Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
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There are times when athletes can surprise even themselves on the biggest stage. Dylan Larson didn't expect to be at the state meet in the shot put a season ago. His teammate and good friend, then senior Mitch Maday, was more of the favorite to have a qualifying throw after clearing the 50-feet mark during the 8AA True Team meet.
The Alexandria softball team has some quality players to replace from a 17-8 team, but that doesn't mean expectations change for this program. Like the Cardinals' baseball team, Alexandria softball is in a new-look section 8-3A field after the state high school league moved from three to four classes in both sports. Alexandria, Little Falls, Detroit Lakes, Sartell-St. Stephen, Fergus Falls, Sauk Rapids-Rice, St. Cloud Apollo and Thief River Falls are now in 8-3A. Perennially strong teams like Becker, Bemidji, Monticello and St. Cloud Tech are out.
The Alexandria boys track and field program lost some talented athletes who made the state meet last year, but return a group that head coach Mike Empting feels confident with in a lot of areas. Aaron Runge (3,200-meter run), Alec Wosepka (pole vault) and Mitch Maday (discus) all represented the Cardinals at Hamline a year ago as seniors. They'll have to be replaced, but Alexandria has a group of 13 seniors who will help lead the way in doing that.
The Alexandria girls track and field team finished 14th a year ago out of 66 programs that were represented at the Class AA state meet. This year's roster features a lot of the same talent, along with a young group of girls that has head coach Meghan Orgeman-Crumb believing another nice season should be in store this spring.
A group of athletes have been gathering in local church basements for almost 60 years to play some baseball; at least baseball by its general rules. The equipment is different. Instead of bats, they use darts. The diamond they play on is much smaller, about a 4x4x4-foot board. Instead of sunflower seeds, it's coffee cake that fills their mouths. But the end objective is the same for the Lutheran Layman's Dart Baseball League as it is in the Majors — plate more runs than your opponent.
The Alexandria boys golf team will rely on the depth of its program to try and produce another strong season after taking the Central Lakes Conference title in 2015. The Cardinals lost five senior letter winners from last year's roster, including All-CLC golfers Lukas Bigger and Aaron Johnson. Cole Haugen, Dan Hennessey and Sam Jenson will also have to be replaced, but eight letter winners are back trying to do that.
The Alexandria girls track and field team has a luxury that most teams would love to have coming into this spring season. A year after the Cardinals finished 14th out of the 66 teams represented at the Class AA state meet with 24 points, Alexandria returns almost all the athletes responsible for that. The only one not back is sophomore Patricia Johnson, who moved out of town during the off-season. Johnson qualified in the 100-meter dash as a freshman last year.
Where a team sits in the polls doesn't lead to wins on the field, but the initial Let's Play Baseball Newspaper rankings released on March 30 like the chances of some area teams quite a bit. Alexandria was ranked number one in the initial polls that were released on the Minnesota State High School League's Facebook page. The Cardinals were right ahead of second-ranked Rocori, another program out of the Central Lakes Conference. Fellow Section 8-3A opponent Bemidji is ranked fourth in 3A.
BASEBALL Ashby vs. Sebeka (UNC), 5 p.m. Brandon-Evansville vs. Lake Park Audubon, 5 p.m. SOFTBALL Brandon-Evansville vs. Minnewaska, 4:30 p.m. Parkers Prairie vs. OTC, 4:30 p.m.
Most lakes in Western Minnesota are ice free, and for the anxious open-water angler, that means it's crappie time! Crappie anglers often think shallow water and finding the warmest shallow water is often the key. Warm water, at least relatively speaking, usually attracts crappies as the spring's first signs of life often occur in the warmest of the shallows, drawing hungry fish. These fish are there to feed first, and later to spawn.