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Benke back to anchor Ram staff

In Joe Benke, Roseau enters the baseball season with one of the top pitchers in Minnesota's Section 8AA. How the pitching develops after Benke likely will determine whether the Rams can repeat as section champion. Benke was 7-0, with a sub-2.00 e...

In Joe Benke, Roseau enters the baseball season with one of the top pitchers in Minnesota's Section 8AA.

How the pitching develops after Benke likely will determine whether the Rams can repeat as section champion.

Benke was 7-0, with a sub-2.00 earned run average and an average of more than a strikeout per inning, on the Rams team that finished 25-1 and placed fifth at the 2006 AA state tournament.

Only one other player who logged any high school mound time, Alex Bjerk (1-0 in two innings), returns. Rams coach Tracey Wensloff is looking for players such as Alex Orgon and Nathan Voll to pick up the pitching slack.

"Defensively, I think we'll be pretty good," Wensloff said. "Offensively, I think we'll be pretty good. The big question mark is our pitching. If those guys come around, we could challenge for an opportunity to return to state.

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"Benke is a good one to start with. I have to believe he's one of the better pitchers in the area. He can be dominant. We don't have anybody else back with experience at the high school level. But it's not like we're all new to the mound. These guys have demonstrated coming up in summer ball that they can do pretty well. There's potential to develop into a good group."

The lineup has proven hitters. Benke was a .400 hitter and the team RBI leader last season, starting at third base when not pitching. Bjerk and Orgon also topped .400 as part-time regulars. Voll and Kurt Weston are returning outfield regulars, while David Erickson and Jared Larson were part-time regulars who are back.

"This is a new group, but they've demonstrated in the past that, when given the opportunity to play, they're pretty good," Wensloff said. "I expect us to be pretty salty up and down the order."

Wensloff looks at Warroad and Perham as other top teams in Section 8A.

Langdon relying

on its balance

Langdon has been the dominant team in North Dakota Region 3 boys track. The Cardinals have won seven straight region titles. They'll go for an eighth this spring without a lot of dominant individuals.

Veteran Langdon coach Denny Dinius looks for Benson County and Harvey to provide strong challenges when the regional arrives in late May.

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"Benson County is loaded; they have really good depth," Dinius said. "Harvey has some really good individuals. We're sort of in between what those two have.

"We have decent, but not great, depth. And we have decent individuals, but probably not a lot of guys we look at as first-place finishers. Hopefully, we can make up for that with some seconds and a lot of thirds and fourths."

Dinius said he looks at this as comparable to a few seasons ago, when Northern Lights won 11 events at the region, Langdon won one, but the Cardinals won the team title.

The Cardinals have three defending region champions.

Justin Overby has won the pole vault each of the last two seasons. "Justin's just a good, consistent vaulter," Dinius said. "He's our best shot to win again."

Langdon also figures to be strong in the hurdles. Luke Economy finished first in the 100 hurdles, while Darwin Schwartz and Economy placed first and second, respectively, in the 300 hurdles last season in the regional.

Dinius looks for sprinter-hurdler Jake Wheeler and thrower Dave Olson to also be high scorers for the Cardinals.

"Right now, we're a little more of an underdog than we usually are," Dinius said. "The last two years, though, I thought we went into the season as underdogs. I think we have a shot at winning again. A lot of things will have to go our way."

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No title for

Warroad to defend

Warroad is in the unusual position of not trying to defend a section softball title.

The Warriors' run of five straight Section 8AA softball championships was snapped when they lost to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in last year's 8AA final.

"It will be a rebuilding year for us," said Warroad coach Terry Sadler, who graduated six senior starters from last season's 17-7 team.

"We'll have our work cut out for us. We're a team with a lot of unknowns right now. Our junior varsity had a very successful season last year. But they're moving up to the varsity level now. They have to learn and develop."

Infielders Morgan Pieper and Brittany Huggins are the lone starters back. But Warroad does have building blocks on the mound, as pitching regulars Vanessa Storey and Ahnnica Lambrides both return.

"They're as good as anybody else around," Sadler said of his pitchers. "Storey is more of a power pitcher with good location. Lambrides has excellent location. They both change speeds very well.

"They have to be the No. 1 thing going for us. I don't see them giving up a lot of runs. But I don't know what we're capable of scoring ourselves. To contend, we have to rely on the rest of the team to score a few runs."

Sadler said Section 8AA looks to be a wide-open race going into the season, with Roseau, Bagley, Frazee and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton all capable of making runs at the title.

Briefly

Tony Ironheart of Four Winds and R.J. Darling of Minnewaukan-Leeds have made verbal commitments to play basketball at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake. Ironheart is a two-time all-state pick, gaining first-team honors this past season, while Darling was a second-team all-state pick this winter. . . . Langdon senior distance runner Lauren Dietrich has signed a letter of intent to compete in track and cross country at Minot State. . . . Lake of the Woods senior Ed Albrecht has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls. . . . Jeremy Brandt has resigned as boys basketball coach at Central Valley. . . . Mark Olson has resigned as boys basketball coach at Valley-Edinburg. . . . Wade Johnson has resigned as boys basketball coach at Detroit Lakes, a position he's held for nine seasons. . . . Lon Boike has been named volleyball coach at Crookston High School. . . . Tate Kick of Dickinson has been named the North Dakota Gatorade boys basketball player of the year.

DeVillers can be reached at (800) 477-6572, ext. 128, (701) 780-1128 or by e-mail at gdevillers@gfherald.com .

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