College Athletics: Central Lakes College family affair for Kossan siblings
Going to college and playing sports while staying close to home and saving some money is an appeal for some lakes area students.
Eric and Lisa are the fourth- and fifth-oldest of 12 Kossan siblings, all of whom have been or continue to be homeschooled. In addition to CLC being close to home as they continue their education, the Kossans are also drawn by the opportunity to play baseball and softball for the Raiders.
Three older siblings—Kelly, Amy and Mark—already attended CLC, with Mark playing for the Raider baseball team. Sophomore Eric is a versatile player, playing every position except center field. Lisa is a freshman shortstop scorching the stat books this wintery spring.
Both took post-secondary education option classes at CLC and played
four years of varsity ball for the Staples-Motley Cardinals before graduating from high school.
The next two oldest siblings also plan to attend CLC and play spring sports. Brother Tom, a junior, is taking PSEO classes and sophomore Sarah is planning to do the same starting next year.
Lisa explained how softball and baseball came to be the sports of choice for all 12 Kossan children.
"Because there are so many of us, our parents were like, just pick one sport to be in," she said. "Somehow we all picked baseball and softball. We all play whiffle ball at home and can make a couple teams and have a lot of fun."
One factor might be the influence of their dad, Greg Kossan. He played baseball for Columbia Heights High School and North Hennepin Community College. He moved his family to Motley when the children were little. He helped coach various youth teams, including the middle school team, and this year took over as head coach of the S-M varsity baseball team.
"Dad's pretty much been my main coach all the while I've been growing up," Eric said. "If something's wrong with your swing, he's down in the basement helping you out.
"I guess we're just a baseball (and softball) family. There really isn't any pressure for the younger ones, but I guess they just get drawn into it. There's always someone who can play catch with you and hit you flies."
Academically, Eric and Lisa are on the dean's list. Both said the decision to go to CLC was an easy one for them.
"I did some PSEO here last year and I liked it here," said Lisa. "My main decision to stay was to play softball. I talked to Ray (Austin) the new head coach (last year) and he wanted me to come here and I said, 'Yeah, I'll come play softball.'"
When asked about the best part of staying close to home while going to college, Eric laughed and said, "Home cooking."
"It's a chance to save some money, but still play a sport and go to college," he added.
Ray Austin and Brian Voigt are both in their second year as head coaches of the Raider softball and baseball teams, respectively. Both strongly believe in recruiting players from the lakes area.
"There's a 60- to 80-mile radius around Brainerd where there are some really good athletes," Austin said. "Brainerd is the only (4A) school in that radius, but that doesn't mean there are not athletes out there in many of the smaller schools that would be just fine in any school wherever they go.
"Finding those kids and letting them know that there's an option here at CLC is the job we are tasked with—that there is really good athletics and academics here and that they can then move on to almost any college in the nation from here with a plan."
Both teams are comprised mainly of area athletes. Voigt explained he tries to have a team of about 75 percent local athletes and 25 percent recruited from a greater area.
"There's so much good baseball here in our area that our goal is to create what I call the 'Area All Star Baseball Team,'" said Voigt. "To bring them together and let them compete. We want them to know that education base is not just a four-year atmosphere, but they can come here and save a little bit of money and still play high level baseball."
To play college ball, students must have graduated from high school and be carrying at least 12 credits during the season they are playing. Many students that take PSEO come in with a number of college credits and may only be at CLC for one year.
Voigt explained Eric Kossan technically graduated last year (at the end of his first year at CLC) but chose to return. Eric worked all fall, made some money and is taking 12 credits now so he can play his second year of eligibility as a sophomore.
"He's what you call a dream to coach," said Voigt. "Whatever comes up, he's willing to do it. He's going to do it well and you know the job's going to get done.
"The first game he ever caught was last year. We were playing Riverland and our catcher breaks his hand in Game One. I looked at my assistant coach and said, 'What are we going to do? I looked at Eric and said, 'Do you want to catch?' 'Never have coach.' 'Wanna do it?' 'Sure thing.'
"So he jumps back there and goes the whole game. It was a 2-2 game and he kept
the runners from doing stuff. The next day, he jumps on the mound and closes a game out for us."
Voigt explained Eric's versatility was an important asset to the team.
"So far Eric has played every position except center field," Voigt said. "I think at some point this year I'm going to have to put him in center just so that he can say he played every position during his college career."
Austin was equally high in his praises of Lisa.
"From Day One, she's the first to practice, the last to leave, and she always makes sure things are picked up," he said. "She's an absolute sponge when it comes to coaching, and whatever you tell her, she's listening. She takes your feedback and puts it to her game. It's pretty obvious the work she put in during our spring trip."
The Raider softball team went 4-4 during a week of spring training March 8-12 at Cocoa
Beach, Fla., and then won eight of nine dome games in the Minnesota Classic at Rosemount and in the MCAC Crossover at Rochester.
During that time, Lisa batted .553 with two home runs, 10 doubles and 14 RBIs. She scored 24 runs, stole three bases and struck out only three times in 47 plate appearances.
Both coaches and players agreed spring training is an important part of the college ball experience. The baseball team spent March 11-16 in Tucson, Ariz., where it went 4-6.
"Going south is huge," said Voigt. "We get to play teams that we don't play during the school year, some good schools with really good teams."
"It's definitely a recruiting tool," said Austin. "I think if we don't go we would definitely lose kids over it. Most of the schools in the state go and it's definitely a fantastic time for coaches and players together.
It's a time for good team building and they get to know each other."
This year's abnormal weather has made the spring training experience even more valuable.
Since March 16, the baseball team has managed to get in one doubleheader Tuesday, April 9, against Itasca at Northwestern University in St. Paul. The softball team last played March 31 at the MCAC Crossover in Rochester.
"Most years we come back, stay outside, and move right into the regular season," said Austin. "This year is abnormal and there's nothing we can do about it. Our job right now is to find games where there's no snow and we'll just have to do some traveling. I'm lucky we've been able to play some dome games, but with baseball, Brian doesn't have that luxury."
Eric and Lisa said they had fun at spring training soaking in the warmth. They both talked about the experience of being at CLC together. They often drive to Brainerd together along with their brother, Tom, who is taking PSEO classes.
"It's so much fun with my brother here," said Lisa. "All of us are really close. We're like best friends and it's fun cheering each other on."
"It's awesome," said Eric. "You come out of a long practice and see your sister standing in the hallway."
Lisa plans to return next year and play softball as a sophomore. As for the future of the younger Kossan siblings and CLC—time will tell.