Two days before the opener, West Georgia senior quarterback Dallas Dickey stated several reasons why the Wolves were hungry and excited for the start of the 2015 season.

West Georgia finished last season 12-3. The Wolves won their first NCAA Division II playoff game, beating Tuskegee 20-17 in the first round.

“It was a huge moment for us,” Dickey said. “But we treated it just like any other week during the season. It was on to the next thing, the next team to see what kind of strengths and weaknesses they have and how we were going to do to scheme them up.”

That mentality carried the Wolves all the way to the semifinals where it lost 10-7 to Colorado State -Pueblo, the eventual Division II champions.

“It left kind of a bad taste in our mouths,” Dickey said. “I feel like maybe we had a chance to win the whole thing last year.

“We are extremely excited to have a good year this year and maybe make another run at it.”

On Saturday, West Georgia showed why Dickey is excited for the season. The Wolves traveled to Salisbury, N.C. and played Catawba.

West Georgia took a 16-13 lead into halftime and then turned it up a couple of notches in the second half, outscoring Catawba 28-0 for an impressive 44-13 season-opening victory.

Dickey was near perfect in the win, completing 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown.

In a sense, the Wolves have a target on their backs. They came into the season ranked fourth in the American Football Coaches Association top 25 poll.

“Obviously, we know where we are ranked, but that means nothing,” Dickey said. “We got to go out there and prove where we are and be the best team we can be and play the best level we can play and let the chips fall where they may.”

West Georgia returns to action 7 p.m. ET Saturday in its home opener against Miles College at University Stadium.

Defending a national title

On Dec. 20, 2014, the Colorado State-Pueblo football team left Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas., as the NCAA Division II national champions. The ThunderWolves beat Minnesota State-Mankato 13-0 and concluded a run in which Colorado State-Pueblo surrendered only seven points in its final two games.

It was a tremendous way to conclude the season. Obviously, through the winter, spring football and summer workouts, the returning Colorado State-Pueblo players were reminded of last year’s accomplishments.

“We don’t think about it as much,” said senior linebacker Joe Rosenbrock. “Maybe the media will bring it up and everybody around us and even my parents.”

The ThunderWolves enter this season with a target on their backs. They are not only the defending national champions, they begin the year ranked second in the AFCA top 25.

In addition, Colorado State-Pueblo is breaking in a new starter at quarterback. But the ThunderWolves are experienced in one facet of the game that wins championships: defense.

Rosenbrock is one of six starters back on defense. Although the team lost some good players in the secondary from last year’s team, Rosenbrock likes what he sees from his defensive teammates.

“The majority of us played significant time last year,” Rosenbrock said. “I think we are right up there where we were last year. We do have seniors who played big roles last year.”

Colorado State-Pueblo turned in a solid effort in its season-opener at home against Central Washington, winning 41-14. The ThunderWolves allowed 290 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers.

Rosenbrock contributed to the defensive success with five tackles and one pass break-up. Also turning in a strong performance was senior linebacker Ben Estica, who recorded seven tackles and returned one interception 51 yards.

It was a great way to start the season for the defending national champions.

“Our coach made a big issue of not trying to dwell on it,” Rosenbrock said of last year’s title. “We don’t want to be complacent. I think we are back in the same boat as last year as far as mindset going into the season.”

For Colorado State-Pueblo that means focusing on one game at a time and not looking ahead.

“We have a game this week and that is what we are focused on,” Rosenbrock said on Thursday. “I don’t think we think about the national championship much. Obviously, we know about it. It is there and everybody tells us about it. As far as the team goes, we do a pretty good job and staying focused on the job at hand.”

And the only thing that were on the minds of the ThunderWolves last week was their season-opener.

“The first game is probably the most jittery for all the players and even for the community and the college because it has been so long since we last played,” Rosenbrock said. “You go through the grind of spring ball, summer workouts and fall camp. You are ready to get back to what you love and that is playing. The excitement level is high. Every day it builds more and more.”

The  journey through the fall months can produce lifetime memories and friends.

“I think what will stick in my mind more than the game itself will be the players I played with,” Rosenbrock said.  “More than playing in a national championship game and winning it, it is the players and brothers I won it with.”

Elite early-season volleyball tournament

The Courtyard by Marriot Volleyball Classic at the University of Tampa on Friday and Saturday was the place to be to see some of the top NCAA Division II volleyball schools.

Tampa, the host school, enters the season as the defending national champions. And the Spartans, ranked number one in the American Volleyball Coaches Association, started well winning their first three matches before falling to Minnesota Duluth in five games in the final match of the Classic.

Minnesota-Duluth, ranked fourth in the AVCA poll, also went 3-1 in the Classic. It’s loss came against Western Washington, which is ranked 24th. Also competing in the Classic was Wheeling Jesuit, ranked ninth in the poll. Wheeling Jesuit went 2-2.

The most outstanding player in the tournament was Minnesota-Duluth Mariah Scharf. Scharf, a senior outside hitter, had 71 kills in the four matches.

No. 1 Grand Valley State women’s soccer team bounces back

Grand Valley State started the 2015 season ranked No. 1 in the NSCAA coaches poll and then lost its season opener 3-0 at Quincy University on Friday.

Two days later, the Lakers bounced back with a 4-0 victory at Truman State on Sunday. Seniors Maddison Reynolds, Katie Bounds and Katie Klunder scored three of the goals.

“I thought our girls responded really well to the challenge we put to them after Friday's performance,” said head coach Jeff Hosler on the Grand Valley State website “I thought we did a good job being the more aggressive team, and any time you score early, you create an advantage for your team. Scoring that early while playing the way we were really helped build our confidence in the game.”