Last spring, the Century baseball season consisted of two distinctly different and mutually exclusive parts.
The Patriots started out like a team on a mission, winning 18 of their first 24 games. Then came the fall, a 4-7 finish that left CHS out of the state tournament, its 22-13 record notwithstanding.
Senior shortstop Dawson Weikum still hasn't washed the taste of that crash out of his mouth, and he doubts Century's other returnees from that team have either.
"That was frustrating. That never feels good," said Weikum, who brings a strong bat (.330) and steady glove (6 errors) to the Century lineup. "We're practicing super-hard. We want it this year. We're going to play."
The state's coaches seem to agree. Even though the Patriots return only four full-fledged starters to their lineup, they're ranked second in the West Region and No. 3 in the state in the preseason coaches' poll. Minot was ranked No. 1 both in the West and in the state. Century trails Minot and defending state champion West Fargo in the statewide ratings.
Century's returning veterans all made significant contributions to the team last spring.
Cade Feeney led the team in batting with a .412 average, two homers, 24 RBIs last season as a freshman third baseman. On the mound he was equally impressive with a 7-2 record, a 1.65 ERA, 15 walks and 52 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.
Senior hockey standout Isaiah Thomas played in 27 games in a reserve-utility capacity, hitting .313.
Jakob Olson, best known as the CHS quarterback, hit .250 in 31 games as an outfielder and pitcher. He pitched in nine games with a 4-2 record and a 1.60 ERA. He walked 15 and struck out 34 in 34 1/3 innings.
Junior first baseman Mason Trahan, who hit .237, is the only other returning CHS player with more than 40 plate appearances. However, head coach Kent Schweigert has a long list of players who got a cup of coffee near the end of last season.
As a senior, Weikum is determined to return to the state tournament and compete for a championship. To that end, he's well aware that some rookies will need to come through in a big way. But he's also well aware that some of those rookies know the ropes.
"Our sophomores have been to like four (youth baseball) world series, so they're not going to be overwhelmed," he predicted.
With such a small core of senior players on the team, the veterans have to lead, and Weikum said he's accepted that responsibility.
"We kind of inherited that role, and I've tried to take on that role head-on. ... I've tried to step up my vocal game," he said.
Weikum played an array of sports while in elementary school. He tried basketball, hockey and football in addition to baseball.
"I always knew baseball was my favorite," he said.
Fortunately, he doesn't have to choose between baseball and the outdoors activities of hunting and fishing, and he's glad he doesn't.
"That would be a tough (decision). I'd probably go with baseball, but I'd never say no to hunting," he said.
Considering the impact Weikum made on the CHS infield last season, it's hard to believe he was playing shortstop for just the second year.
"I'd started at second base and my sophomore year we needed a (JV) shortstop and I fell in love with it," he recalled. "With the (American Legion baseball) Govs last summer I played mainly second base."
For Weikum, though, the primary thing is not the position, but getting into the game.
"Anywhere in the infield. It doesn't matter where I play," he said.
After high school, Weikum will play his final year of Legion baseball and then it's off to the University of Jamestown, where he hopes to continue his baseball career.
Young but talented
Schweigert's lineup card is likely to change often in the early stages of the season as he attempts to find his best combination of players. For the most part, the coach says that's a good problem to have.
"We have some battles going on for varsity spots right now. In the first part of the season it's going to be a matter of who's going to step forward," Schweigert said. "... We had a really good JV-1 team last year. Now those kids are stepping up to the varsity level. That's what we've got to sort out."
One example is catcher.
"We haven't settled on a catcher. We have two or three guys -- Matt Miller, Preston Eagleson and Isaiah Thomas," Schweigert said.
All three are seniors.
"We've got athletes. We've got to find which kids are the most comfortable at which spots. It's the same thing with the batting order," he noted.
Similarly, Schweigert says he has no shortage of pitchers. He's just got to figure out who's going to join Olson and Feeney on the pitching staff.
"We've got a number of arms, and a number of them threw for us last year. We've just got to sort them out," he observed.
With so much sifting and shuffling of personnel going on early, Schweigert said the Patriots are likely to get better as the season progresses. And he's pretty sure CHS has a sizable upside.
"It's a process. ... There's no doubt we can grow quite a bit," he observed.