WILLMAR -- Since there are no exhibition games in girls basketball, the season opener is like a shakedown cruise.
Willmar and Hutchinson hoisted anchor Saturday night in rough seas. Leaks were detected but the Cardinals proved marginally more seaworthy and sailed to a 41-37 win against a section foe.
Anne Dunham appears poised for a big senior season. The 5-foot-11 center hit a three-pointer from above the key 3:33 into the game for the first Willmar score of the new season.
She would finish with game-highs of 13 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Both teams struggled mightily in the first half to execute an offense; Willmar went to the locker room at halftime leading 17-12.
It was the debut for head coach Dustin Carlson, the 2004 Willmar graduate who had been freshman boys coach.
"I thought we had some first-game jitters but the girls played good defense overall," he commented. "We can hang our hat on that; our offense will get better as the girls get comfortable with the new offense."
Besides Dunham, the starters were forwards Heather Horning and Kalley Fosso and guards Jordan Martins and McKenzie Hastad. Courtney Magnuson, Jennie Magnuson and Kassy Linbo entered off the bench early.
Both teams shot 31 percent from the field and under 60 percent at the free throw line. Willmar survived 29 turnovers.
Willmar built its second-half lead to 37-31 but the Tigers closed to 38-37 on a 3-pointer by Emelia Miner with a minute remaining.
Willmar checked the Tigers the rest of the way. Horning had a defensive rebound and Hastad a steal on a deflection by Dunham. Martins made 1 of 4 at the line for a 39-37 lead and Horning canned 2 of 2 foul shots for the final margin.
"We dug a little deeper at the end of the game when both teams were wearing down," said Carlson. "It was a nice team effort and Dunham really filled the stat sheet, but we also got some big plays from Horning and Hastad late in the game."
Hutchinson coach and 1975 Willmar graduate Bill Carlson broke in a new starting lineup after the Tigers went all the way to the Class AAA third-place game last March.
The Cardinals leave home port Tuesday for a Central Lakes Conference game at St. Cloud Apollo.
Willmar 41, Hutchinson 37
Hutchinson (0-1) 12 25 -- 37
Willmar (1-0) 17 35 -- 41
HUTCHINSON - 12-39 FG (4-15 3-pt); 9-9-20 FT; 28 rebounds; 23 fouls ... Scoring: Kim Mercedes 2, Julius Monroe 4, Taylor Jurgenson 7, Emelia Miner 8, Traci Schwantes 5, Madison Christie 5, Nicole Schommer 6 ... 3-point shots: Schwantes 1, Miner 2
WILLMAR - 11-37 FG (3-13 3-pt); 16-28 FT; 40 rebounds; 20 fouls ... Scoring: Jordan Martins 6, McKenzie Hastad 5, Heather Horning 9, Anne Dunham 13, Kalley Fosso 5, Jennie Magnuson 2, Leah Ruter 1 ... 3-point shots: Horning 1, Dunham 1, Fosso 1 ... Rebound leaders: Dunham 12, Kosso 6, Courtney Magnuson 5, Jordan Martins 4, Hastad 4, Horning 4, Fosso 6, J. Magnuson 4 ... Assist leaders: Martins 3, Horning 3 ... Steal leaders: Fosso 4 ... Blocks: Dunham 4, Horning 2