Five Tigers sign for college sports
They set sights on golf, basketball, track
Though spring sports have been canceled throughout the area, Pine River-Backus fans still have a reason to celebrate as five Tiger seniors signed letters of intent to play sports at the collegiate level.
Headlining the group is Brady Raph, who will continue as a two-sport athlete at the next level. He agreed to play both basketball and golf at the University of Minnesota Morris.
“I wanted to see what it’s like to do both at the next level,” Raph said. “I wanted to be at a smaller school that is kind of close to home. It has my major (sports management) and everything.”
The Tigers’ deep-shooting, all-conference guard said he is doing his best to stay in shape throughout the summer, but he is excited to see the next level of competition.
“Everybody will probably be better, because they are older and more experienced. I just want to see that difference and know what that’s like in person," he said.
Preparing for golf is a bit more interesting. Raph finished in the top 10 at state in the last two seasons, but the COVID-19 pandemic has deprived him of a shot at a state title in his senior year. However, he is finding plenty of opportunities to hone his craft.
“There are a lot of courses around that are offering free golf for high school players, so I’m taking advantage of that,” Raph said. “Deacon’s Lodge, where I work, will let me get some golf in. There are a bunch of the Pequot (golfers) that also work at Deacon’s, so we get to play together and be competitive, so it kind of feels the same.”
On the Morris basketball team, Raph will be joined by teammate Louis Bueckers, and the two are also trying to be roommates.
“It started as a joke between us, but then we were both saying it would actually be kind of fun,” Raph said.
“Brady knew I was going there, so maybe that influenced his decision,” Bueckers said. “It’s going to be fun, though, with both of us there.”
Bueckers toured the Morris campus last summer, where he also met the basketball coaches and had the chance to watch the team practice - an experience that made him want to attend.
He plans to spend as much time in the weight room as possible over the summer months, and he is ready to find some camaraderie with a new set of teammates.
“I’m just ready to be part of a team again,” Bueckers said. “That’s what I’ve always liked here in Pine River, and I’m just ready to connect with a new team.”
Also attending the University of Minnesota Morris is Jordan Cunningham, who will join the women’s golf team.
“I love how small it is,” she said. “The teacher-to-student ratio makes it so we can actually have a relationship. It’s far from home, but not too far, and it has a really nice environment to it.
“(The coaches) are very welcoming, and have answered a lot of my questions already. I got to meet some of the girls I’ll be playing with on my tours, and they are making the process a lot easier. I’m just excited.”
Denied her senior golf season, Cunningham plans to golf as much as possible before college begins, saying she has already gone out to play 18 holes a time or two and has been hitting balls in her garage.
“I’m just trying to fine-tune things as best as I can,” Cunningham said. “Now that courses are opening up again, it should be easier to just go to the driving range and actually fine-tune my swing.”
She also looks forward to attending the same school as Raph and Bueckers. After serving as a team manager for the Tiger boys’ basketball team, she is excited to be able to continue following the duo’s basketball careers, but also to have some new adventures.
“I’m just excited for the new people and new opportunities that come with moving to a new town,” Cunningham said. “It’s kind of a fresh start.”
Keenan Dahl will also continue his golf career at the next level as he joins the team at Alexandria Technical College.
“I wasn’t planning to go there for golf,” Dahl said. “I wanted to go there for the welding program, and it just so happens they have a team this year so I figured, ‘What the heck.’”
Dahl also plans to get out to the golf course - more than he usually would, in fact - in an effort to analyze and correct some of his shortcomings on the links.
“I’m just excited for the whole thing in general,” Dahl said. “With things being canceled this year, maybe it will be like a new beginning.”
Also playing college sports is Sidney Lodge, who is set to join the track team at Concordia College in Moorhead.
“I’m thinking of majoring in business, and their program is really good,” Lodge said. “Once I visited and saw the campus, I just fell in love with it. Their track program is growing and has been pretty good in recent years, too, so that sort of pushed me there.”
The three-sport athlete for PR-B said she always knew she wanted to continue pursuing track and field, and with social distancing in place, is looking for new ways to stay in shape and increase her strength.
“I’m excited for the change of scenery,” Lodge said. “I’ve lived here my whole life and it will be nice to get out on my own and meet new people.”
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.