Despite small stature, Denfeld senior stood atop the Northland softball scene
Standing just 5-foot-2, Alexia Klaas is usually the smallest player on the hockey rink or the softball diamond. But that physical challenge only served to give the Duluth Denfeld senior more motivation to succeed, a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality...
Standing just 5-foot-2, Alexia Klaas is usually the smallest player on the hockey rink or the softball diamond.
But that physical challenge only served to give the Duluth Denfeld senior more motivation to succeed, a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality to do better than other high school athletes more physically gifted than her.
“I’ve accepted that I’m not the biggest one or strongest one out there, but I work harder than anyone,” Klaas said. “My whole life, everyone has been bigger than me. I know I’m smaller than everyone but I’m like, ‘Bring it on. I don’t care if I’m short, I’ll still take you on.’ ”
The 17-year-old Klaas stood tall on the softball field in 2014, earning the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year award.
She batted .516 from the leadoff position, with 34 hits, 24 runs scored, 15 RBIs and a team-leading 12 stolen bases in co-captaining the Hunters to a 14-5 record in a difficult Section 7AAA.
“She’s solid everywhere,” Hunters coach Dick Swanson said. “She’s a good clutch hitter. And for a little kid, she hits the ball far.”
Minnesota Duluth obviously wasn’t concerned about Klaas’ stature. The Bulldogs signed her to a hockey letter of intent last fall and encouraged her to play softball as well. UMD softball assistant coach Stan Karich knows Klaas well after coaching her on the Duluth Aerials summer-league team for two years.
“I don’t think (a lack of size) held her back in any sport she’s ever played and I don’t think it will in college, either,” Karich said. “The saying is ‘Good things come in small packages.’
“When it comes to softball, she not only has the physical ability but she knows and understands the game. That brings her to a whole different level than most people.”
Klaas was offered a spot on hockey programs out east, such as Yale or Princeton, but those teams only wanted her to attempt one sport. UMD’s acceptance of a dual-sport athlete tipped the scales.
“My main sport that I was going for was hockey, so giving up softball was going to be tough on me,” she said. “When hockey and softball were both an option at UMD, that was something I really wanted to pursue.”
While that double has been done before at UMD, Karich says: “You have to be a unique person to even take that on.”
Versatility is a hallmark of Klaas’ personality. In five years on Denfeld’s varsity, she played five positions. She started in right field as an eighth-grader, progressed to second base as a freshman, switched between the infield and outfield as a sophomore, took on the role of catcher as a junior and this year moved to shortstop, her favorite position.
“That’s the nice thing about Alexia, she is what we consider a utility player,” Karich said. “She can play shortstop, third base, second base or in the outfield. She’s done everything except pitch and play first base. She’s good at all of them. That’s a positive for her going into college.”
She won’t have to worry about being behind the plate at UMD, but the attitude she displayed when taking over the Hunters’ catching duties is exactly the kind of behavior most college coaches love.
When longtime catcher Kara Warren graduated, the Hunters needed a new backstop. When nobody else raised their hand to offer, Klaas volunteered.
“Everybody said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to,’ ” senior Ciarra Taipale said. “But she said (to coach Swanson), ‘Swan, I’ll do it, I’ll catch.’ And she did an amazing job.”
Klaas, who plans on taking liberal arts classes this fall but may end up majoring in medicine, says she has no idea where she will play for UMD’s softball team. But with her ability, expect to see her on the diamond somewhere.
“It gives me more opportunity to get a chance to play because I can be thrown in anywhere,” she said.
Click here to see the News Tribune's 2014 All-Area Softball Team.
News Tribune softball Players of the Year
Year Player School
2014 Alexia Klaas Duluth Denfeld
2013 Katie Thun Hermantown
2012 Nikki Logergren Duluth Denfeld
2011 Katie Thun Hermantown
2010 Megan Mullen Hermantown
Katrina Newman Barnum
2009 Megan Mullen Hermantown
2008 Megan Mullen Hermantown
2007 Sami Mattson Esko
2006 Whitney Olson Proctor
2005 Anna Bjorlin Hermantown
2004 Kalli Kucharyski Superior
2003 Lindsey Predovich Virginia
2002 Lindsey Erickson Hermantown
2001 Lindsey Predovich Virginia
2000 Brooke Tondryk Cloquet
1999 Leanne Hotop Esko
1998 Joey Menart Esko
1997 Kristin Ferguson Barnum
1996 Danny Catanzarite Esko
1995 Nikki Flynn Esko