Izzo Notebook: H.S. spring coaches getting restless in North Dakota and Riley Sunram's wild week
The high school spring season sits stalled out, but would a later start benefit everyone?
The long and never-ending winter has refueled a conversation I've had with area spring high school sports coaches in North Dakota for the last few years: Why do spring sports start practicing in March?
It seems especially depressing in Fargo, where we have reached 140 consecutive days of under 40 degrees and there's no end in sight to that streak. Last week; high school baseball and softball teams opened practices inside, with girls soccer set to open practice today; then tennis the following Monday and lastly boys golf on April 10.
Only golf may be on to something with its start date.
For the first time over the last couple of years, besides anecdotal evidence, I come with hard proof, courtesy of WDAY Chief Meteorologist John Wheeler.
This spring marks the fifth time over the last 12 years the Red River Valley had had consistent snow cover into April. Which means nearly half the time we've to deal with cold or snow when spring sports should be practicing.
I honestly feel like our seasons have shifted around here. School needs to start later and end later. It would still coincide with farming, which has always been the driving force for our school calendar (even though the number of farming families has drastically decreased)— Nathan Walsh (@coachwalsh25) March 25, 2023
I'll save more on this for later in the week, but there seems to be more movement from spring coaches on making something happen.
Cory Erickson the head softball coach at Hillsboro-Central Valley said: "In our first 11 years as a program, our average first game has been April 12 and our average second game about 5 days later. Even a two-week shift in the season would put us more in line with reality."
I know North Dakota never wants to follow anything Minnesota does; but would it be so bad to move the start of the school year to after Labor Day? High school football already starts outrageously early, this year it will be August 4. A later school year start means a later end to the season for spring sports, which means a greater chance for those athletes to have a season.
Playing five games in a week or having two outdoor track meets is not a season. It's time for North Dakota to have some serious conversations on this.
THE HEAT IS ON FOR SUNRAM: Kindred senior to be Riley Sunram is the most sought after high school football player in North Dakota . The 6-foot-5, 265 pound lineman has double-digit offers from Division I schools and this past week the unofficial tours started.
Sunram was in Lawrence and Manhattan, Kansas and then followed up with a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska to see Matt Ruhle's team.
Had a great time at @KStateFB. Thank you @CoachCRiles @CoachKli and all of the staff for having me. #EMAW pic.twitter.com/vX7KBFYlNH— Riley Sunram (@sunram_riley) March 25, 2023
Riley's dad Ryan told me Sunday night: "Riley wanted to get back to the schools he was most interested in just to get a deeper feel for each. It's hard on the game day visits and over the phone. Riley is big on relationships so it was good to get back and have more time at each school. It was also great to be able to sit down with the position coach and head coach at Kansas and Kansas State."
Two sources close to the situation have told me that Nebraska, Minnesota and Kansas State are the leaders for Sunram's services.
THE BISON LOOK INWARD FOR '24: NDSU had a busy weekend with its first Junior Day visits going on this past Friday.
The Bison coaching staff was busy, offering many players, including a couple of standouts from North Dakota.
That includes North's do-everything player Peder Haugo. The 6-foot-2 athlete had a great season for the Spartans, racking up 1,002 yards and 18 touchdowns as North reached the Class A title game, losing to Jamestown.
Haugo was named a first-team all-state selection, the University of North Dakota has also shown interest. Haugo tells me that NDSU is looking at him as a safety or overhang linebacker.
The Bison weren't done with North Dakota players, offering Williston wide receiver and defensive back Isiah St. Romain. St. Romain is 6-foot-2, he finished with 401 receiving yards and four touchdowns for the Coyotes, who struggled in 2022, posting a 2-7 record.
NDSU has yet to receive a verbal commitment for the Class of 2024, but things are heating up there.
BASKETBALL BEST: The Minnesota basketball season wrapped up this weekend (why doesn't North Dakota go until the end of March by the way?) and there was some tremendous performances.
Wayzata won the Class 4A title, beating Park Center in overtime, led by 6-foot-9 junior Jackson McAndrew. Eric Peterson profiled McAndrew this summer, he scored 25 points, including 13 of his team's final 14 points.
McAndrew's dad Steve was a standout at Fargo South, who won a state title with the Bruins in 1989, before playing at UND. Jackson has seen his recruitment blow up over the last few months with offers from Creighton, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Xavier, Northern Iowa and St. Thomas.
Steve will be a guest on Hot Mic Monday morning at 10 on WDAY Xtra.
Minnetonka junior Andy Stefonowicz is another name to keep an eye on. Stefonowicz scored 22 points in the Skippers 72-68 loss to Eastview in the 4A quarterfinals.
The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 17 points per game this past season, but it's his bloodlines that are really intriguing. Andy's dad is Rob Stefonowicz, the 1990 Mr. Basketball winner from Divide County and former Bison. His mom is Jody Buck, the Bison Hall of Famer, who won two national titles under Amy Ruley in 1991 and 1993.
I visited with Rob and Jody before an NDSU football game this fall and both were excited to see where the recruiting process would go. Andy has offers from NDSU and St. Thomas, but can expect that this summer will be huge for him.
The Bison have no commits so far for the Class of 2024.
WALTERS WATCH BEGINS: Besides the spring sports question, the other big one I've got is on Jamestown standout Mason Walters.
Walters won the NAIA Player of the Year on Tuesday and entered the transfer portal on Wednesday. He has one year of eligibility and has already heard from over 30 mid-majors. I think NDSU has a great chance if/when Grant Nelson leaves, but it's not a slam dunk.
CAITLIN CLARK APPRECIATION TWEET: If you're not watching the women's basketball tournament, you're missing out on the greatness of Iowa's Caitlin Clark.
STUD. pic.twitter.com/nAZl1BvW4l— Dom Izzo (@DomIzzoWDAY) March 25, 2023
Clark registered the first triple double in women's tournament history with 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in the Hawkeyes win over Maryland to send Iowa to the Final Four. They will likely play defending champion South Carolina there, that will be must-see TV.
SHEPHERD DOES IT AGAIN: Last week we featured former NDSU wide receiver Darrius Shepherd and his breakout performance in the XFL for the St. Louis Battlehawks.
Darrius Shepherd continues to tear up the XFL. The former #NDSU wide receiver had two touchdowns last night in St. Louis' 29-6 win over Vegas. Shepherd had 7 receptions for 79 yards and the two scores. pic.twitter.com/m0IZsCvs61— Dom Izzo (@DomIzzoWDAY) March 26, 2023
Shepherd was great again on Saturday, registering seven receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the Battlehawks win over Vegas. Shepherd has 27 receptions for 270 yards and three touchdowns. St. Louis is 4-2 halfway thru the XFL regular season.
SHAMELESS PROMOTION: NDSU's Pro Day is slated for Wednesday at 9 am at the Indoor Practice Facility. I'm told all 32 NFL teams are expected in attendance, Hot Mic will be live on location beginning at 9 on Wednesday.