CLAYTON — Adam Swenson, like many of his fellow proud alums of the Thousand Islands High School baseball program, is experiencing a renewed sense of excitement at varsity games this spring.
The Vikings are back in the Frontier League mix after reduced participation levels forced a one-year hiatus for the varsity squad last year, with three TI athletes opting to join neighboring Alexandria for a combined team hosted by the Purple Ghosts.
With its own facilities under construction, Alexandria utilized the traditional TI home field last season, an image Swenson acknowledged as difficult to accept at the time as a reminder of the state of his beloved program.
“As a TI alum, I played six years of varsity baseball here, and to come to the games and see our guys wearing purple, it was frustrating to me,” Swenson said. “That was nothing against (Alexandria), it’s just, we’re blue and gold. We’re the Vikings.”
Swenson is happy to now help guide the TI varsity baseball revival as the first-year head coach. He contributed six seasons as a standout player before graduating in 1998, and has additional experience at the helm of the Vikings modified team and Cape Vincent Little League squad.
He has turned to a pair of varsity mainstays, seniors Ryan Pavlot and junior pitching ace Jackson Ludlow, to help mold a developing, emerging unit with just three seniors and one junior for upperclassmen.
Pavlot and Ludlow each joined TI varsity as freshmen and took the chance to play for the Purple Ghosts last year, along with eighth-grader Ray Peters.
They expressed gratitude for that opportunity but remained motivated to ultimately help get their own team back on the field.
“It’s great to be back with TI,” Pavlot said. “Last year we were with (Alexandria), and it’s different wearing another school’s jersey. You want to be representing your own school and your own team, and it’s great to be back on our field.”
The pairing of Pavlot and Ludlow led the charge in offseason recruiting efforts, and said they felt optimistic about their odds entering last summer.
Senior Chase Vandermark — the only player besides Pavlot and Ludlow remaining from the last TI varsity season in 2021 — also came back as a key returning standout providing additional veteran wisdom.
They credited the underclassmen, many of whom were on the large TI modified roster last year, for getting in position to make the leap and help ensure the varsity squad’s return.
“Guys were putting in the work over the winter to make that jump from modified to varsity, getting the pitching distance and everything, and that really helped us this year,” Pavlot said.
Swenson was approved as varsity baseball coach by the district school board in February.
He noted multiple conversations with athletic director Scott Lalonde regarding the next step, including combining opportunities for varsity while building through the lower levels, but feels confident the right direction was taken.
Players pointed to milestone moments like their initial practice, first game, even assigning uniforms as significant signs of their diligence to get the program back on track.
“It was great, even just getting the uniforms, it was nice to be back in the blue and gold,” Ludlow said.
Pavlot added: “As soon as you cross those lines and step on your own field, it’s kind of like you’re coming back home and supporting your own team again, it feels great.”
Thousand Islands is scheduled to play Saturday at Alexandria in another full-circle outing for veteran players.
Ludlow said that the area matchup now has the feel of a “friendly rivalry,” with former teammates staying in touch and coaching staffs sharing mutual respect and appreciation for the way many worked together, keeping options open for baseball players in both districts last year.
“I still talk to their coach, and so does (Swenson), and we all kind of have a little thing going on,” Ludlow said. “We know all their players still and we actually get to play them Saturday, so now it’s like a friendly rivalry.”
The Vikings entered Wednesday with a 2-7 overall record after losing six straight games combined to “C” Division foes South Lewis and Beaver River, including a pair of one-run setbacks to the Falcons.
They are eager to regroup in time for the Section 3 Class C playoffs, now approaching the midway point of their regular-season schedule.
“We’re optimistic,” Pavlot said. “We didn’t have a very good series against South Lewis or Beaver River, but we’re hoping we can fight through that the rest of the season.”
Ludlow added: “This is a young team but we’re improving every day, we’re really coming along, and I’m hoping we can put it together when it really matters in the end.”
In its most recent varsity campaign, Thousand Islands produced a 15-4 overall record and reached the 2021 Section 3 Class C1 semifinals.
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