Blue sky, warm sunshine, and gentle breezes are on almost every Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Thunder player’s wish list right now. It’s not really news to anyone living in northern Minnesota, but the late, lingering winter has been one of the biggest factors of the 2013 spring season for the Thunder softball and baseball teams.
While both teams have been practicing inside the campus gym since mid-winter and both have played a few early season games inside domes in the Twin Cities, the players are ready to get outside.
“Dealing with the uncertainty of the weather and having to re-schedule outdoor games is tough on a team,” said Thunder Baseball head coach Cal Barr. “It’s getting hard to be inside the gym for so long; we finally got outside on March 27 to field some fly balls in the parking lot.”
Despite the slow-to-arrive spring weather, the Thunder baseball team remains eager to start playing games outdoors and see what they can do on the diamond. The current roster of 16 players includes five former members of the Polar League: pitchers Joe Broneak and Colton Godbout of Carlton, outfielder Andrew Knight of Barnum, catcher Jordan Myles of Floodwood, and pitcher Daniel Wilson of Silver Bay.
“I’m looking forward to playing games at the college level and learning from Coach Barr,” said Thunder freshman Daniel Wilson. “I hope to grow as a player and work toward continuing to play baseball in the future. College pitching is a lot different than high school, it is quite an adjustment. There are good players in our league, so we need to work hard to play well and smart, and cut down on things like defensive errors.”
“Everyone here has a very positive attitude and we get along great,” said Thunder freshman Colton Godbout. “The coaching is terrific, I know the coaching is preparing me for our season and for playing four years of college baseball. This is a great place to come if you want to learn about baseball, and especially to learn how to pitch. We are progressing as a team, we can hardly wait to get outside and see what we can do.”
The Thunder baseball team has five returning players on the roster, led by Duluth Denfeld alums Tony Klaas and Travis Magdzas. Carlton alum Joe Broneak also returns. Magdzas has already signed his letter of intent and scholarship offer to play Division II baseball at the University of Minnesota-Crookston after his two years with the Thunder.
“It’s nice to have a good core group returning from last year,” said Thunder sophomore Joe Broneak. “Second-year guys like Tony Klaas are stepping up and filling roles where they might not be as comfortable as in their usual position. We have some new pitchers, and I’m ready for one more year of baseball. Being cooped up inside has been tough, I’m looking forward to getting outside.”
“This is year two of our Thunder baseball program,” said Barr. “We have a good number of players, and we’re trying to find their roles, where they belong, what are their strengths. It’s always a fun process to work with young players, young men, and help them develop as athletes and being well-rounded individuals.”
The Thunder were scheduled to play several outdoor games at the end of March and early April, but the game schedule has been undergoing constant change due to weather and lack of playable fields. Check the college website at www.fdltcc.edu for updates.
The Thunder softball team began a new era this season with new head coach Laura Sylvester taking over for program founder and five-year head coach Kerry Rodd who retired after last season. Sylvester, an AlBrook and UMD graduate, has been keeping the team busy practicing inside the campus gym. Sylvester notched her first win as head coach with a 5-4 victory over Anoka-Ramsey Community College on March 21 as part of the Minnesota Classic Tournament in Rosemount.
Sylvester’s coaching style is about enthusiasm and helping student-athletes grow. She is excited about her team’s potential, even with the tough start with the weather situation and lack of time to prepare for seeing opponent’s live pitching outside of a batting cage.
“We have a lot of versatility on our team, players that have experience in many fielding positions,” said Sylvester. “I am excited to go to battle with the group that we have, everyone is in it for the team and supports one another. It will be good to continue on with outdoor games after getting a quick taste of games when we played inside the Irish Dome in Rosemount." The team finished 1-5 in the six games played at the Minnesota Classic.
"We have a very fun, hard-working group of athletes, and it will be a very fun season,” said Sylvester. “They are willing to work together and put in the reps and realize that we are still early in our season. It was a great trip with our team to the Irish Dome, it gave everyone a chance to play and see that it is going to be a lot of fun, especially when the sun starts shining and we get outside. I think our new players learned quickly that the game is very fun and fast paced at the college level, especially when you get out of the gym."
The Thunder roster includes five sophomores and six freshmen. Returning starters include catcher Dayna Elmer of Cromwell-Wright, pitcher Denise Rodd of Cloquet, and shortstop Savannah Hanson of Esko. Carlton grad and pitcher April Broneak will see an expanded role this year, and transfer student Natasha Dragecevich of Moose Lake will play in the infield. Newcomers expected to contribute right away include Alana Groth of Carlton, Melinda Nelson of Proctor, and Shania Paulson of Cloquet. Other area players on the roster are Sarah Sample of McGregor, Shelby Halvorson of Moose Lake, and Brittany Mullen of AlBrook.
The Thunder finished 8-22 overall last season and 7-13 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference Northern Division. According to Coach Sylvester, team keys on offense will be quick bats and being aggressive at the plate to score runs. Pitching consistency and letting the defense take care of business will be number one for keeping pitchers fresh and avoiding long innings in the field. Limiting errors with smart infield defense and playing inning to inning will also be a focus. As for the outfield, having seasoned players that can cover ground will be a benefit for the Thunder this season.
“We have some strong, quick players who love the game and are willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Sylvester. “Our new players have a lot of experience and can be leaders as freshmen. We’ll work hard at sticking together as a team and keeping focused on each task at hand. With a relatively small roster, we need to stay healthy.”
Sylvester is being helped this season by assistant coaches Holly Nelson, a former Thunder softball player, and Heidi Willeck, an AlBrook graduate and current UMD student.
The Thunder softball schedule has also been adjusted by the weather and playing field conditions. For schedule updates, visit the college website at www.fdltcc.edu.