Softball preview: Senior-less Cloquet is confidentA look at Cloquet and Carlton softball teams as well as other county high school softball teams around the state.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET — Cloquet softball players Chandler Beaupre and Jade Benko helped mark a page in the school history book last year, as the strong pitcher and reliable catcher centered the Lumberjacks to the Class AA state tournament for the first time in 10 years, playing among a cast of seniors.
Now it’s their turn to lead.
“Last year we helped those seniors and now it’s our turn to come from behind and pick up where they left,” said sophomore catcher Benko after practice Monday. “We have some big shoes to fill, but I think we can add to what they have done. I think we can do it.”
Benko hasn’t been doing much lately, sidelined with a right rotator cuff strain in her throwing shoulder. Unable to practice in all but the opening week of the team’s first month in the gymnasium, Benko is optimistic she will return by Cloquet’s season opener with Greenway at Braun Park April 12.
She’s even more optimistic about the team’s chances this year.
That team is young. Along with Benko, Beaupre and fellow junior captain Sammy Zeadow, none of Cloquet’s dozen varsity players are seniors, while half of them are still underclassmen.
Benko, Beaupre and Zeadow are the only returnees with starting varsity experience, but fourth-year Coach Ron Tondryk said all of his players — including many from this year — watched Cloquet dethrone heavy-favorite Hermantown for the section championship and played at State to a school-best third-place finish.
“We have some girls who can catch the ball, make the out, and play with confidence,” Tondryk said. “They’ve known this was coming the past couple years, and now it’s their time to step up.”
Beaupre, one of the area’s hardest throwers as a junior, agreed.
“Having no seniors doesn’t have an affect on us — we know what each other can do and just have to go play our game,” she said. “Last year we earned it; we played hard and then we kicked it in. I feel we have a good shot. People will have their eyes on us.”
“Anytime you have success, the X is put on your back,” added Tondryk, who has four assistants, including Kerry Rodd who has over 20 years of coaching experience and is new to the staff this spring. “Last year was surreal at times, but all of these girls are excited about softball, and want more. The state tournament is what you play for, and our goal is to build this program and get back there.”
Carlton will seek to get back to the section championship this spring, as the Bulldogs have fallen to Cherry — last year’s unbeaten Class A state champions — in the final game the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs will be coached by Callie Langdon, who moved up from the junior varsity to take over for Denny Johnson. Langdon, a five-year utility infielder for the former Carlton-Wrenshall cooperative program, said she is thrilled for the upcoming spring.
“It’s exciting to see how far this program has come since I played and how much the game has grown in this school,” Langdon said. “This is a fun group of girls to watch. I can’t wait to get on the field and see them play. For a lot of them, things come automatic.”
Senior Brooke Camps is an automatic threat for Carlton, as the sixth-year varsity second baseman is one of the area’s top hitters. Other top players include right-handed hurler Grace Macor, catcher Hannah Benson, and Myranda Papesh, Jess Stanslaski and Macy Belich.
“We’re a younger team, but I’ve already seen improvement by everybody,” said Camps Tuesday. “[Cherry] is fast, smart and tricky, but we all have that fire and hope to get back and beat them.”
Barnum brings back top pitcher Lauren Hultgren, along with fellow veterans Paige Rilea and M.J. Anderson in Sarah MacDonald’s (formerly Sarah Yrjanson) third year with the Bombers.