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FDLTCC prepares for fall sports

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College will offer six sports for the coming school year - two each in the fall, winter and spring seasons. The school has added baseball for the coming spring, but over the next few weeks the FDLTCC football and ...

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College will offer six sports for the coming school year - two each in the fall, winter and spring seasons.

The school has added baseball for the coming spring, but over the next few weeks the FDLTCC football and volleyball teams will begin practices for the coming year.

Head football coach and athletic director Keith Turner hopes to welcome between 60 and 65 prospective players to the start of season meetings on Sunday. That would represent a roster growth of more than 50 percent for the Thunder, who played last season with 38 players.

"We've got 18-20 players returning from last season," Turner said. "We have a good group coming back."

The Thunder were eliminated from playoff contention in the season's final weeks, and Turner is optimistic that those returning players will contend again this fall.

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"The kids that are returning learned that if they work hard they have an opportunity to be better than they were last year," Turner said. "The message, though, isn't to be better, but to try to be great."

Starting quarterback Michael Davis will return for his second year, along with running back/ receiver Michael Wallace and receiver Danny Mason. Returnee Antonio Hughes will anchor the offensive line.

Defensively, AlBrook's David Hjelle is returning at linebacker with cornerback Kevin Eugene, strong safety John Slaughter (Cromwell) and linebacker Ben Ross (Duluth) expected to help.

Additionally, Turner noted that placekicker Anthony Wood of Cloquet is on this year's national "Fred Mitchell Watch List," which is a national award for kickers that is now open to junior college players for the first time.

"The award is for young men who are kickers who are doing well academically and doing great things in their communities," Turner said. "Anthony is currently the only junior college player in the country who is on the list. Everyone else is a four-year player."

The Thunder kick off their season Saturday, Aug. 27, at St. Cloud State against two-time defending state finalist Central Lakes. They will play at Minnesota State-Fergus Falls on Sept. 3 before playing their first home game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at Bromberg Field against Minnesota West.

Last season, the Thunder split their home games between Cloquet and Duluth's Public Schools Stadium. This year, the team will play three games in Cloquet and their Sept. 24 home game against Itasca Community College in Barnum.

Meanwhile, head coach Loren Wappes hopes to welcome at least 15 players to the start of volleyball practice on Aug. 15.

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Last year's Thunder team had only one second-year player and did not win a match. This year, FDLTCC has at least seven returning players and higher hopes.

"We never really know until the first day of practice who will be there," Wappes said. "But, we're confident we will have a solid returning group."

Key returnees are libero Rachel Sanda (Cloquet), middle hitter Holly Nelson (Carlton and Wrenshall), setter Rita Aspinwall (Elk River) and outside hitter Amber Gregg (Cloquet).

Wappes is excited to begin a new season with a group that has played together before.

"We didn't have a lot of success but we had a super bunch of players," Wappes said. "Everyone says they have great kids but we had very little drama last year despite not winning a match. With the returning experience, we have some good newcomers too."

In a scheduling quirk, the Thunder do not have a match for the first month of their practice schedule but then play their entire schedule - 14 matches and one tournament - in a span of 35 days from Sept. 14 to Oct. 19.

"Usually we'd start playing at the end of August," Wappes said. "It's going to be fun, but Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays we're going to be playing."

Wappes and assistant coach Laura Sylvester have a program to build.

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"We are very cognizant of the need to build and the players are too," Wappes said. "We have a lot of returners, we know last year's players a little better, and they were very cognizant of us as a second-year program last year."

"They (the returning players) have helped us with recruiting, talked with their friends about playing," Wappes added. "They're very aware of the need to grow."

The team will begin play on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at home against Vermilion Community College.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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