The Willmar Cardinal football team didn't always win, but they were never boring.
Even in the 14-point loss to Brainerd, Willmar piled up 320 yards of offense and had three explosive runs from 45 to 70 yards.
The boys hockey team could deliver much of the same entertainment. Like football, the senior class is paramount, and talented.
But they'll likely be no better than 1-1 the first week.
The Cardinals go from playing a small Class A program, Morris/Benson Area, next Tuesday to hosting Blaine, a current colossus of AA hockey, on Dec. 4.
Coached by 1987 Willmar graduate Dave Aus, the Tigers have reached the last five state tournaments.
Willmar coach Dan Tollefson, who was one year behind Aus at Willmar, said a conference realignment left the Bengals with an opening for a one-time meeting.
Pete Aus is one of the Bengal assistants. Peter coached here from 1984-92 before guiding the Bethel College program.
This should be a winter when the Cardinals can challenge a team the caliber of the Bengals. Willmar's top three scorers, all third-year starters, are back. Liam Johnston, Grant Schow and Gabe Amon combined for 60 goals. Landon Peterson was sixth in points.
The Cardinals went 8-8 in the Central Lakes to place fifth in the 10-team circuit.
"We've got lots of points coming back and a lot of balance with some promising kids coming up," Tollefson said this week.
Physically, the team should be his strongest. The senior leaders are three-sport athletes who pay the price in the weight room.
It's reasonable to hold high expectations for this season. Even Tollefson allows the team should compete for a spot in the top three in the CLC (last done in 2001 when it was a seven-team loop) and a spot in the section final.
There's also a chance to win 20 games, something the boys program has never done, though to be fair the schedule was four games less in 1983 when the Central Lakes champions, led by the likes of Pete Stahnke, Brian Nelson, Doug Marciniak and Lee Smith, went 19-4.
On the fly
n Setting the record straight on one of those five Ridgewater College (nee Willmar Community College) national titles: The Women's Tennis NJCAA Division III championship was won in 1997 under then head coach Carrie Ogdahl. As Carrie Johnson, she played on Lady Warriors teams that won state/region titles in both 1990 and '91 for Judy Aagesen.
n Tara Thielke, who is from rural Holloway, starred for the Hancock Owls then played two years at Ridgewater College. Now she is playing closer to home again in Morris. In three games, the 5-6 junior guard is averaging 9.0 ppg with a high of 17 for the Cougars, who started 2-1. Her teammates include 5-11 freshmen Abby Fragodt, who is averaging 5.0 rpg off the bench, second-best on the team.
n Taylor Filipek is a 6-foot-6 freshman forward for the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, who play their first six games on their home floor in Richmond before playing the Minnesota Gophers at 1 p.m. at Williams Arena on Dec. 11. ... Ryan Hagemeyer, also a 6-6 forward, is in his fourth year playing for the Concordia College Cobbers, whose roster includes Aaron Lindahl of Benson and Skylar Wachter of New London-Spicer.
n Cardinal wrestling's middle-school program is being run by ex-Cardinal Tony Neumann and Minneota native BenDeRynck. Neumann, an intensive instructor, achieved All-America status his senior season at Concordia. DeRynck, a physical education instructor, wrestled at Southwest State after transferring from South Dakota State.
n The Thanksgiving weekend is quiet except for a girls hockey tournament. Austin, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato and Morris/Benson Area are the guests. The first game is scheduled at the Civic Center's Cardinal Arena for 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.
n There's plenty to choose at the Christmas break. The Bremer Bank boys basketball tournament brings in Albany, Benson and New London-Spicer on Dec. 27-28. The West Central Tribune Wild-Card girls tournament on Dec. 29-30 at co-host New London-Spicer features new teams Bloomington Kennedy and Minnehaha Academy. The eight-team Boys Hockey Invitational at the Civic Center Dec. 27-29 includes River Lakes and out-of-state teams Pierre, S.D., and Mansfield, Texas.