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Gator Baseball back on the diamond with a new leader


Gator starting pitcher Kasen Swenson throws a pitch in the second inning of the Gators’ 2-1 season-opening win over the Kittson County Central Bearcats at home on April 16. Swenson gave up one run, unearned, on no hits and two walks. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Dominik Vacura grabs the ball from his glove after fielding a ground ball and throws to first for the final out in the top of the first inning of the Gators’ 2-1 season-opening win at Borgen Field in Greenbush on April 16. Vacura later pitched four innings in relief, giving up no runs on one hit and three walks, to earn the win. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

The last time the Gator Baseball team played a spring season game came on May 28, 2019 in Ulen, when it dropped a pair of Section 8A playoff games to see its season come to an end. Things have changed since then.

Nathan Voll was slated to coach the Gator Baseball team to begin last season before the pandemic cancelled the season altogether, putting what proved to be an end to Voll’s Gator head coaching career. Hired for the position before the start of the 2015 season, Voll led the Gators to a section title and state tournament berth in 2016 and a section runner-up finish in 2017.

But now, a new face— a new head coach— leads Gator Baseball, one familiar with the Gator program, in Dave Stanelle.

Coach Stanelle discussed how his team has responded to him so far and what he looks forward to most about leading Gator Baseball. He also talked about this season’s team, including its seniors, total player numbers, coaches, strengths, and question marks. He also highlighted goals of this year’s team.

As for previous coaching experience, Stanelle coached at the junior high baseball level in Grand Rapids for 24 years and coached two years of Gator junior varsity baseball when he first came here over a decade ago.

Speaking on April 16 following his team’s 2-1 season-opening home victory over Kittson County Central (KCC) earlier that day, Coach Stanelle talked about what he has seen from his team to this point.

Due to the Gator Basketball team’s deep run to the state semifinals, the team hadn’t all been together as a group for even an entire week before its first game. Regardless, Coach Stanelle still was able to come away with a specific feel to this year’s team.

“They like to play the game,” Coach Stanelle said. “They are enthusiastic about hitting and fielding and so far they’ve been pretty coachable. So far, we’ve had good practices.”

This year’s Gator team will feature some older faces. The roster includes nine seniors, including: Tucker Gust, Kasen Swenson, Noah Warne, Kristian Weets, Aaron Westling, Garrett Undeberg, Dominik Vacura, John Novacek, and Michael Chaplinski. Coach Stanelle briefly talked about these seniors as a group.

“They’ve been very successful at football, basketball and wrestling, and so that really, really helps us,” Stanelle said. “They’re good athletes (and have) good leadership.”

The team also includes three juniors for a total of 12 senior and junior players. In total, the Gator Baseball program has 30 players in seventh through twelfth. Besides Stanelle, Striker Hasson (junior high/junior varsity coach) and Brian Undeberg (volunteer varsity assistant coach) also are leading this year’s Gator players.

In terms of goals, Coach Stanelle looks for his team to make the most of each day and to eventually compete for those high honors.

“We want to develop (to) our full potential. We want to compete for a section (title). We want to be right up there in the section standings, and the goal is always to make it to the state tournament— the ultimate goal,” Stanelle said. “But, we just want to improve every day and kind of my philosophy is every day is a new tryout for all the guys.”

To see the complete story, read the April 21 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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