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Minot Storm softball teams preparing for JO State Fastpitch Tournament

Strength in numbers

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Minot Storm catcher Taylee Hertz throws a ball during a practice at the South Hill Softball Complex in Minot. Hertz plays for the Storm 16A team.

FARGO — As the summer softball season winds down, the Minot Storm softball program aims to finish on a high note. The Storm will send a fleet of teams to the Junior Olympics State Fastpitch Tournament in Fargo this weekend.

Nine traveling squads in the 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U age groups will compete. According to program director Thor Nelson, the Storm constitutes the largest youth softball group in North Dakota.

“When we’re done playing, you can always look around and see the Columbia blue and navy,” Nelson said. “It’s great because our girls support all the other age levels, too. It’s fun to watch all these kids grow up from eight, nine years old into our older divisions.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought an unprecedented level of uncertainty to the summer.

As a Minot State student-athlete, Storm 18A infielder Jaycie Rostad developed a renewed perspective during the early summer tournaments.

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Minot Storm infielder Cambry Frantsvog prepares to catch a ball during a practice at the South Hill Softball Complex in Minot. The Storm will participate in the Junior Olympics State Fastpitch Tournament in Fargo this weekend.

“I think it’s just a blessing that we get to go out, have fun and play the game we love,” Rostad said. “Especially for the younger girls that are still in high school. They didn’t get their season. The seniors didn’t get their season. I think it’s good for them to be able to at least get some closure and play these final tournaments. It’s a lot of uncertainty, so we just have to have faith that everyone will do what’s right for our health and do as much as they can to let us play and have fun this summer.”

In order to combat the pandemic’s challenges, Nelson devised a plan. He converted the back of his business’s building into a softball facility.

Fully equipped with a full batting cage, turf and a pitching lane, the “Storm Shelter” became the one-stop shop for players looking to hone their skills. Six Storm players are allowed in the facility at all times.

“If it’s raining, they put their time in,” Nelson said. “If it’s windy, they are there. Pitchers are working hard. Hitters are in the cage. It’s fun to watch all of that come to fruition at the state tournament.”

The extra work indoors has motivated the athletes to increase their outdoor reps.

“We were about done with practice today and the catchers were asking, ‘Can we throw down? We want to work on our throws,'” Nelson said. “That’s something we spend a lot of time on. It’s been beneficial for our team this year, throwing a lot of girls out.”

Throughout the summers spent on the diamond, Nelson has fostered a no-nonsense approach. Still, he remains impressed with the players’ year-to-year growth.

“There’s nothing glamorous to say,” Nelson said. “We go out and we do the hard work. We do the little things right. Good things happen. You see some of these girls come out here and lay out for balls on the turf. They know they’re going to get carpet burn. They’re athletes, and it’s fun to watch them be as aggressive as they can be. When they really get into the game, they’re stealing and moving up on pitches.”

The JO state tournament offers opportunities to face old and new opponents alike. Talented foes will take the field against the Storm, but Nelson has underscored the importance of focusing on themselves.

“We’ve had a lot of fun,” 16A catcher/infielder Taylee Hertz said. “I think we’re all kind of pumped to go this weekend. We’ve been practicing hard all season to get to state. We’ve just got to keep our heads up and do well.”

The action begins on Friday afternoon and concludes on Sunday.

“These girls have worked their butts off all summer long,” Nelson said. “They’ve put in the time. It’s not state title or bust, but it is fun to be in the mix at the end of a tournament.”

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.

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