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Willmar needs to bulk up to compete with big boys

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sports Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

If a yardstick is needed, the trip to Hutchinson was it. When it comes to playing power football, the Cardinals have a long way to go.

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There were earlier indications -- one-sided games at home vs. Brainerd and Sartell. Those are the kind of teams that Willmar just can't match up with physically. Against bigger, stronger opponents, the game plan has about as much chance as a match in a hurricane.

The kids know it. The coaches know it. If Willmar is going to compete for a spot in the section final each year, it's going to take a lot more sweat equity.

Former coach Ken Heitzman preached and taught weight room and speed training. It helped but Willmar hasn't put a dominate offensive line on the field since the turn of the century. His teams often started fast but faded the in the game's second half or after midway in the season as players just wore down, often from playing both ways.

Jon Konold's first team here was a respectable 5-5 and could have been 7-3 but for two overtime losses.

The passing attack he installed was the most prolific in school history with quarterback Mark Dunham and the receiving corps falling just 80 yards short of 2,000 yards. But that's not enough; Mankato West, where Konold coached before coming here, could whip an opponent with the pass or the rush.

"You've got to run the ball and stop the run," said Konold after Saturday's semifinal 48-14 loss. "That's what it's all about."

That takes more beef than Willmar has. All season, the Willmar defense played hard and didn't back down while playing big teams like Bemidji, Brainerd and Sartell. But they did get pushed around.

"We want to get to the next level," said Konold. "We've got to get more physical, stronger and faster. It starts now and it goes until August."

Konold brought freshness, a new approach on offense, and renewed enthusiasm to the sport. The kids may settle for something short of moving too the "next level", which means success in post-season in Konold's way of thinking, but don't expect this native of Minneota where football is king to accept less.

Down under

The freshmen football team finished 3-5 this season, but coach Justin Brown commented that it was "A really good season with a good line with some big linemen, which is something we haven't had in a long time."

The JV team went 4-4. Several sophomores saw varsity action, including Matt Cordes, who became a starter on the line.

Alex Grove, a freshman, quarterbacked the JV team and had a successful season running and throwing the ball, according to Jon Gubrud, who coached along with Jason Schwab.

Girls hockey underway

Cardinal girls hockey opened practice with 30 prospects on Monday. Additional players are expected at the end to fall commitments.

This is the first season for Chad Akerson as head coach. He coached boys hockey under three different head coaches.

The Cardinals host Marshall in a scrimmage at 1:15 p.m. Saturday and are at the Brainerd Jamboree Nov. 14. The season opener is at St. Michael-Albertville Nov. 17.

On the fly

n Michael Dunham is 2-0 as a starter after Concordia College (2-4 MIAC, 4-4) dumped St. Olaf at Northfield 17-14. The sophomore quarterback threw for 150 yard, completing 13 of 29 passes with one touchdown and one interception.

Two teams from the Southern Division meet Sunday in St. Cloud for the MCAC football title. Rochester (10-0) tipped Mesabi Range 21-6 while Central Lakes College, Brainerd, took out Vermilion 36-30.

The Willmar Nordic Ski Club Spaghetti Dinner is set for Nov. 19 at the middle school cafeteria from 5-7 p.m.

Fitness buffs have one more road race in the local -- the pre-feast Turkey Leg 5k leaves the YMCA grounds at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26). Pickleevents.com has the details.

Danielle Dahl (WHS 2003) completed her first season as assistant coach to Dan Loe on the Renville County West volleyball team. She was earlier asked to work in the basketball program, but declined, noting that her winter sport in high school and college was hockey.

Curling is a hot ticket at the Civic Center. Open curling started Oct. 28 from 6:30-9 p.m. on Wednesdays. An open house is set this Saturday afternoon. A fall adult league is already underway. A junior and adult winter league both start in early December. See www.willmarcurling.org.n The Fergus Falls city council has voted to replace its 40-year-old hockey arena with a $4 million two-sheet arena on high-school property. The Otters, a Cardinal rival in the Central Lakes Conference, play in an arena built in 1970.

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Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
(320) 214-4334
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