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Winterless weather brings softball smiles

CLOQUET--Abbey Wangen and her Cloquet softball teammates warmed up in the Braun Park outfield Tuesday, a big change from the past two seasons when, if they had practiced outside on the last day of March, players would have been dealing with sever...

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Cloquet softball Coach (center) Ron Tondryk and assistants Kerry Rodd (left) and Joel Korby talk to the Lumberjacks before Tuesday afternoon's scrimmage vs Esko. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com

CLOQUET-Abbey Wangen and her Cloquet softball teammates warmed up in the Braun Park outfield Tuesday, a big change from the past two seasons when, if they had practiced outside on the last day of March, players would have been dealing with several feet of snow.

No snow was around the Lumberjacks’ home ballpark Tuesday, as Cloquet welcomed Esko and South Ridge for a pair of softball scrimmages on a sunny 55-degree day. No official uniforms or scores were kept, but just being outside before April - or May - was a victory itself.

“The last two years we barely even got outside - one year I think we only played eight games before playoffs,” recalled Wangen, a senior captain outfielder turned third baseman this spring. “Everyone was so excited. Just think, it was March 31 and we were outside. It was the perfect day.”

The day exemplified what spring softball is about. Although they played on brown grass and soft dirt, the fresh air was pleasant while plenty of people milled around the park with their personal pull-out chairs or sat in the stands to cheer on their favorite team.

The Lumberjacks look younger this season than most, with the graduation of six seniors a year ago. Still though, one can never count out Cloquet, which returns Wangen, as well as fellow senior captains in pitcher Kaylee McMillen and catcher Jade Benko. Juniors Kassidy Steen, at first base, and Makayla Langenbrunner, a shortstop, will also lead.

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Sophomore Rosalie Lundquist is usually the fastest kid on the field, while classmate Lindsey Lamirande, in left, slashed several hits, much to Coach Ron Tondryk’s liking on Tuesday.

“I think we’ve gotten our program to where we’ve wanted it to be, where the beauty of it is, we can just bring in new kids and they can fill the role and never lose a beat,” Tondryk said. “This year’s no different. It’s pretty fun to look around and see that we have good softball players and good athletes.”

Cloquet, which opens its season hosting Greenway at Braun next Friday, April 10, was eliminated in last year’s playoffs to Pequot Lakes - a round short of the section final. Tondryk said that loss only fuels this year’s team to prevail.

“It was a little disappointing; we thought we were the team to beat,” he said. “But that’s why you play the game. It’s definitely a desire for those kids to get back to that final.”

Finally on dirt earlier rather than later, maybe that’ll be the case.

“Usually there are still piles of snow outside the dugout when we get here,” said Wangen. “It was nice it was all dirt.”

For Esko, it was new Coach Brenna Zavodnik taking to the dirt for Brad Emanuel. Zavodnik, who played collegiately for Jen Walter at St. Scholastica and also officiated for several years, said those experiences are aiding the rookie coach.

“I have a way better understanding of the game having played for Jen and been an umpire,” said Zavodnik, whose team takes shape around lone senior shortstop Ashley Bergerson, junior speedster Elle Emanuel and first-year freshman pitcher Emilee Wilson. “I think that we have a lot of potential here.”

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Although South Ridge is without centerfield star Lindsey Janke with a torn ACL from basketball, Coach Tim Anvid would say the same about his group. With the Olesiak sisters, Mikayla and Celia, along with Krystal Karppinen and pitcher Mallory Thibault - all three-sport athletes - Anvid remained upbeat.

“We didn’t lose anybody from last year’s team,” said Anvid, soaking up the beautiful day at Braun. “You can’t beat this.”

Polar League foe Carlton and their 1-2 punch of pitcher Grace Macor and catcher Hannah Benson will be tough to beat this spring, as Macor returns after 184 strikeouts and a 0.62 ERA a season ago, while Benson batted a dizzying .714.

“Those two have been on the varsity since seventh and eighth grade,” said Coach Callie Langdon, whose Bulldogs got on Chub Lake Park late this week. “They’re huge for us.”

Meanwhile, Moose Lake-Willow River got on their field in Willow River Tuesday as they scrimmaged Duluth East.

Led by daughter and pitcher Ally Bode, and catcher Morgan Prachar, Coach Kelly Goeb likes the team and the temperatures.

“It’s beautiful,” Goeb said. “We have not had to shovel.”

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AREA NOTES:

  • Like Zavodnik in Esko, Dustin Collelo takes over in Barnum for former Coach Katie Monech. The Bombers only have two seniors, one being shortstop Cheyanne Johnson, while they will also like the bat of sophomore Bailey Wheeler.

  • Still speaking of coaches, Andrew Korby was hired and supposed to take over the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College program this spring; however, the Thunder have cancelled their entire 2015 season. The baseball team will also not have a squad for FDLTCC this season.

  • Heading the club in Cromwell-Wright, a crew of 14 girls on their roster again coached by Terry Sawdey, will be the Risacher sisters, including senior pitcher Kaylan and her younger eighth-grade sibling, Elizabeth.

  • According to weather archives, Tuesday's high temperature of 57 degrees in Cloquet was a record for March 31. A year ago to the day, the temperature was 36, while snow fell lightly.

Related Topics: CLOQUETSOFTBALL
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