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Aaron Saunders, Published July 15 2012

North Dakota softball teams pining for respect


The 18-U West Fargo Impact and the 12-U Dickinson Diamonds are champing at the bit to earn the respect of the softball world. Sunday night, the two teams took a big leap toward reaching their goal as they qualified for the Junior Olympic Northern Nationals.

“Our goal is to at least win one game at nationals,” said 12-year-old Jordie McNeilly of Dickinson.

Last year, the 12-U Diamonds did not win a game at nationals, but will get a shot at redemption after winning their second straight state championship by defeating the 12-U West Fargo Impact 12-3.

“This year we can prove some teams wrong, but it’s going to take working hard and practicing,” said

13-year-old Sarah Kerkman.

The Diamonds have defeated three teams from out of state this year – two from Colorado and one from South Dakota.

Like the 12-U Diamonds, the 18-U West Fargo Impact are also looking to put North Dakota softball on the map and receive the respect that the big time states do.

“We want to let everybody know that we can play this game, and that it’s not just the big states like California, Texas and Florida,” said West Fargo head coach Pat Johnson, who has been coaching for 36 years. “It’s not only good for our program, but it’s good for the state to see that North Dakota kids really can play this game and play it at a high level.”

Johnson’s 18-U Impact advanced to nationals after defeating the Minot Lions 6-1.

Last year, the 18-U Impact took second place in the 18B category at the Northern Nationals, but this year they will be competing in the 18A category.

“We put a pretty tough schedule together; we have played a lot of ball and done real well against A-Level competition that we would see at Nationals,” said Johnson.

At nationals, the girls will get the opportunity to prove themselves on a national level and hopefully be recruited by a college team. Playing college is now the ultimate goal for most young softball players because the Olympic committee voted to exclude softball from the 2012 and 2016 summer games.

“It’s not fun to see any sport leave the Olympics, especially when there are athletes training so hard to get there,” said 18-U catcher/infielder Madison Nelson.

Fourteen-U West Fargo Impact utility player Brandi Fladland is also not happy that the sport has been taken away from the Olympics.

“Compared to some of the other Olympic sports, I think it’s kind of a dis because softball isn’t as easy as some of the other ones.” she said.

Despite the cancelation of Softball in the Olympics, the sport has continued to grow in North Dakota and around the country because ESPN still covers the College Softball World Series.

“Twenty years ago, when I started this we had three or four teams, now we are up to 20-30 teams and it’s still growing,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it will be far-fetched to see a state tournament with each age group having 50-60 teams in a couple of years.”

Forum reports Aaron Saunders can be reached at (701) 241-5549