The Willmar Cardinals boys basketball team has zipped to a 5-1 start, but they face a tough nut tonight on the road at Brainerd.
The Warriors are 4-3 after losing to Owatonna 69-61 and North St. Paul 76-71 at the Owatonna holiday tournament, an AAAA field. Meantime, Willmar won its own invite against AA competition.
This early it's a little hard to be sure how good this Willmar team is. There's plenty of hustle and ball movement making them a fun team to watch. Coach Steve Grove deploys a line-up that is eight deep.
There's not much height (topping out at 6-foot-4) but the Central Lakes, it appears this year, is not a loop with dominant post play. Brainerd puts out 6-5 Jacob Blong, St. Cloud Tech has 6-6 Kevin Heysse, Sartell starts 6-6 Tim Immelmann and Rocori 6-5 Jonah Eisenschenk. All good players last year but not domineering based on their stats.
What Willmar has done especially well so far is shoot the ball. From the field, they are shooting 50 percent on twos and 45 percent on 3-pointers.
Jimmy Unger, a 6-2 senior wing, is 21 of 41 on 2-pointers and 19 of 36 on 3-pointers (52 percent). He's averaging 17.5 ppg.
Mo Mohamud is 7 of 15 on 3-pointers and averaging 8.7 ppg. Austin Rambow is shooting 46 percent from the floor and 77 percent at the line, averaging 12 ppg.
Dean Stier has 27 assists, the 6-1 Unger has blocked 10 shots and Mohamud has 22 steals in 6 games. Top rebounders are Rambow (47), Unger (30) and Alex Grove (24).
Heading into the New Year, Rocori leads the loop with a 3-1 record. Tech and Willmar are next at 2-1 with Brainerd and Fergus Falls each at 1-1.
Warriors' head coach Tom Beyer is pleased with the pre-holiday start of his Ridgewater College wrestling team.
The Warriors went 2-2 in dual meets. Strong individual performances were turned in by sophomore Javier Portillo (Crookston) with 13- 5 record. His brother, Mariano, and Lonny Booshu (Nome, Alaska) both are each 13-6.
Top first-year performers have been Klinton Van Heuveln (Kerkhoven) at 18-6 and Shane Fessenmaier (St. Cloud) with a 16-6 record.
With all this success on the mat the most excited part of this group is their academic performance in the classroom. The GPA for the entire team the first semester was 3.12. However, using the NJCAA twelve-member team format to determine team GPA, Ridgewater's GPA for fall semester is 3.46.
The Warriors, whose last competition was Dec. 9, return to action on Saturday with the Ridgewater Open for freshmen/sophomore college-age wrestlers. This is the second of three home events.
The Willmar Takedown Club and Cardinal wrestling will present 2011 Class AAA state champion Nathanial Swoyer with his championship banner at about 7 p.m. before tonight's varsity match with Sartell.
The presentation is part of the new Alumni Night inviting former Cardinal wrestlers back for the evening, including a social in the cafeteria following the match.
Former state champs who will be present are Kevin Fladeboe (1973), Chad Carlson ('89, '90) and Carl Carlson ('92). Willmar's other state champs are Andy Reigstad ('92), Nate Villnow ('94) and the late Troy Haglund ('90).
Swoyer is a freshman at the college here. He starts on the football team and this winter is a coach in the Cardinals' middle-school wrestling program.
Cream Can history
A recent column noting that the Cream Can will be revived for the Litchfield/DC hockey rivalry in boys hockey brought a response from Vern Madsen, former Litchfield mayor and a 1950 graduate of LHS.
Vern recalls that he suggested that the "friendly rivalry" be documented via a traveling trophy that the winning team could display at school. Willmar mayor Jack Lynch agreed.
"I got the cream can donated from First District Association in Litchfield, the plaque donated from Stewart's Jewelry in Litchfield and the hockey puck donated from Litchfield Senior High School," Vern wrote.
The Cardinals vs. Dragons series began in 1972 but was discontinued in 2007 due to rowdy fan behavior, which had been a problem for some time. The Cream Can trophy had ceased to be a part of the rivalry even before that. The location of the original Can remains a mystery.
A new stainless steel cream has been commissioned and will be etched with every score to date.
The past year was good for baseball and fastpitch, particularly the fields throughout the city. The high school field north of the high school has been fenced, reseeded and leveled. This provides a third 90-foot baseball field for practice or middle-school games and summer programs. Dual batting cages are projected for this spring. An adjacent second baseball field in the multi-use area (soccer in fall) has been upgraded.
Sunrise Park at the east end of Willmar Avenue will have a new 300-foot fence and backstop. It will have base pegs for 60-, 75- and 90-foot levels. It can also be employed for softball. Work is scheduled to be done in spring.
Orange Field or North Swansson, the baseball field between the tracks and Willmar Avenue, will be upgraded and a batting tunnel added. The plan is to bring in the deep fences (about 320 to the corners) by about 20 feet to better suit JV and VFW levels. The cinder warning track will be done in agri-lime this time. Work is planned for August.
The aging light standards are ready for an upgrade. They could be added to the capital-outlay funding list within few years.
The Orange and main softball parking lots were substantially upgraded with new pavement and curbing this past spring. Also up ahead for Orange, one day, will be a combination concession/press box.
WCER director Steve Brisendine said the field improvements provide greater flexibility in scheduling. The spring/summer demand is ever increasing with school, college, youth, traveling teams, amateur, VFW and Legion all needing practice and game time. And, of course, the Willmar Stingers now deploy on Baker Field 32 evenings starting early June.
The projects have been a cooperative effort of Willmar Baseball/Softball Boosters, Cardinal Pride, WCER, city public works and the school district.
Another important project completed this past year moved the varsity softball field at the high school to the adjacent north diamond where a permanent outfield fence was added and new digital scoreboard.
On the fly
- Liam Johnston is playing junior hockey for the Little Falls Flying Aces. Gabe Amon is on the St. John's University junior varsity. Those two combined for 85 points last winter. Both played in the alumni game on Dec. 29, which is now projected to become an annual event open to all Cardinal hockey alumni.
- The college basketball teams resume action on Friday/Saturday in Grand Rapids with games against Itasca CC and Mesabi Range. The Southern Division schedule starts Wednesday, home games vs. Central Lakes, Brainerd.
- Sartell senior guard Haley Guetter scored 14 points in the Sabres' 46-42 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday. Haley, a thousand-point scorer and two-time All-CLC, is the daughter of 1991 Willmar High School graduates Jeremy Guetter and Nikki DePetro. She averaged 18.4 ppg last season and started on the Sartell team that reached the 2010 Class AAA state tournament.
- The huge Mesabi East Invite Nordic ski meet is a go for Saturday at Biwabik. Meet manager John Filander at Giants' Ridge states that "conditions are excellent" with a 12-18-inch base.