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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 26 2008

Banged-up Bison enter league play

Craig Bohl isn’t the only head coach at North Dakota State who is a little on edge this week. Soccer’s Pete Cuadrado is also pushing the “pushing them” button.

The Bison begin Summit League play tonight at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne on a four-game winless streak, and that’s not what Cuadrado had in mind at the beginning of the season.

But like Bohl, the football coach, he wasn’t planning on having two of his best players on the sideline with injuries. Sophomore defender Abbey Stratton tore her ACL at Iowa State and will miss the rest of the season. Earlier in the year, senior Becky Iwanicki – a returning three-year starter – tore her MCL against Creighton (Neb.).

That’s on top of two players suffering ACL injuries over the summer. This week, the Bison had to activate freshman forward Katie Luce from the student body to the soccer team. She was already enrolled at NDSU.

It brings the number of freshmen on the roster to 13. It also means 65 percent of the available players are freshmen.

“Twenty percent of the roster is on crutches,” Cuadrado said.

As for the other 80 percent, it’s time to move forward.

“Exactly,” he said. “We told them preseason is over and the nice thing this year is we can play for a conference championship.”

That’s because the Division I reclassification is over. The Bison need to finish in the top four to qualify for the league playoffs, and it’s not as if The Summit is a Division I power conference.

IPFW is winless and IUPUI, Sunday’s opponent, is 3-4. South Dakota State has the best record in the league at

4-3. Oakland played a tough schedule so the Grizzlies will probably be in the hunt.

“It is a conference where five teams can win it,” Cuadrado said. “And we’re a program that can win it.”

The Bison, however, are just looking to be in the hunt this weekend. Practice on Tuesday did not end at a set time; it finished when things were done right. Cuadrado called it a “great training day.”

“We’re definitely pushing them a little harder,” he said.

He’s gone through this before. The Bison lost their last five games in the 2004 season where every game was played on the road. They went winless in four games in the middle of 2005 and had a similar four-game skein in 2006 at about the same point in the schedule.

They dropped three straight last year.

With the exception of 2004, the Bison rebounded every year with a decent winning streak. The downslide this year came against Nebraska (3-0), Iowa State (4-1) and Northern Iowa (3-2). The big blip was a 1-1 tie against Eastern Washington, which is 1-4-2.

“I’m worried about the confidence within the team,” Cuadrado said. “There’s a reason they’re here, and that’s because they can do it and we have to make sure they know it.”

Readers can reach Jeff Kolpack at

(701) 241-5546 or jkolpack@forumcomm.com.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com