Willmar High School Homecoming week has three big athletic events this weekend.
Top-ten-ranked Sartell (4-0), the Central Lakes Conference leader, is here on Friday night (See preview on Page B-3). The up-tempo Cardinals (3-1) are coming off a comeback win at Little Falls. The Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame 2009 inductees - Judy Aagesen, Scott Swansson and Bob Martin -- will be introduced to an anticipated full stadium.
On Saturday, the Cardinals volleyball tournament brings in five area teams, all having winning seasons. New London-Spicer (11-1) is just outside the Class AA top ten and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (15-2) is rated No. 9 in Class A. Also here will be Benson (14-2), Buffalo Lake-Hector (9-6) and Renville County West (8-5). The Cardinals (9-4) are chasing Alexandria in the CLC.
The Optimist cross-country invitational starts at 1 p.m. on the hilly, tree-lined fairways of the Eagle Creek Golf Club's back nine. This is the only opportunity in the regular season to view the Cardinals on their home ground.
With that in mind, here's a closer look at the Optimist Invitational.
Eleven guest teams are expected for the Optimist meet, which is a significant increase from just four or five several years ago.
The back nine at Eagle Creek is one the best settings this reporter has seen for a meet. The switchbacks and loops provide plenty of good viewing, though spectators do have to walk the equivalent of a long par 5 from the clubhouse lot to reach the start/finish line near the 17th green. Willmar will host the Section 2AA meet on Oct. 29.
This year's meet features Lukas Gemer, the Moorhead junior who won the Class AA state individual title last fall at Northfield. Gemer passed Willmar senior Mahad Hassan with about 1,600 meters left for the surprising win. Gemer placed second to Kyle Eckhoff of Willmar in the 2008 12-mile Green Lake Run.
The Spuds are rated No. 3 in the boys poll behind Wayzata and Eden Prairie. They won their first three meets and took ninth on Saturday at the Minnesota Gophers' Roy Griak meet in the Gold Division.
The Willmar boys finished second to Eden Prairie at Apple Valley the same day. The Cardinals, who won at Hutchinson the week before, do it without a top-ten contender in the large invites but are successful because of their depth. On Saturday five runners finished 18th through 33rd.
Matt Weitzel, Danny Voss, Derek Ballandby, Abdullahi Mohamed and Alex Johannes are all back from the state meet team that took 14th. Weitzel and Voss were top 20 at Apple Valley.
Bismarck Century is ranked No. 3 in North Dakota's big-school class. Another team to watch is the boys team from Trinity River Ridge, Eagan, which won the Milaca meet Saturday.
The Willmar girls placed 12th of 21 teams on Saturday. A top-five finish appears within reach. The Moorhead girls should set the pace. Look for Taylor Janssen to lead them out. Willmar's leading runner has been Megan Rudie, an eighth grader, who was 54th at Apple Valley. Seniors Jackie Johnson and Jayne Cole run next. Both have been leading runners for the Cardinals since first lettering in eighth grade.
Women's basketball practice starts October 12. Coach Carrie Ogdahl expects a minimum 12 player roster with at least Brianna Jacobson and Alison Mason certain
from the volleyball team. Ogdahl projects the turnout numerically in years and this team to athletic and fairly tall.
The Warriors are underway and have had about 18 working out in captain's practice. They should be an exciting team again with former Cardinal Casey Sussenguth back after an outstanding freshman season.
Perhaps it's the recession-fueled JUCO boost in enrollment because numbers also are high in the wrestling room. Coach Tom Beyer has 23 freshman and 11 returning sophomores.
Local newcomers in the first-year class are Jeremy Anderson, ACGC; Josh Anderson, Montevideo; Nick Dahl, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg; Evan Stock, Yellow Medicine East and Dave Cowen Minnewaska. Area sophomores back are Martin Hagen, YME, and Cody Kinney, KMS.
Practice begins today but Beyer says the "serious" work won't begin until Oct. 16 in preparation for the open tournaments in November.
On the fly
n In football, the CLC Offensive Player of the Week is senior quarterback Mark Dunham, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 277 yards and touchdowns covering 62, 11, 18 and 24 yards without an interception. It was Dunham's third straight game throwing for over 200 yards.
n Kathy Braun (WHS '98) is playing for the All-Armed Forces fastpitch team for a third year. The first-baseman helped her All-Air Force team go 6-3 and win gold at the Armed Forces Tournament last week. She made the all-tourney team with the second-best batting average. This weekend she is with the All-Armed Forces team that is playing in Oklahoma City weekend in the ASA national tourney open division.
n Brian Bock (WHS, '94), assistant athletic director at the University of Chicago, is keenly watching the competition for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in which Chicago is one of four finalists this week in Copenhagen. The UC campus would be heavily involved because it borders Washington Park, which would be the proposed home to a temporary 95,000-seat stadium for opening and closing ceremonies, along with track-and-field events.