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The next level: Local athletes sign to continue competing in college

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Following his senior season at Dickinson High, Cody Maier will play baseball for Concordia - St. Paul. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)2 / 8
Bowman County senior middle blocker Ellie Stafford earned 13 kills against Richardton-Taylor on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Richardton-Taylor High School. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)3 / 8
Kennedy (left) and Kamryn Kuntz will play softball for Dickinson State next fall after graduating from Dickinson High. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)4 / 8
Killdeer junior Shawnee Hansen takes off from the blocks during the 400 meter dash at the Southwest Region Meet on Saturday, May 19 at the Biesiot Activites Center. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)5 / 8
Killdeer senior Steena Larsen signs her letter of intent to compete in track and field at Minnesota State Moorhead. (Photo courtesy of Andrew DeRosier)6 / 8
Dickinson junior Kennedy Kuntz takes a swing during action against Bismarck Century on Tuesday, May 1 from the North Softball Complex. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)7 / 8
DHS junior infielder Kamryn Kuntz takes a swing against Mandan during a West Region state-qualifier on Saturday, May 26, at Fort Lincoln Elementary School in Mandan. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)8 / 8

Dickinson High School seniors Kennedy and Kamryn Kuntz have done everything together for their whole lives, and when they graduate and go to college, that won't change.

Earlier this week, the twins both committed to play softball at Dickinson State under head coach Kristen Fleury.

"We kind of knew we wanted to play for DSU for a while now," Kamryn said. "Our Coach (Amanda) Mickey kind of has hinted throughout our years of playing softball, 'Oh DSU kind of wants you to play.' It was really cool."

"It was really cool," Kennedy overlapped. "It's an honor to be signed by them."

The pair are coming off a junior season in which the Midgets were state runner ups, losing the championship game to Minot 4-2 on June 2. The season, in which Dickinson High went 27-3 overall, featured a 23-game winning streak.

Kennedy, who batted second and played outfield for the Midgets, went 3-for-9 at the plate in the three state tournament games, scoring a pair of runs. Kamryn, the team's shortstop, batted 2-for-5, also scoring two runs.

The Kuntz sisters also play hockey for the Midgets, but said playing softball at the next level was always the goal. They got their start on the eight-and-under local teams and have been on the same team ever since.

Although the pair aren't sure where they will be used on the field, they both prefer hitting the ball anyway and look forward to batting against college pitchers.

"I remember 8-U was like when the coaches pitch to you," Kennedy said of her earliest softball memory. "I remember always wanting to hit. That's my favorite part, is hitting."

"I agree," Kamryn echoed. "I would rather be hitting the ball. I remember playing offense a lot more than defense."

The Blue Hawks are coming off a trip to the NAIA opening round following a North Star conference crown. Three returners on the team hail from Dickinson and played with the Kuntz sisters a few years back: Sarah Dobitz, Julie Knight and Emilee Sickler.

"It's nice that we can be a part of the next season, too, and obviously we're staying here so it's close to home and family," Kamryn said. "And we're excited, too."

"Play with our past teammates," the pair concluded together.

Both are planning on majoring in biology to prepare for a career in the medical field.

Maier heads to Concordia - St. Paul

Dickinson High senior Cody Maier is trading in his orange and black for yellow and blue as he signed to play baseball at the University of Concordia - St. Paul.

"I was looking at quite a few schools, but I sent them an email and they liked me. I went and visited campus to do an individual workout, and we just communicated since then," Maier said. "They made a very generous offer to me and it all worked out well."

Last spring, Maier led the Dickinson High baseball team at the plate, batting .444 with 21 singles and 10 doubles. Over 72 at-bats, the third baseman drove in 15 runs, drew 10 walks and struck out just seven times.

"(I was) extremely excited (to hear he'll play in college)," said Joe Champa, Maier's strength and conditioning coach. "I told his parents, he's probably one of the top five or 10 athletes I've ever trained. Period."

Champa, who said he believes he has trained nearly 5,000 athletes, has worked with Maier since his eighth-grade year, working on arm speed, bat speed, weight-lifting techniques and more.

The Golden Bears, who compete at the NCAA Div. II level, went 26-16 overall last year and 16-10 against Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opponents. The team graduated eight seniors and announced a recruiting class of 10 players, including Maier.

"I've been working for this a long time," Maier said. "When I was 12, I realized I'd like to play in college."

Maier was just a freshman, but was part of the 2016 Dickinson High team that won the state tournament and was a sophomore when they fell a game short of a second straight title in 2017.

"He's just a resilient guy," Champa said. "He's battled some really strange injuries, and he came back bigger, faster, stronger, every single time."

Other local signings

Ellie Stafford, a middle blocker on the Bowman County volleyball team, will join Region 7 opponent Alexa Walby at Valley City State next year.

Stafford was named to both the All-Region 7 team, as well as the All-State team.

She led the No. 3 Bulldogs in kills in each of the three region tournament games, putting up a total of 47. In an exhilarating semifinal win over No. 2 seed Hettinger-Scranton, Stafford earned 21 kills. Over the tournament she also earned three blocks, three aces, 34 digs and an assist.

"When I went and I toured there, their coaches were really awesome," Stafford said. "The team was really great; it was a really good feeling when you went there. It was a good atmosphere. I liked a lot of the drills; I liked the feel of the college. It was just a good fit when I went."

Valley City, headed by Adam Longmore, went 15-15 overall and 7-7 in the North Star conference, good for fourth in the standings. They will graduate four seniors.

Stafford said going into her junior season she realized she could potentially play the game she loved in college.

"That summer we had a gold medal square camp and one of the people that ran it, he helped me and said, 'I really think you could play at the next level,'" Stafford said. "I've always wanted to, but I never really thought it was something I could achieve until he opened me up to it."

Shawnee Hansen holds the Killdeer school record in the 200-meter and the 400-meter dash and officially declared she will take her sprinting talents to the University of Mary next fall.

"I want to go into athletic training and they have a really good athletic training program there," Hansen said. "I heard a lot of good things about their track and field program as well, so that was a big part of it. It's closer to home. I didn't want to go to Fargo or anything because I just can't see myself living there. So I thought Bismarck was the perfect fit for me."

In her junior season, Hansen stunned at the state meet, finished fourth in the 200 with a time of 26.47 seconds, and collected a seventh-place finish in the 400, clocking in at 1:01.18.

Additionally, she aided both the Cowboys 4x200 relay team and the 4x400 relay team in earning fourth.

Now that she's committed to compete at a Div. II college, Hansen said her goals for her senior season just got loftier.

"Improving and trying to improve, place higher at state," Hansen said of her spring objectives. "Getting the times that I need for All-Conference in college and stuff. Just try to work as hard as I can to be ready for that level."

Steena Larsen, another Killdeer senior, will also be competing in track and field in college, but will go to Minnesota State - Moorhead to do so.

Larsen was the Class B State Champion in discus with a throw of 117-09. She also finished 10th in javelin, with a distance of 110-03.

The Moorhead Dragons compete at the Div. II level in the Northern Sun conference, the same as U-Mary, which means Larsen and Hansen will likely see each other over the course of the season.