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Spring sports at a standstill

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CLOQUET—Perhaps the best display of our current spring sports standstill was last Thursday when Jade Benko’s car needed to get plowed out of the snowy Cloquet High School parking lot just after she arrived for softball practice.

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Practice was cancelled that afternoon, as wintery weather and lingering cold temperatures have taken a toll on springtime athletics for a second straight season.

Benko said her 2001 Pontiac Grand Am was immediately defeated by the heavy, wet snow when the junior catcher came to practice last week. Teammates took time to help others get moving safely, but for some like Benko, Coach Ron Tondryk needed to clear a lane to leave.

“He plowed me all the way out of the parking lot,” said Benko after another indoor practice Tuesday at the school.

“We’re sick of snow — softball players hate snow,” continued Benko, whose only high school sport has been crammed indoors now for four weeks and who continues to wait eagerly to get outdoors and remain sane. “We’re anxious to get outside, but we have to make the best of a bad situation.”

Situated with a team that only had a two-week regular season before the playoffs last year, Tondryk has tried his best to formulate a favorable schedule this spring. Cloquet scrimmaged at the Rosemount Irish Dome two weeks ago and is scheduled to play the season opener in La Crosse, Wis. this weekend, weather permitting.

Tondryk, in his fifth season, is hopeful the weather will improve so they can get on their home field of Braun Park perhaps in a couple weeks, but said the snow still sits high.

“About a couple feet,” Tondryk said of the snow depth at the complex.

“It’s not easy, but it’s what we’ve been dealt,” continued Tondryk of the weather, set to dump more snow on Thursday and/or Friday. “It’s manageable, but at some point we need to get outside.”

Cloquet track and field Coach Tim Prosen admitted he looks outside every day, but as of Tuesday, like everywhere else, the track remained covered despite early shoveling efforts. The school is scheduled to try snow blowing next week.

Cloquet baseball Coach Rick Norrgard took a snow blower to Ed Mettner Field last year, but on Tuesday he said that won’t happen again, as his kids wait for their opener Thursday at Ashland.

“It’ll be a while yet,” Norrgard said with a laugh, not sure if the season will start by May or not. “I wish I knew.”

Prosen, in his 10th year coaching track, knows his team of 140-plus students — which has competed indoors at the University of Wisconsin-Superior already — is fortunate.

“We’ve learned to accommodate,” said Prosen, “but it’s easier for me to coach a track practice inside than it is for a softball coach to be hitting ground balls off the gym floor.”

The sport most floored by this weather is golf. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys Coach Jon Horbacz held off on practice until after spring break, but even his team’s first official practice Tuesday morning at Esko High School was cancelled because of slippery and unsafe road conditions.

Horbacz, who coached his first-ever season last year starting with six weeks indoors, thinks their home-course Cloquet Country Club will open in May at the earliest. Girls Coach Sue Northey hadn’t even met her team as of Tuesday.

“Last year was frustrating and this year is equally as frustrating,” Northey said. “It’s so depressing seeing snowbank after snowbank, but you just do what you can do.”

Steve Rickstrom’s CEC boys tennis team is doing their best, practicing Wednesday at Virginia’s indoor facility. Saturday’s season-opener has already been cancelled, but Tuesday, indoors at Virginia, they will play Eveleth-Gilbert.

“We’re getting killed — [this is] by far the latest start we’ve ever had,” said Rickstrom, now in his 15th year. “People thought last year was bad. We’re still dealing with 30 to 36 inches of snow. Once it melts, it’ll flood. It’s gonna be a nightmare.”