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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Bring up the name Mason Bennett to a member of the UND football coaching staff and you're likely to hear about his promising potential. The sophomore-to-be defensive end from Winnipeg looks poised for a breakout 2017 season after registering three sacks, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery in the Friday's Spring Game. The 6-foot-4 Bennett has added 20 pounds of weight each of his two seasons on campus, weighing in at 239 pounds last week.
UND running back James Johannesson hasn't played a down of college football yet, but the Minnesota Gophers transfer knows how to star in a Spring Game. Johannesson, who had 130 rushing yards and a touchdown in Minnesota's 2016 Spring Game, turned in another big performance Friday evening in front of an estimated 1,000 fans at UND's Spring Game at the High Performance Center. Johannesson had 11 carries for 54 yards to lead the Fighting Hawks offense that went through roughly 40 plays. Those numbers also came against a run defense that led the Big Sky Conference in 2016.
The UND women's basketball team made 186 3-pointers as a team last season. The latest additions for the Fighting Hawks made 200 between the two of them a year ago. Twins Melissa and Megan Dailey—5-foot-7 junior college transfers from the College of Siskiyous in Weed, Calif.—signed national letters of intent on Wednesday to play at UND. Melissa led the California junior college ranks in scoring with a 26.1 points-per-game average. She hit 117 of 275 3-pointers for a 42.5 percent average. She also averaged 7.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.
North Dakota State pitcher Jacquelyn Sertic was a little concerned in the bottom of the seventh inning when UND's Marina Marzolino lofted a high fly ball to deep centerfield with two outs and a runner on, aiming to tie the ballgame. "I was watching the outfielder and knew she was a couple of feet away from the fence, but it did make me a little nervous," Sertic said. The final out was one of the few close calls for the Bison pitcher, who struck out 15 and allowed three hits in a 3-1 victory on Tuesday at Apollo Park.
The UND football team's defensive line has plenty of experience and talent, so defensive line coach Jordan Gigli wants to see leadership now, too. Gigli has asked his veteran crew to set the tone at spring ball, where UND is in its final week of spring practices at the High Performance Center. UND will hold its annual Spring Game at 5 p.m. Friday at the HPC.
UND offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph wasn't searching out for any help at running back this offseason. The Fighting Hawks were bringing back two all-Big Sky Conference backs in juniors John Santiago and Brady Oliveira. But Minnesota Gophers transfer and former Fargo South star James Johannesson became available this spring, made a move to Grand Forks and Rudolph isn't complaining about his overcrowded backfield. "I think it's a good deal," Rudolph said. "The more tools you put in the toolbag the better it is. You just have to manage it properly."
UND's decision to eliminate women's hockey and men's and women's swimming and diving is final, according to school spokesman Peter Johnson. Last week, the school announced the athletic budget cuts, which are a response to an expected reduction in state funding. On Wednesday, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp and UND sophomore defenseman Taylor Flaherty were on ESPN's Outside the Lines and criticized the cut. On ESPN, Flaherty said the program was waiting for a fundraising target from UND President Mark Kennedy.
UND 6-foot-7, 315-pound left tackle A.J. Stockwell hasn't been in the huddle much this spring at the High Performance Center. The three-year fixture to quarterback Keaton Studsrud's blind side hasn't taken many repetitions. Stockwell's light workload sums up the Fighting Hawks' state of the offensive line: Stockwell is the one proven commodity and UND needs to see what else it has in the cupboard.
The UND football program lost its two starting outside linebackers to graduation off last season's best defense in the Big Sky Conference in terms of scoring defense and rushing defense. The unit returns just one player with FCS game experience at that position. And that one player, Moorhead native Jade Lawrence, has yet to start a game. Still, there was a lot of reason for optimism Friday morning as the Fighting Hawks went through live situations for the first time this spring at the High Performance Center.
This won't be a popular opinion. It might come off insensitive to those close to the women's hockey and swimming and diving programs. It could also look like I'm carrying water for the UND athletic department as it wades through a harsh backlash. But, here goes the truth anyway: UND's remaining members of the athletic department are in a much better position to succeed after the cuts than they were before the cuts.