When Joel Cladouhos decided to attend Grinnell College in Iowa four years ago, it had a baseball team that hadn't done much at one of the lower levels of college baseball.
Since Cladouhos and the other members of Grinnell's current senior class arrived, the Pioneers began a slow and steady rise in the NCAA Division III rankings. Last year, Grinnell qualified for the Midwest Conference playoffs for the first time in school history and this year Cladouhos is one reason the Pioneers are making another run for the playoffs.
"Joel is among a group of eight seniors who have helped us go from the bottom of the conference all the way to the top," Grinnell coach Tim Hollibaugh said. "He has been one of the main stays on the mound, as well as at first base. This year we moved him to third base as well. He is just a great athlete who has improved every year."
"It's definitely come a long way," Cladouhos said of the program, which has a 14-9 overall record this year. "Since my freshman year the team has gotten better every year. This year is kind of the pinnacle. It's kind of been the senior class that's been the core of the team in my four years here. These are the last hurrahs, the seniors are saying. We feel really good about the way things are going."
Cladouhos, who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1997, earned Midwest Conference-Southern Division player of the week honors earlier this month, the second time in his career he's earned the honor.
On Grinnell's season-opening 11-game road trip to Florida in March, Cladouhos threw a one-hitter against Western Connecticut State and he had a pair of four-hitters against Earlham and Principia colleges. For the season, Cladouhos has a 4-0 record with one save and a 2.29 ERA. In 35 1/3 innings, Cladouhos has allowed nine earned runs (18 overall), 27 hits, 13 walks and he has 20 strikeouts.
And Cladouhos can hit a bit, too. He's hitting .379 with 25 hits in 66 at bats, 11 runs scored, eight doubles, one homer, 25 RBIs and a slugging average of .530. In games when he doesn't pitch, Cladouhos usually starts at third base, although he also plays first and switches to designated hitter when he leaves the mound.
"Joel is just an all-around player," Hollibaugh said. "His main contribution has been on the mound, but he is such a good hitter we cannot keep him out of the line-up, and that is the way he likes it. Joel is a silent leader, but if he speaks everyone on the team listens. He is well-respected on this team not only for his ability, but because he cares."
Cladouhos has played all four of his college years for Grinnell, but he also spent some time on the school's basketball team which is known for having one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country. Cladouhos spent his sophomore season and part of his junior year on the basketball team.
He also spent some time playing in various summer leagues. After his freshman year he went to Texas for the summer. He spent the summer after his sophomore season playing for the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska League, where he was one of four former Juneau-Douglas High School baseball players in the league that summer. Last summer he played in Anchorage's adult league, where he was able to get more playing time than he did in the Alaska League.
"When I was with the Miners, I definitely learned a lot about the quality of baseball they play in that league and the caliber of athlete the league attracts," Cladouhos said of his Alaska League experience, which allowed him to play with some of the top NCAA Division I players in the country. "Whenever you play with high-caliber athletes like that you really have to step up."
Cladouhos is scheduled to graduate with a degree in economics in May, and he said he's not sure if he'll play baseball this summer. He said he's thinking of taking a year off from school to do some traveling, then he hopes to attend graduate school in business. Hollibaugh said Grinnell's focus has always been on education over athletics, but the school's sports programs do attract students to the school.
"All of the players we have recruited come here for the education first and a great baseball opportunity second," Hollibaugh said. "We train future professionals, but more so lawyers and doctors than professional baseball players. We have had some great players lately, but they come here to make the next move to an unbelievable job or graduate school."
Iowa State senior third baseman-shortstop Rob Conway (Juneau-Douglas) is leading the Cyclones in nearly every offensive category this season. Conway is hitting .335 with 53 hits in 158 at bats, plus he's scored 29 runs, hit 13 doubles, two triples, four homers, he has 36 RBIs and a .519 slugging average. Conway earned his second career Big 12 player of the week award in late March. Iowa State is scheduled to disband its baseball team after this season.
Long Beach State sophomore left-handed pitcher Chad Bentz (Juneau-Douglas), who was listed among Collegiate Baseball's top players to watch this season and was among Baseball America's top 100 draftable collegiate players, has a 2-3 record with a 7.71 ERA this year for the 49ers.
Arizona State freshman catcher Garrett Schoenberger (Juneau-Douglas) was the only one of more than 30 walk-on (non-scholarship players) to make the team this year. He is redshirting for the Sun Devils.
Mendocino Community College of Ukiah, Calif., has three Southeast baseball players on the team this year sophomore third baseman Wade Walter (Juneau-Douglas), freshman outfielder Robert Ridgeway (Juneau-Douglas) and freshman left-handed pitcher Paul Claasen (Ketchikan). Walter was among the team leaders in hitting with a .312 batting average, 18 runs scored, seven doubles and 24 RBIs in 30 games. Ridgeway only had four at bats with one run scored, and Claasen had only thrown seven innings with a 6.43 ERA. Walter, who was reduced to designated hitter duties early in the season because of a broken finger on his throwing hand, recently signed a scholarship offer to play for NCAA Division I Belmont University of Nashville, Tenn., next season.
Biola University sophomore outfielder Kara Lindley (Juneau-Douglas) is hitting .183 with 11 hits in 60 at bats, eight runs scored and nine RBIs in 37 games for the Eagles.
TRACK AND FIELD
Adams State College senior Carl Blackhurst (Haines) has the nation's top NCAA Division II 3,000-meter steeplechase time this season at 8 minutes, 53.16 seconds. Blackhurst, who is a six-time all-American in track and cross-country running, took third place nationally in the event two years ago as a sophomore but injured his foot last year and missed the NCAA Division II national meet. Blackhurst has already shattered the NCAA's automatic qualifying time in the event and he's made the provisional NCAA qualifying time in the 1,500 meters with a time of 3:51.26 (ranked 14th in NCAA Division II this year).
Western Washington sophomore Shawn Miller (Juneau-Douglas) has his team's second-best 10,000-meter time this year at 33:16.1.
Pacific Lutheran freshman Breea DeSloover (Juneau-Douglas) has her team's third-best 3,000-meter time this year at 11:22.56 and her team's third-best 5,000-meter time at 19:34.79.
Humboldt State freshman Jared Cockrum (Ketchikan) has a best time of 4:29.21 in the 1,500 meters and a time of 17:50.26 in the 5,000 meters.
Willamette University senior Marika Middag (Ketchikan) briefly tied her school's record in the pole vault with a jump of 9 feet, 11 3/4 inches (the mark was broken by a teammate the next weekend). Her twin sister, Willamette senior Tansy Middag (Ketchikan), has a time of 1:14.91 in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles.
University of Puget Sound freshman Alice Cook (Ketchikan) is running distance events for the Loggers.
Linfield College freshman Elizabeth Kloxin (Ketchikan) is competing in the throws for the Wildcats.
Syracuse University junior Rachael Kirchhoff (Juneau-Douglas) has helped her school's varsity women's eight boat to an undefeated record this spring and the sixth spot in the national rowing rankings. Kirchhoff usually rows in the boat's five seat, but has had a race or two in the three seat. Last year Kirchhoff rowed in the six seat as the Syracuse varsity eight took ninth place at nationals.
Oregon State junior Andy Dietrick (Juneau-Douglas) is rowing in his school's junior varsity eight boat. Dietrick hasn't rowed in the varsity eight this season, but he did row in it much of last year before a back injury dropped him to the JV boat. Later, Dietrick was chosen to row in a varsity four boat that took third place at nationals.
Dartmouth College sophomore Katherine Rue (Juneau-Douglas) is rowing in the stroke seat on her school's third varsity four boat. Rue was scheduled to stroke the second four boat last weekend against Harvard and Syracuse.
Shasta College freshman Robb Travis (Juneau-Douglas) made the Redding, Calif., school's golf team. The school's Web site lists one meet result for Travis, an 87 in a victory over the College of the Redwoods in late February. Travis is believed to be the first Juneau athlete to make a college golf team.
Whitman College junior Lindsey Bloom (Juneau-Douglas) earned three U.S. Collegiate Snowsport Association all-American honors for her finishes in the snowboard events during the national meet in March. Bloom took fifth in the boardercross event, eighth in the giant slalom and tied for fifth in the overall standings.
Biola University junior forward Nate Strong (Tenakee Springs) earned third-team NAIA Division I all-American honors, despite missing 10 games this season.
Duke University sophomore center Carlos Boozer (Juneau-Douglas) earned honorable mention all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and led the ACC in field-goal percentage (.604) this season as the Blue Devils won the NCAA Division I title.
Santa Clara junior guard Caroline Gruening (Juneau-Douglas) earned honorable mention all-West Coast Conference honors and earned her team's most improved player, best defensive player and coaches' awards.
University of Alaska Anchorage senior center Shaun O'Shea (a Juneau resident who went to high school in Woodbridge, Va.) won the team's academic and most improved player awards.
Mount Edgecumbe High School senior Adrienne Taalak has signed a letter of intent to play guard for the University of Alaska Fairbanks next season. Taalak will join former Mount Edgecumbe teammate Halane Isidore on the team. Isidore was a redshirt at UAF this year.
The Juneau Empire's College Corner feature is compiled by sports editor Charles Bingham from college Web sites and tips from local coaches and readers. College Corner runs about once a month. If you know of a college athlete from Southeast Alaska who should be included in a future College Corner feature, please fax the information to 1-907-586-3028 (attention sports) or you can e-mail it to email@example.com.