BSU volleyball opens 2006 with Texas road trip
Thursday, August 24, 2006
BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University volleyball team breaks the seal on its 2006 season tomorrow as it participates in the Lady Buff Classic hosted By West Texas A & M in Canyon, Texas. The Beavers begin play at 11 am versus Harding University (Ala.) and will play Dallas Baptist University in the 5 p.m. contest. Saturday BSU will be back in action with a 1 p.m. match versus the hosting Buffalo and will wrap up the ffirst weekend of play at 5 p.m. when it battles New Mexico Highlands University.

The Beavers, under head coach Kim Falkenhagen, look to improve on a season in which they were 3-31 overall and finished eighth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Confernece standings.

The BSU 2005 volleyball season could be looked at as one of rebuilding. With just one upper classman returning and a pair of junior college transfers that put on the Green and White for the first time in their careers in August, the team had a lot of growing to do and a lot of situations to experience. And that is exactly what the 2005 squad did. This season a group of four starters return that each played in nearly every game for the Beavers.

Although the team has a better grasp of the collegiate game as a whole, it still returns without a duet of last fall’s key players. Senior outside hitter Christa Anderson, who compiled 218 kills and a .108 hitting percentage while standing as one of the best blockers in BSU’s recent history has made the transition to the coaching ranks after using the remainder of her collegiate eligibility last fall. The Beavers also hit the court in 2006 without its top hitter from a year ago. Brittney Carlson totaled 305 kills to lead the team on the attack while posting 113 blocks to rank as the teams top blocker.

Falkenhagen will look to her junior class for leadership, experience and stability. This quartet has been regulars on the court for the Beavers during the past two years.

“On paper we look really young, but our junior class has been playing regularly since the day set foot on campus.” Falkenhagen added, “They understand the offense, they know the system and now they are ready to set up, be leaders and turn things around for us.”

Brittney Burns, is poised to become the seventh member of the 1,000 kill club this fall standing at 710 heading into her third year while Alicia Beaman currently sits the BSU-All-Time record book for career assist leaders with 969. Thrown in the mix is Chelsea Utzerath who has battled a series of injuries that have prevented her from becoming a more prominent contributor. Also returning to the middle is sophomore middle blocker Jennifer Janckila who saw time in 89 of BSU’s games last fall.

Not unlike any of Beavers volleyball campaigns in recent memory, this year’s schedule is laden with top-notch competition. Nine of the teams on BSU’s 2006 slate finished the with an NCAA Division II tournament match including Concordia University-St. Paul which made a run into the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the second time in the last three seasons. Formidable opponents also making an appearance on the BSU slate are: University of Minnesota Duluth, who travel to the BSU Gymnasium for the first time since leaving the NSIC to join the North Central Conference, Wayne State College, Southwest Minnesota State and West Texas A & M, Falkenhagen’s last coaching stop.

“Due to the strength of the region we play in, our schedule is will feature many of the nation’s best ream ever year, “ commented the fourth-year head coach. “Our conference season will also be a challenge once again. Concordia-St. Paul is a very mature team returning a lot of upperclassmen. Wayne State and Northern State are always tough and we are one of the younger programs.” She added, “It will be interesting to see what will happen within conference play.”

Position by position breakdown

Setters: Junior Alicia Beaman anchors the team at setter as BSU moves into an offensive system in which it will set by committee. Beaman finished 2005 with 936 assists to lead the team while she averaged 2.84 digs per game to rank second among her peers. The new offensive scheme will allow Beaman will have more defensive opportunities playing from the back row.

Joining her this season is newcomer Allison Kunde. Kunde a true freshman has impressed during fall workouts and comes in with a wealth of experience. “Allison has been setting forever and will make an instant impact on our team,” commented Falkenhagen. “There aren’t a whole lot of adjustments we need to make, with Allison it is just getting her up to the speed of the collegiate game.”

Outside hitters: Arguably the deepest position for BSU this season is on the outside. The return of two-year starting outside hitter Brittney Burns coupled with the addition of a junior college player and a pair of incoming freshman, Falkenhagen will have plenty of options. Throw in the possibility of moving Jennifer Janckila back to her natural position or allowing Beaman to get her swings, BSU will be able to give opposing defenses a number of different looks.

Burns returns to the outside after compiling over 700 kills during her first two seasons. After a bit of a sophomore slump in 2005, she back and has something to prove.

“Last year Brittney was dealing with some shoulder problems and had a bit of an off season, but she feels good and we plan to get her back to where she was an beyond what she did for us as a freshman,” said Falkenhagen of the Beavers’ 2006 NSIC Preseason Player to Watch. “She is a great team player and all around team leader. She does great things in the passing and defensive aspects of the game.”

Joining Burns are: Alaina Adams, Brie Groskreutz and Sara Muehlberger.

Adams comes to BSU after playing two years at North Dakota State College of Science where she led the Wildcats in digs during each season and piled up nearly 600 kills.

“Alaina is a strong hitter, has a ton of potential and knows the game very well,” said Falkenhagen. “She played with us last spring so she is a little more comfortable with the team and our offense.”

Muehlberger and Groskreutz each come in after successful high school careers. Muehlberger earned two letters while playing at Duluth Central High School while Groskreutz was an All-State selection at Reedsberg Area High School in Reedsberg, Wis.

“Brie should see court time right away for us. She jumps well, plays defense well and is a good all around player,” commented Falkenhagen. “Sara did some really great things with her high school and club programs. She has a great work ethic and possesses tremendous athletic ability.”

Throw into that mix Chelsea Utzerath who will be hitting from the opposite side in 2006, Falkenhagen has a lot to be excited about.

“She will be an impact player who is a member of that junior class that looks to really set the tone for us this year,” commented the head coach of Utzerath. “She is a very hard hitter. She could really do some phenomenal things.”

Middle blockers: BSU’s middle blocking situation is a case of something old, something new and something borrowed. Sophomore Jennifer Janckila who played in 89 games for the Beavers last fall will lead the trio of players in the middle. She ranked fourth on the team with 46 blocks while compiling 139 kills. Falkenhagen has also added three freshman middles and may try Burns at the position at times this season.

The trio of newcomers bring substantial size to the program. Marissa Hinshaw stands at 6-2 while Ryann Follmer and Anna Leafblad are both at 6-0.

The middle blocker spot is the most inexperienced of all positions this year besides Janckila, the others vying for time are all relatively new to the position and will need some time to develop.

“Marissa is new to the game of volleyball having only played for a couple years, but her athletic ability allows her to pick up the game quickly. She is a very smart player so she will make an impact for out team this year,” commented Falkenhagen. “Anna is a little raw to the sport, but has already made huge improvements and is a very aggressive player.” “Ryann has a ton of talent and is willing to learn the game, but will need some time to catch up to the speed of the collegiate game.”

Defensive specialists/Liberos: Defensively Falkenhagen likes watch she sees from her players this season. Allison Hyatt looks to lead the team in the back row. She practiced with the Beavers during last season as she sat out as a red shirt. She played the previous two seasons at Rainy River Community College where she compiled more than 1,000 digs for an average of nearly 5.0 digs per game.

“It will be fun to see Allison finally get a chance to play. She is a great leader on the floor, a hard worker.” Falkenhagen added, “she has earned the trust and respect of her teammates so I really thing she is going to some really good things this year.”

Also looking to see some time at the defensive specialist or libero position is newcomer Laura Vonasek. The smallest player known to put on a BSU uniform at 5-foot-one, she comes to BSU after a decorated prep career at East Grand Forks High School.

“Even though Laura is a player of such small stature, she make a really big impact on the floor. She has been playing defense forever. She reads the court well and understands her role.”

Bemidji State posted a 3-31 record in 2005 and finished eighth in the conference standings. The team returns six players including four starters.