Based on recent history, the Concordia-St. Paul volleyball team is having a down season.
And the Golden Bears are still the No. 6 team in the country.
The five-time defending national champions are 13-3 overall and 7-2 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. In coach Brady Starkey's previous nine seasons, the Golden bears lost just four conference matches and piled up a number of other gaudy statistics (see information box).
Minot State University (4-15 overall, 0-9 NSIC) hosts Division II's premier program tonight at 7 in the MSU Dome. The match will also mark the Beavers' "Dig Pink" night for breast cancer awareness.
"It's an exciting time for Minot State to host a team like that," MSU coach Travis Ward said. "You know that team's not coming here until we join this conference. ... It's why I came here to coach, to play against teams like this every night. It's why we recruited the kids and they chose to come here was to play against teams like this."
The Golden Bears have sustained success by keeping some top in-state talent close to home. All but two of C-SP's players - including three 2011 All-Americans - are from Minnesota.
C-SP coach Brady Starkey's 10-year tenure
- 319-29 overall, 163-6 NSIC
- 5 NCAA championships (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
- 9 NSIC championships
- 75-match winning streak from 2008-10 (an NCAA record)
- 32 All-Americans (15 first team)
- 9 straight 30-plus win seasons
- .926 winning percentage (winningest active coach in any NCAA division)
"Minnesota's a really hot spot for club volleyball," Starkey said. "There's so many good clubs here and a lot of talented players in the state. They realize that there's good volleyball in our conference and they wanna stay a little closer to home, and we've been lucky to get some of them."
Starkey coached junior All-American setter Amanda Konetchy's 17 and 18-year-old Junior Olympic teams and maintains a good relationship with some of the top club teams in the state, Konetchy said.
Starkey said many of his players - and those on other NSIC teams - could play Division I. He said there's less emphasis placed on going Division I in volleyball than other sports, particularly basketball and football.
"As the volleyball kids get older, they realize there's a really high level of volleyball in Division II, there's a really high level of volleyball in Division III, so they start to think more about where they want to go to school rather than going Division I, II or III," Starkey said.
Konetchy was recruited by Oregon and Iowa State and junior right-side hitter Kayla Koenecke - an All-American and the conference's preseason player of the year - was courted by the University of Minnesota.
"When we came here, you weren't even an outcast," Konetchy said. "When you go to Iowa State or Oregon, you were just kind of there and they were like, 'Sure you're here and you can join us.' Here, we'll talk to you, laugh with you For me, it's comfort. They want you on the team."
The Golden Bears were ranked No. 1 in the preseason and received every first-place vote. Starkey said they've lost a few matches due to graduating their top two serve receivers after last season, but most of the team's powerful offense is back.
"When we're in the system, we have a lot of kids that can terminate the ball," Starkey said.
The MSU players are eager to see how they stack up against the defending national champions.
"Any team that's good like that is always exciting to play," said freshman outside hitter Mallory Sall, the Beavers' leader in kills. "We're excited to rise up to the challenge and make them work and show them what we can do in our home gym."