Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 10 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate.
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GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota football program is on pace to put more bodies in the Alerus Center seats in 2017, with more than 500 new football season tickets already sold. With the Fighting Hawks trending in a winning direction, and the public starting to take notice, UND is hoping to improve its tailgate experience.
When Jeff Dodson was told his UND baseball program was cut last April, the former head coach fielded a call from Southern Miss assistant coach Chad Calliet. The call originally covered condolences from an old friend but quickly turned to business. Calliet inquired about the potential transfer of UND star pitcher Zach Muckenhirn, who Dodson told Calliet was planning to search out his options in the SEC, if not opt for pro baseball. Moving on from Muckenhirn, Calliet then asked if there was anyone else he should know about.
Visiting coaches at King's Walk Golf Course on Thursday morning joked they couldn't believe Grand Forks Red River's Adam Van Raden, one of North Dakota's top golfers the past few seasons, was still on the team and only a junior. Red River teammate Mat Halvorson, also a junior, was on the other end of the notoriety spectrum. "He came out of nowhere," Red River coach Merle Mikkelsen said. The Roughriders' combination of junior golfers carried Red River to a second-place finish at the Red River Invitational.
Like the UND softball program's winning percentage, senior outfielder Rachael Waynick's batting average the past four years has been trending upward. In Waynick's freshman season in 2014, UND won six of 45 games and Waynick batted .103. The Fighting Hawks have followed with records of 12-43, 17-37 and now 23-30 in 2017. Waynick's batting average has ticked up from .115 as a sophomore to .169 as a junior to .293 as a senior.
Grand Forks Central senior Wyatt Eagleson's home run in the sixth inning Tuesday evening against Grand Forks Red River was the first over-the-fence homer in his baseball career at any level. It still might not have been his biggest hit of the game. Eagleson, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder, followed his homer in the sixth with a one-hop blast to the wall in left field in the seventh to score the winning run in a 6-5 Central win over Red River at Kraft Field.
UND men's basketball coach Brian Jones has signed a two-month contract extension, the school said Tuesday afternoon. "We have agreed to a short-term extension with coach Jones in order to give us a little more time to work out the remaining details of a long-term contract," UND athletic director Brian Faison said. "I'm confident we will have a completed deal done quickly." Jones' previous contract ended April 30. His new, short-term deal, signed the last week of April, covers through the end of June.
A UND football ticket has become a much hotter item this offseason. UND has 565 new football season ticket holders as of Thursday, according to Derick Stoulil, the school's assistant athletic director for marketing. That new total also comes at a slightly higher price. UND increased season football tickets at the Alerus Center to start with the least expensive ticket at $80, rather than last year's $75. Last year, UND saw 334 new season ticket holders for a total of 4,355 season ticket holders.
The UND women's basketball program took a step toward solidifying its future backcourt this week. Claire Orth, of Circle Pines, Minn., gave her verbal commitment Wednesday to play college basketball at UND. The 5-foot-10 guard of Centennial High School averaged 10 points and 2 assists per game for the section runner-ups. "I think the biggest thing was how supportive the coaches were," Orth said. "They asked about things outside of basketball. They cared about things other than basketball, too."
In the bottom of the third inning, Grand Forks Central baseball coach Tim Gregoire visited senior pitcher Brock Reller on the mound after Grand Forks Red River cut the Knights' lead from four runs to one. "That was more to calm everyone else down," Gregoire said. "Brock's arm felt good. It was going to be hard to take him off the mound." The Knights didn't fret in the third and weren't challenged again. Rakeem Wright's three-run, inside-the-park home run in the next inning sparked Central's 16-3 win over Red River on Wednesday at Kraft Field.
Last month, UND senior-to-be Faith Dooley announced she'll play two years of women's basketball after she exhausts her final season of volleyball eligibility next year. On Monday, USA Volleyball made her schedule even more hectic. Dooley was one of 31 players selected to compete at the U.S. Collegiate National Team-Minneapolis. "There's lots of unknowns of what to expect, but I'm excited about it," Dooley said. "I think it'll be an awesome experience."