Thunder fall seasons end with mixed assessmentsThe Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College fall teams have wound up their seasons – with both the football and volleyball programs growing but experiencing frustration on the field of play.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College fall teams have wound up their seasons – with both the football and volleyball programs growing but experiencing frustration on the field of play.
The football team finished 3-6 but lost all six of its games by a total of 37 points. In fact, the team allowed only 11 more points than it scored all season long after last weekend’s 27-9 win over Vermilion that closed out the season.
“It was a frustrating year,” Coach Keith Turner said. “We just couldn’t finish. We played a [great] second half against Mesabi two weeks ago and couldn’t finish it (in a 21-20 loss), and that summed up our season.”
The team’s heaviest loss of the season was 39-25 to Northland. Other setbacks were by 13 points to Ridgewater, plus three-point losses to Central Lakes, Rochester and Fergus Falls and the one-point loss to Mesabi.
“It’s not like they played poorly,” Turner said of his team. “The kids stayed together and played hard all the way through the season. The sophomores understood that we were on a razor blade between winning and losing and that’s something. Last year we won a few of those types of games but we lost them this year.”
One hugely positive spot for Turner is that all five starting offensive linemen and both the top backups are freshmen and can all play again next year.
“You win games in the trenches on offense and defense,” Turner said. “Look at Scholastica and UMD. They are starting linemen who are older guys and have been through the program. They practice against older competition. We lack that opportunity to have older guys, so experience is very important.”
“The offensive linemen really picked up the pace after the first three games,” Turner said. “They realized they couldn’t just get a push on someone, they needed to use technique since they were playing opposite guys with skill.”
Kicker Anthony Wood, quarterback Michael Davis, wide receiver Brandon Peterson and running back Danny Mason are all departing on the offensive side of the ball but Turner is hopeful some players will move on.
“We’ve had people from Iowa State, Marshall, Indiana and Ohio University looking at some of our players,” Turner said. “Defensively, we lose three players who can play at the highest level. These kids have an opportunity if they take care of their academics.”
“It’s frustrating to be 3-6 and not 6-3, but I will be happier if I see all our sophomores graduate,” Turner added.
Meanwhile, the Thunder volleyball program won its first conference match ever this season and set a school record for match wins with three.
Coach Loren Wappes was pleased with how his team (3-20 overall, 1-13 conference) improved despite being reduced to just eight players late in the season.
“I’m very happy with the season,” Wappes said. “We could have finished stronger, but we improved over last year and both in the number of wins and in how competitive we were throughout the matches. There was only one team this year that we weren’t able to win a set from (Central Lakes).”
The players who stuck out the season earned praise from their coach.
“Some of our players decided it wasn’t for them,” Wappes said. “We had a lot of improvement during the season and six of our eight players were returnees so we return two freshmen next year.”
Outside hitter Brittany Erhardt earned praise from Wappes, as did libero Rachel Sanda of Cloquet.
“Rachel led the conference in digs per game by a wide margin,” Wappes said. “She anchored our defense and that kept us close. Nobody really took us too lightly as maybe they had in the past. Teams knew they would get a fight.
Sanda, Wrenshall’s Holly Nelson and Rita Aspinwall of Elk River were the team’s tri-captains.
“Holly went to Carlton and was in the top of the conference in blocks, kill percentage and kills per game,” Wappes said. “She made other people rearrange their defense. Rita was fourth in set assists and sixth in digs.”
Nelson set school records for kills and blocks in a season and kills in a match during the past year. Sanda set a school record for digs and Aspinwall set a school record for set assists. Amber Gregg of Cloquet set a school record with 38 ace serves during the season.
And the team won its first ever conference match.
“We did beat Vermilion,” Wappes said. “We also had three or four other really close matches that could have gone either way. We lined up well against a lot of teams. This year the players got over the thought that they couldn’t win, and this year we did. We were much better at the end of the season than we were at the beginning.”