Coaches change, Cloquet doesn'tWhen he was hired as Cloquet’s new baseball coach, Rick Norrgard promptly approached one man to be along his side: Rick Stowell, former head coach.
When he was hired as Cloquet’s new baseball coach, Rick Norrgard promptly approached one man to be along his side: Rick Stowell, former head coach.
Stowell had been at the Lumberjacks helm for the past two seasons before resigning last August. Norrgard was hired for the job a short time after and wasted no time in asking the knowledgeable Stowell to return as an assistant with the team this spring.
“I knew I was going to need some help,” Norrgard said. “And Rick was an obvious choice.”
According to Stowell, who led the Lumberjacks to the state tournament in 2010, Norrgard contacted him around Christmas break about the offer. Stowell said it was a pleasant surprise.
“This spring I was set on improving my golf game,” Stowell said with a laugh Tuesday morning. “I was honored to be asked back. Rick is a real good baseball guy. There are a lot of good baseball guys on this staff.”
Joining Norrgard and Stowell are Brent Pokornowski, Eric Hagen and Justin Timm. Stowell said they can all relate to the game – and the players said everything is busy at practice as usual.
“All of the coaches just do their thing,” said senior starting infielder Derek Anderson. “No one is really ever just standing around at practice. We’re always doing something, just like we used to. Coach Norrgard has added in some new drills, too. It’s been a good transition.”
“I like to believe things have gone pretty smoothly,” added Norrgard, noting that the weather –which has allowed the Lumberjacks to practice outside nearly every day this spring – has also been a factor. “It’s been amazing. That really helps.”
A strong returning roster will also play in their favor. Stowell said the Lumberjacks return seven starters from last year’s 8-11 squad, while a trio of others has returned from injuries and ineligibilities a season ago.
“We have 10 starters back,” said Stowell with another laugh, noting there’s only nine spots in the field. “All of these kids are very coachable and eager to learn. I feel we’re going to be a solid team.”
Anderson is one of the 10 returnees, along with fellow seniors Adam Hanson, Jake Schwinn, Kellin Lamirande, Taylor Blundell, Cole Johnson and Trent Moe. Juniors Eric Peterson, Kaleb Kadelbach and sophomores Travis Bartlett and Jeff Sarkela will also contribute again. Stowell also noted eight freshmen are out for a program that Hanson said is determined to succeed this spring.
“We didn’t get far last year and that was disappointing,” said Hanson, explaining Cloquet lost in the playoff opener to Moose Lake-Willow River. “We don’t want to fall like we did last year. Most of us have all been playing together for a long time, and with the experience and coaching we have, I think we have what it takes to make another state run.”
To do so, the Lumberjacks will hinge on Hanson. As the team’s top pitcher, the right-handed hurler is also Cloquet’s stellar shortstop and a heavy hitter in the lineup. The 18-year-old said Tuesday morning he wants to pursue baseball in college, but is still undecided, knowing this season still lies ahead.
“Adam is good,” classmate Anderson said. “We can count on him to get a hit, make a play at short and any time he is pitching, we have a chance to win.
“[We] seniors realize this is our last year here and have to put the work in,” he continued. “But if we play our best, I think we can control our own destiny.”
Norrgard said Hanson is scheduled to start in Thursday’s 2012 season opener against Henry Sibley at the Metrodome in Minneapolis at 5:30 p.m. Yet, Norrgard, who also coaches youth baseball in the summer, knows things just need to go one step after the other.
“That’s the plan,” Norrgard said. “I believe we can be a good team. Thing are going to take some time, but these kids are working hard to get better. I think we have a great coaching staff. I’m learning every day.”