offensive and defensive scheme, the more things you can do and the harder it is to scout what you do,” Curfman said. “Optimism is the key word for us this year, but the other thing is we are a very versatile basketball team.”
The Beavers have a strong core of guards returning and are mixing in some newcomers that could make an immediate impact. Starting with the point guard position, the Beavers have three viable options to bring up the ball.
The first is senior Shannon Thompson, who has played the position for three years. She is coming off a junior season where she averaged 1.9 steals and 3.1 assists per game that finished fifth and eighth in the league, respectfully. On top of that she averaged 9.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Thompson is a two-way player with the ability to put the game on her shoulders down the stretch, an attribute fit for a leader at the point.
“Shannon is a four-year player that has quickness, speed and the ability to make the big play when we need her too,” Curfman said. “We are looking for her to provide more leadership as a senior.”
Entering the mix are two newcomers, junior college transfer Lanae Rash and freshman Emily Reichert. Rash comes to Bemidji State after spending last season at Rainy River Community College in International Falls, Minn. where she averaged 28.7 points in 16 games played. She also added 10.3 rebounds, 5.9 steals and 4.6 assists per game. Reichert is a four-year varsity player from Rogers, Minn. The two-time all-conference performer averaged 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds her senior year. Both players have all-around talent and ability to drive the basket to get to the free throw line and could be a huge asset for a team trying to get to the charity stripe more often.
“Lanae is a very dynamic player. One of the things we needed to improve on from last year is getting to the free throw line more. We need to be able to breakdown a defense and Lanae brings that element, she is able to get into the paint. Emily is also someone who can breakdown a defense and has some true point guard skills that could help fill that roll,” Curfman said.
Sophomore Chelsea Carlson also returns to the Beavers at the point guard spot after playing in 14 games before suffering a knee injury that kept her off the floor the rest of the season. She averaged 7.4 minutes per game, scored 23 points and shot 40.9 percent from the field.
“Chelsea hit some key shots for us early in the conference season, but unfortunately went down with a knee injury right after the holidays,” Curfman said. “She has been back at practice and slowly getting into 5-on-5 contact drills.”
A pure shooter, junior Morgan Lee returns to the green and white after a breakout sophomore season where she was named Second Team All-NSIC. In conference play, Lee shot 40.4 percent from beyond the arc and knocked down 55 3-pointers to finish second in the league. Her 353 points (13.4 ppg) ranked fourth among BSU’s scoring leaders in the last 12 seasons. She returns with a target on her back, but expectations will remain high for this team leader.
“Without a doubt she is one of the better shooters in our league,” Curfman said. “Last year she got a lot of attention, especially as the season went on. I think what is going to help her this year is we have more pieces around her and she has worked hard this offseason to develop more parts of her game.”
Trabing and sophomore Allison McKee will also fill in at the two guard spot. Trabing saw the floor in just one game last season, but is a two-time all-state performer at Prior Lake High School and should fit right in with BSU this season. McKee logged 148 minutes as a freshman last season and totaled 30 points with 33 rebounds (15 offensive), 10 assists and three blocks.
“Erica is athletic and gives us length at the wing, with a nice pull up jumper. Allison has a knack for getting to the basket, can hit the 3-point shot and always knows where the ball is,” Curfman said.
Also fighting for floor time at the guard positions will be freshmen Hanna Heibel (International Falls, Minn.), Brittany Koss (Grand Rapids, Minn.) and Cori Schmidt (Frederic, Wis.).
The Beavers are stacked with versatile players and leading that charge is junior Ellie Wessling and Iowa State University transfer Melissa Youngblut. Wessling made strides as a sophomore, playing in all 27 games with seven starts. She averaged 7.9 points per game and finished third on the team in rebounds with 4.1 boards in 20.6 minutes per contest. Youngblut comes to Bemidji State from Iowa State after playing in six games at the Division I institution. A Davenport, Iowa native, she helped guide Assumption High School to a class 3A state championship her senior year after averaging 11.2 points per game and earning all-state laurels.
“Ellie is a versatile player that had some really good games towards the end of the year and was playing as good of basketball as anyone on our team during the last month of the season,” Curfman commented. “She can post-up, drive and shoot the three. What really helped her succeed towards the end of last season is her ability to score in the low post and now she has another year under her belt, so we expect good things from her this season.”
“Melissa was a shooting guard at Iowa State, but she is going to be more of a wing for us,” Curfman said. “She will also be asked to play the shooting guard to the small forward position, depending on how things shake out in rotations.”
Altoff was a NSIC All-Freshman Team selection three seasons ago and was one of the leading scorers and rebounders for the green and white two years ago before suffering an injury that knocked her out of action for almost a year and half. She posted 9.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore, while shooting 39.4 percent from the field.
“Getting Jessie back is a huge key for us,” Curfman said. “She is very versatile. Jessie has really good post and up and under moves, while being able to shoot the three and hit shots facing the basket.”
Adding to the small forward spot is freshman Rachel Valley. She is a 6-1 player from Albertville, Minn. that helped guide her team to a state tournament appearance her senior year after averaging 6.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
“The thing I’ve been impressed with Rachel is she has a knack for getting her shot off. She uses her left hand really well and is another versatile player for us,” Curfman said.
The post position returns two players that have logged a lot of minutes for the Beavers in senior Emily Kaus and junior Kate Warmack. Kaus played in all 27 games last season and finished second in blocks (19) and fourth in rebounds (77) for BSU. Warmack had a breakout season, as she guided the team in rebounds (180) and blocks (31), while getting it done on the offensive end as the second leading scorer with 11.7 points per game. Her 49.0 percent field goal shooting landed her third in the NSIC in shooting percentage, while she finished in the top 20 in blocks, rebounding and scoring.
“What people don’t know is Emily played with a nagging injury for most of the year and it limited some of the things she could do. We know that, she knows that and I appreciate how hard she worked. She is a dynamite leader that is willing to set the screens, rebound and dive on the floor for the loose ball.”
“I can’t imagine anyone in the league improved as much from freshman year to sophomore year as Kate did,” Curfman said. “She was our second-leading scorer and our leading rebounder. There was so much growth and that gave her a lot of confidence and we are anxious to see what she can do. She also has great touch and can shoot the ball on the perimeter as well as guards do.”
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Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).