The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

Ten days after seeing his team come so close to winning a 10th NCAA Division II volleyball championship, Concordia University-Saint Paul head coach Brady Starkey was still trying to put the 2022 season in perspective. “You always remember the times you don’t succeed more than the times you did,” Starkey said, referring to his team’s 3-1 loss to West Texas A&M in the championship match on December 3 in Seattle. “You feel bad for a group that worked so hard for so long.”

Despite a 16-game winning streak during the regular season, the Golden Bears, a perennial Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference power, managed to spend most of the season under the radar. The main reason for that was a pair of early 3-0 losses to conference foe Wayne State University. The first came in the finale of a tournament on September 3 in Denver. The teams met again in the conference opener in Nebraska six nights later. The Golden Bears responded with that impressive winning streak. Only twice was CSP forced to a deciding fifth game during that run.

When the teams met at Gangelhoff Center in early November, CSP took two of the first three sets against the Wildcats. But WSU slithered off the hook to win the next two and take the match.

With the NSIC tournament set for Gangelhoff, the Golden Bears were ready to get revenge on their home floor. But one of the beautiful things about sports is its unpredictability. Augustana, the eighth seed, stunned the top-seeded Wildcats in the quarterfinals. The Golden Bears ripped through Northern State and Minnesota-Duluth in straight sets, but lost 3-2 in the title match to a Saint Cloud State team that needed the win to advance to the NCAA tournament. That loss was basically an annoyance to Starkey.

“We knew we were going to get into the NCAA tournament one way or the other,” he said. “When you know that, you often think differently.”

The NCAA Central Region tournament found CSP going back in Nebraska. Starkey reminded his charges there were no easy games in the tournament and they needed to bring their “A” game to succeed. The Golden Bears did just that against Nebraska-Kearney and Minnesota-Duluth to advance to the final where Saint Cloud State was once again waiting. As in the conference championship match, CSP found itself in a 2-0 hole. But the Golden Bears responded with a pair of wins and turned the tables with a 15-13 win in the climatic fifth set. 

“We were close in all three sets (the finale was 28-26),” Starkey noted. “That’s what hurts. It’s about missed opportunities. Maybe you’ll get another chance, but nothing is for sure next year.” 

It was then off to the West Coast in search of the school’s first NCAA crown since 2017. CSP was sharp in the quarterfinal and semifinal matches, rolling to 3-0 wins over Southern New Hampshire and Cal State. They started off the championship match against West Texas A&M with a 25-23 triumph, but dropped three sets by a combined nine points to finish in second place.

“We were close in all three sets (the finale was 28-26),” Starkey noted. “That’s what hurts. It’s about missed opportunities. Maybe you’ll get another chance, but nothing is for sure next year.” 

Though the Golden Bears had just one senior (Kennedy Brady) on their roster in 2022, Starkey is busy beating the bushes for players. He knows prospects can find a website and see there’s a lot of returning talent. So his approach to recruits is simple: Each season is different. Today’s current starters may be next year’s reserves. Starting with the offseason drills in January, you work for your spot in the lineup. A skilled new player can take a spot quickly. Exhibit A: Ellie Sieling, a freshman from Bloomington who led the team in digs with 452.

One of the most pleasant facets of the season for Starkey was coaching his daughter Teagan, a sophomore. The pair had previously been together in AAU and other leagues, but it’s different when you’re a member of one of the best Division II teams in the country.

“She’s a coach’s kid, so she knows the drill,” Starkey said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Some of that understanding may come from Teagan’s mother, Penny, who was a two-time all-American, setting school records in volleyball at the University of Saint Thomas and is a member of the Tommies’ Athletic Hall of Fame.

After 21 years, a coach tends to get a little philosophical about things. So Starkey can appreciate the season that just ended, his 14th with 30 wins or more. But like the fisherman who sees a big one get off the hook, he sounded a bit remorseful about how it ended. Still, a 31-6 overall record for a team that had just one senior on its roster and didn’t win its regular-season or postseason conference championship is something to cherish.

“Yes, it was a very good season,” Starkey said. “We did a lot of things very well. However, as a coach, you’re always looking for the things you can do—or should have done—better. That’s what frustrates me.” 

UST not immune from college football portal

On November 28, the University of Minnesota football team scored its second win in three days over Wisconsin when wide receiver Markus Allen announced he was pulling up stakes and leaving Badgerland for life as a Golden Gopher. However, seven days later Allen, who had quit the team when head coach Paul Chryst was fired, had a change of a heart and decided to return to Madison.

The portal where players add their names in the hopes of finding greener turf has wormed its way to the newest member of the Division I football fraternity at Saint Thomas. The Tommies’ second season in the Pioneer League was a rip-roaring success. UST won its last 10 games in a row and rolled through the Pioneer League with an 8-0 mark.

Success attracts attention and so UST head coach Glenn Caruso and staff waded through some 650 requests from potential transfers. But there’s a catch here. Football is a non-scholarship sport at UST. Applicants who wish to attend must be able to earn scholarships the old-fashioned way–with their brains.

“We haven’t changed the manner we use to look at transfers,” Caruso said. “It’s the same as in our DIII days. If it’s a player we’re interested in, we’ll look at him. But any offers we make have to be academic.” 

The Ivy League is the only other entity that plays Division I football without athletic scholarships. Caruso thinks a football partnership between the two leagues is a smart thing to do. UST will make a step in that direction when it plays a nonconference game at Harvard on September 16. The Crimson are scheduled to visit Saint Paul in 2029.

Caruso has his eye on other potential Ivy League foes as well. The Harvard game lands UST in Boston, a football hotbed. Asked about the prospect of a game against Columbia in New York City, Caruso declared that he’d be all in. 

Dave Wright can be reached at


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