Fall prep sports get underway across Minnesota
A winless 2013 was but a distant memory as the Duluth East football team reconvened Monday afternoon for its first practice of the new campaign.
Nothing, not even a brief downpour during coach Joe Hietala’s opening remarks, could dampen the Greyhounds’ optimism.
“I’m just stoked,” senior lineman Reed Paskett said. “I’m ready to see all my friends back here, playing alongside them and hopefully winning some more games.”
Monday marked the beginning of the fall prep sports season in Minnesota.
“The first day is always great,” Hietala said. “It’s chaos and anticipation.”
As Hietala addressed his team for the first time, he introduced an addition to his coaching staff — though certainly not a newbie to the city’s high school football scene. Dave Mooers, Duluth Denfeld’s coach of 22 years before resigning after the 2004 season, will help the Greyhounds this fall.
A physical education teacher at East, Mooers will focus on defense.
His players, along with those on the offensive side of the ball, enter the season ahead of the curve. That’s because of a bloated turnout for offseason workouts.
“We started our summer practice the day school ended and we had 60 kids come out, and it was really nice to see all the dedication this year,” senior running back and defender Andy Kimball said. “It’s a whole new attitude and a whole new program.”
The Greyhounds could be a bit of a prep football rarity with not one, but two females in the program. Karly Johnson, a junior, will vie for playing time as the team’s kicker, while Grace Daniel is a speedy freshman.
East’s first game is Aug. 28 against St. Francis at Ordean Stadium.
Across town Monday, the Denfeld girls soccer team unveiled a new look — in more ways than one. Not only did the Hunters graduate their core from last year’s Section 7A champs, but longtime coach Ron Weber resigned. His replacement is among the area’s youngest coaches.
Brandon Stemwedel, a Grand Rapids (2008) and St. Scholastica (2012) graduate, is only 24. He admitted to some nerves as his players warmed up on the Public Schools Stadium track.
“I’m extremely nervous,” Stemwedel said. “I want to be able to do the best I can. Obviously, with them being section champs last year, I want to be able to replicate that.”
Stemwedel doesn’t expect his lack of sideline-stalking experience to hinder him.
“For some coaches, experience is a little bit better, but with my experience playing I think I can relate with the girls a little bit more,” he said.
The first day soccer teams officially can play a game is Aug. 21.
While athletes were thrilled to get back to the grind on a day that felt more like fall than summer — the temperatures were in the mid-60s for the start of East’s football practice — the dawn of a new season also comes with a modest downside.
“Once tryouts start, it’s like, ‘OK, school’s going to start now,’ ” Denfeld senior midfielder Emma Kloster said. “It’s like the end of summer.”
Stemwedel wasn’t the only local coach making a debut Monday. Danna Anderson started her first season at the helm of East’s volleyball team. Anderson led more than 55 players through a pair of practices, including senior Bailey Romans, who has made an oral commitment to play volleyball at NCAA Division I South Dakota State.
“Extremely exciting,” Anderson said. “It was overwhelming for a second, but not really.”
Anderson’s team opens at home Aug. 22 against Grand Rapids.