JUSTIN RUST: Wesleyan baseball team needs more local recruitingEven though baseball is not a sanctioned sport by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, players from around the area have made their way onto college rosters around the state. One university that has not seen an influx of local talent lately is Dakota Wesleyan University — which has only four players from the area on its roster. There are 33 total players on the roster.
By: Justin Rust, The Daily Republic
Even though baseball is not a sanctioned sport by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, players from around the area have made their way onto college rosters around the state.
One university that has not seen an influx of local talent lately is Dakota Wesleyan University — which has only four players from the area on its roster. There are 33 total players on the roster.
This season, DWU is 8-31. The Tigers are 2-11 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference and sit in 10th place out of 11 teams.
Two of the players — junior Trevor Salmonson and freshman Jesse Elward — are from Mitchell. The two other players are junior Jon Hart (Alexandria) and redshirt freshman Josh Wagner (Platte).
The lack of local talent on DWU’s roster is not because the area has not produced quality players the past couple of years.
Mitchell coach Luke Norden said he’s coached about 11 players who’ve gone on to play collegiate baseball since 2004, which was his first year with the program.
Another area team, the Corsica/Stickney/Armour/Plankinton Express, currently has about six players who are capable of playing college baseball, its coach, Bob Bamberg said.
“There are players in this area that can play college baseball,” Bamberg said. “If they get the right exposure, I think they have the chance for it. There are kids from here and other towns that are pretty good ballplayers.”
Bamberg mentioned Adam Fink, Kris Menning, Kiefer Johnson, Tyler Payer, Luke Bamberg and Kiefer Johnson — all players on this year’s roster — as potential college players. Luke Bamberg is committed to play basketball and baseball at Dakota Wesleyan next year.
Mount Marty College and the University of Sioux Falls are each reaping the benefits of local talent. They both also have more South Dakota players than DWU.
Mount Marty, which won the GPAC last year, has a total of 10 Mitchell-area players — four of whom are from Mitchell. The University of Sioux Falls has six Mitchell-area players — one from Mitchell — and finished second in last year’s GPAC regular-season standings.
Parkston baseball coach Tim Alley said a college coach can find at least one or two kids on any high school team in South Dakota that has the ability to play in college if they want to push themselves at that level.
“I think the high school program is doing pretty good right now,” Alley said. “Our Legions have been very strong, which has helped (the players) move on to the next level.”
Is it just a coincidence that DWU lacks a local feel to it? According to DWU coach Steve Gust, it is.
“We are always looking to get the best local guys that we can,” Gust said. “To be competitive, you need the best local guys.”
Gust is in his third year at DWU, but even when he was hired, he got a late start on recruiting since he started in July 2008. Most of the players had already committed or signed letters of intent by that time.
Gust also doesn’t know the area as well as the coaches at other GPAC universities.
Mount Marty coach Andy Bernatow has been in Yankton for seven years and knows the area well since he graduated from Mount Marty in 1999.
In 2007, Mount Marty lost in the GPAC tournament championship to USF and in 2009, DWU beat MMC in the GPAC tournament championship game.
Mount Marty’s roster features 25 players from South Dakota, and Bernatow said having a roster that consists of South Dakota players is a “winning combination.”
“Last year when we won the GPAC, eight of our nine position players were South Dakota kids,” Bernatow said. “That speaks volumes. You can get some quality ballplayers and some quality kids.
“That philosophy of having South Dakota kids isn’t going to change with looking at what we have done.”
USF coach Matt Guiliano is in his fourth year with the Cougars, after becoming a student assistant in 2006 and graduating in 2007. Shortly after, he was made the head coach.
Both Bernatow and Guiliano have spent enough time in the area to be very familiar with the talent this area has to offer.
Gust had to find his footing in the area, though. He came to DWU after serving as the coach at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, Minn. Gust graduated from the University of North Dakota and spent a season as an assistant coach there.
It’s clear Gust is spending a good portion of his recruiting efforts in the area he knows, and not South Dakota.
DWU has brought in eight players from Minnesota and North Dakota combined and has 14 players from South Dakota. Of those 14 South Dakota players on DWU’s roster, only about four have seen regular playing time this year.
“We want to recruit South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota kids,” said Gust of the areas he focuses on when he recruits. “That’s our main recruiting area. We like the Midwest kids.”
Gust said he went after two standout players when he arrived in the area in both Jason Schmidt and Cade Hearnen, both former players of Norden’s. Schmidt is now a junior at MMC and Hearnen is a sophomore at USF.
“I think it’s just a case of Andy Bernatow being around a bit longer than me with winning the battles,” he said. “He won a big battle with Schmidt. We talked to Hearnen and he had already committed. It’s all about developing a pipeline, and once one goes, the other goes.”
It seems as if Gust is starting to realize the local talent in the area. Gust has four area players — Bamberg; Cole Wenande, of Hanson County; Cody Dozark, a Tripp-Delmont/Armour athlete; and Plankinton’s Chance Boyd— committed for next year. Gust also has an offer out to Mitchell’s Ryan Buck.
But that’s just a small piece of the puzzle and one year of recruiting local talent. Gust needs to continue recruiting in the area, because without local talent, the Dakota Wesleyan baseball team will continue to sit below Mount Marty and USF each year in the GPAC standings.