THE OPENING TIP
The UMD women’s basketball team heads into the brunt of NSIC play with a home-away week. After their first home conference game of the year against Minnesota Crookston on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m., the Bulldogs will bus out to Bemidji for a game against the Beavers on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m.
LAST TIME OUT
It was quite the road trip for the Bulldogs over the course of this past week. First, UMD traveled to St. Cloud for an NSIC opener against the Huskies on Tuesday. The Bulldogs entered halftime up seven, but a big third quarter for St. Cloud snagged the Huskies a two-point lead at a score of 47-45 going into the fourth quarter. UMD countered with a 14-9 scoring advantage in the fourth frame to take the game 59-56.
Then came a trip out to the Midwest for a pair of games in Michigan. The Bulldogs’ first stop was Friday in Marquette, where they took care of business against Northern Michigan 50-37 in a game UMD controlled the whole way. Saturday’s meeting out in Houghton was a different story. The Bulldogs dropped a 61-46 contest against Michigan Tech where UMD was the team trying to claw back most of the way.
The Bulldogs dropped one more spot in the D2SIDA’s Central Region Poll on Monday, going from sixth to seventh. UMD didn’t receive votes in the D2SIDA’s Top 25 Poll on Tuesday, but it did receive votes in the WBCA Coaches Poll once again.
SCOUTING REPORT ON MINNESOTA CROOKSTON
The world of sports is cruel.
Within every single game, just as sure as a team will win, a team has to lose- unless you’re playing soccer, but a tie is tricky in its own right. Over the course of a season, there are only so many wins to go around. Meanwhile, teams can only dream that there was even more of a shortage in losses.
There’s a certain perspective that spawns depending on which end of the wins-losses eight ball your team finds itself on. In the case of a program like that of the UMD women’s basketball team where winning has become the norm, there’s vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But there’s a reason you’ve heard countless times across your life to become skilled in seeing the world through other people’s shoes- other pairs do indeed exist.
One such pair can be found in Crookston.
The Golden Eagles went 4-19 last season. Before that, they went 3-13. Over the last five years, Crookston has a record of 38-92. The past decade? 96-172. Since 2006-07, the Golden Eagles have had one winning season, a 2015-16 campaign that saw them go 18-10. The year prior, Crookston broke even at 14-14. They hadn’t done so before that since 2004-2005, when the team went 16-12.
It’s been a process for 17-year head coach Mike Roysland, but he’s stuck around to see it through. Ahead of this season, though, he was presented with yet another challenge in the journey.
All three of the Golden Eagles’ double-digit averagers from the season prior had departed. Kylie Frost, a do-it-all guard that averaged a team-high 11.6 PPG (on 51.4% shooting from the field) on top of 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists, had graduated. Also in Frost’s graduating class was Mary Brooke, who’d averaged 10.3 points a night. The third member of the trifecta, Abi Fraaza, might be a familiar name. That’s because the Bulldogs just faced off against her on Friday. The sophomore guard transferred to Northern Michigan ahead of a stout freshman campaign in Crookston where she’d averaged 10 points a game and a team-leading 5.9 rebounds per contest.
There’s no doubt that these absences are felt. Still, all hope is not lost for the Golden Eagles this year. In fact, emerging is a force that can instill hope in the Crookston faithful even into the future- enter Emma Miller.
As a freshman, the guard leads the team through seven games with 14.3 points a contest. This pairs with 5.1 boards a night, good for third on the team. The Albertville, Minn. native whose height matches the amount of rebounds she grabs a day has twice hit 20 points this season and has been within a rebound or two of a double-double twice. The sample size is small, and by extension, Miller’s time in the collegiate space in general has been short. You never want to put too much weight on the shoulders of any player, much less one at this point in their career. Still… it’s hard not to dream of what Miller could become if this is more than just a hot start.
The Golden Eagles are currently 2-5. There’s still plenty of season remaining, plenty of time for Miller’s game to further develop, but the trends of years past loom. We’ll see if this season becomes an anomaly that can set the scene for success not being an anomaly at all.
SCOUTING REPORT ON BEMIDJI STATE
Bemidji head coach Chelsea DeVille is no stranger to playing the long game.
DeVille’s in her eighth season with the Beavers. Across her first half-decade with the team, the program went 33-103. The most wins Bemidji had in a single season in that span was nine. Still, this was a personal best for DeVille during her tenure with the team. Improvement is Improvement.
Then, a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season happened. Bemidji would play just 16 games in that span. Ordinarily, winning just one more game on the year would fall under that same “improvement is improvement” idea from before- marginal, but a tick in the right direction. Strange circumstances called for something a little different. One extra check in the win column compared to the year prior is all it would take for the Beavers to have their first winning season since 1995-1996.
10-6. It’s a polarizing record in the grand scheme of college basketball, one that hopefully never has to be replicated, but for the Beavers, it’s one they likely won’t forget for some time. It’s as if this trimmed season provided Bemidji with a chance at a trial run for success. Whether or not they’d be able to translate that into a full-length campaign would be up to them.
Time for 2021-22. Twenty-seven games. Full slate. Let’s see what the Beavers can really do.
One thing that’s for certain is this installation of Bemidji State sure had a flare for the dramatic. After losing their last regular season game of the year, the Beavers sat at 13-12. No time to celebrate yet, though- job’s not finished. Bemidji qualified for the NSIC Tournament. They’d at least made certain that they wouldn’t end the year with a losing record, but breaking even feels different than closing out above .500. They’d need to win at least one matchup in the conference tourney to secure the brighter of those outcomes.
That, they did. For just the fourth time in program history, the Beavers survived and advanced in NSIC postseason play.
Unfortunately for Bemidji, that’d spell the end of their run. They’d encounter a two-seeded Concordia St. Paul squad that proved too much to handle. Still, the Beavers had secured the kind of season result that sets the framework for making contests like that more competitive down the line. What they’d also done is earn consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1994-95 to 1995-96.
Suffice it to say, there’s reason for momentum to be brewing within this program. It’s a game of relativity, of course, but this is where the Beavers have to start to make it so that that disclaimer doesn’t need to be applied.
It wasn’t all bliss for Bemidji heading into this new season, though. The process giveth, the process taketh away. Gone from the roster before the start of the new year was Rachael Heittola, the front woman of the team’s historic run from the year before. In what had been her sophomore season, the forward/center had averaged a team-high 15.5 points a night while also grabbing a team-leading 7.7 boards a contest. This effort was good enough for her to make the jump all the way to DI, joining up with the University of Northern Iowa.
New heroes would have to make themselves known to keep the flame alive. As it turns out, they wouldn’t really be “new” heroes at all.
Leading the charge for the Beavers so far this year has been fifth-year senior Trinity Yoder. Yoder’s been with Bemidji since the start of her career, and all four years, she’s been a walking bucket. She’s averaged double-digits for the Beavers since she was a freshman. Last year, she clocked out at 12.9 points a contest, good for second on the team. That was pretty consistent with what she’d been averaging across her career to that point, her highest tally being 13.2 a game back in her freshman phenom era. It seemed like Yoder had found her role and settled into it. Who could have known that she had a whole new gear to reach.
Through five games this year, the guard’s averaged 17.2 PPG. Not only that, but she’s also the team’s leading distributor- she averages 4.4 assists a night.
Small sample size, small sample size- always have to remind yourself. Still, this is valuable leadership making itself known early in the year. It’s an effort that grows even more important when you see who’s second on the list in team scoring- Sam Pogatchnik. As a freshman last season, Pogatchnik had averaged seven minutes of playing time across 14 games. She’d scored 11 points in this time. This year, there’s a good chance she’ll give you that many points in a single game. The guard now averages 11.6 points a contest. She’s also nothing short of a menace on the boards. She showed flashes of this even last year, when she averaged 1.2 rebounds a game in limited minutes. This year, she’s taken it a few steps further- she clocks in at 9.4 boards a game. On top of all of this, Pogatchnik is second on the team in assists per game with four.
Rounding out the top of the rotation for Bemidji is an equal mix of youth and experience. Third on the team in scoring is senior Maddie Schires, who averages 11.4 a night. Behind her is Alyssa Hill. A true freshman, Hill’s averaging a hair under double-digits a contest with 8.2. There’s a lot more to that number than what meets the eye, though. When it comes to Hill, absolutely no shot is wasted. The forward’s working at a shooting efficiency of 58.6% from the field. Just 29 attempts on the year, but 17 of them have gone in. And when she’s not calculating her next bucket, she’s busy grabbing boards. Hill’s working with 6.4 rebounds a night.
As it stands, Bemidji is 3-2. Hey- winning record. It’s safe to say, though, that this kind of win-loss differential won’t cut it for the Beavers this time around. They’ve shown two seasons in a row that they can hover above the .500 line- now it’s time to develop some real airspace.
Catch all of this week’s action live through the NSIC Network by following the links below:
vs Minnesota Crookston (Thursday, Dec. 1 @5:30 p.m.): bit.ly/3gL2vYp
vs Bemidji State (Saturday, Dec. 3 @1 p.m.): bit.ly/3Hdbvk7
It’s right back on the road once again for the Bulldogs next weekend as they take a brief tour of North Dakota. They’ll first meet Minot on Friday, Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m. before heading to Bismark to meet Mary on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 3:30 p.m.
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