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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton One of two snowblowers deployed Tuesday afternoon after school works on clearing one of the eight tennis courts at New London-Spicer High School. The NLS boys tennis team will open its season next Tuesday on these courts versus St. John’s Prep, assuming the snow is gone.

Willmar notebook: Knock, knock, knockin’ on spring’s door

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No one can quite remember a winter like this.

It’s been cold and wet before and there have been early April snowfalls, but ….

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Since when has so much snow cover carried the spring season?

In 15 years caring for the playfields of Willmar, Ken Nelson can’t remember anything like this.

So rare was this winter, Nelson’s green park and rec flatbed was still dropping water to make ice at the “Garfield Civic Center” rink on March 1. The ice was yet good. January and February had passed without a thaw; that might happen once in a generation.

Nelson said it’s impossible to predict when the fields might be ready this spring. Barring a heat wave, the Cardinals’ April 11 home opener at Baker Diamond is a no-go and the Ridgewater debut April 14 is iffy.

Once the snow is gone, the frost must percolate and drain.

There are a few hopeful signs. The base paths and home plate area are clear and the drain tiles are carrying water to Baker Pond.

“We got that early snow that insulated the ground some,” said Nelson. “The frost should come out pretty quickly.”

A spurt of 50 degree days with sun and nights where the mercury wanders above freezing would help a lot.

But out at Bill Taunton Stadium huge drifts persist.

Last year the area enjoyed a Missouri-like winter; this year we seem to be somewhere meteorologically north of Ft. Francis.

Repeats Nelson several times on the near future of outdoor sports here: “It’s just impossible to predict.”

On the fly

-- The weather will be finer in Carolina where Jordan Smith, 22, is one of four outfielders on the 2013 roster for the Carolina Mudcats that opens the season Friday playing host to Winston-Salem, a White Sox affiliate in the advanced Class-A Carolina League, Southern Division. The Indians’ minor league website lists the top six hitters in the organization in 2012 and Smith ranked fourth with a .316 average. The Mudcats play at Five-County Stadium, about 20 miles east of Raleigh, N.C.

n Bonnie Henrickson’s Jayhawks couldn’t match top-seed Notre Dame’s offensive punch and lost 93-63 early Sunday afternoon on national television (ESPN). The win boosted the Irish record to 34-1. Kansas reached the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

-- Junior guard Erik Tengwall (NLS) scored 11 points, making 3 of 3 triples, but the Tommies were upset by Mary-Hardin Baylor 74-67 in the Division III men’s basketball semifinals on March 23 in Salem, Va. St. Thomas finished 30-2 and is 11-2 in NCAA playoff games the last three years. In 28 starts, Tengwall shot 86 percent at the free-throw line and 52 percent on field goals (42 percent on 3-pointers).

-- Kevin Steinhaus (KMS) completed his third season on the Gophers’ varsity wrestling team with a 29-4 record. He finished 7-1 in Big 10 dual meets and placed runner-up to 184-pound national champion Ed Ruth of Penn State in the conference tournament. Kevin is among nine Gopher starters returning next season, including two-time 285-pound national champ Tony Nelson (Cambridge-Isanti). At nationals in Des Moines, Steinhaus went 3-2 and did not place. The kinesiology major is one of eight Gopher wrestlers named to the Big Ten Winter All-Academic team.

-- Warriors baseball coach Dennis Boe didn’t take his team south to Florida. He feels players can get in suitable exhibition-game experience before the MCAC schedule kicks in at much less expense with games in Iowa and South Dakota. St. Louis would also be a possibility. This season the team is picking up games at Council Bluffs, Sioux Falls and in St. Paul (St. Thomas JV on April 10). Although the east field at the college is still under snow, Boe is pleased to have a revitalized practice field neighboring the fastpitch outfield fence. The skin infield has been graded and Agra-Lime applied. A bullpen area with three plates and a backstop will be ready to go when the snow and frost are gone. Boe said it hurts to lose starting shortstop Jake Rambow to a hand injury (sustained at basketball practice in February) but he is hoping the sophomore from Willmar might return late in the season.

-- The Kennedy School gyms are the spring-training headquarters for Cardinal baseball and softball. The 9-12 programs use both the bifurcated big gym and the small gym. The later has a batting cage. The baseball team also rents hours in the hitting cage at the civic building in Kandiyohi from the Mike Kingery Solid Foundation Baseball School. Baseball coach Dean Stier said this is already the team’s third week inside and he doubts it will be on any field for another week with the snow cover and frost.

-- Tyler Steen, the former MACCRAY, Ridgewater and North Dakota State standout, is coaching Cardinal freshmen baseball. He also coached wrestling at the middle school , where he teaches physical education, filling the position held by Dustin Carlson, now at the high school.

n At Southwest Minnesota State, the baseball team is 6-12-1 entering April. Freshman outfielder Sam Haas, who starred on the Lac qui Parle Valley team that reached the Class A championship at Target Field last June, has made 9 starts and is hitting .250 with 5 extra-base hits and 5 RBI. Elliot Serbus of Redwood Falls and Century College (White Bear Lake), who played for Bird Island’s state tournament amateur team, has made 10 starts and is hitting .194 and is 4-for-4 stolen bases. Brandon Bornhorst, Haas’s Eagles’ teammate last year, is expected to be a front-line pitcher for Ridgewater.

-- Up at New London, activities director John Vraa believes golf, baseball, softball may not get on course until the middle of the month. The track surface and tennis courts are breaking through and with the sun’s warmth there is a possibility of activity late this week, though field events will be delayed longer. “More than likely everything will be pushed into a six week season which will be tight — that is without further postponements,” Vraa stated. Activities directors and coaches, as well as the athletes, north of U.S. Highway 212 can only hope the days and nights warm up. The situation for scheduling is even more serious up north where there is more snow and cold. If the melt is followed by rain … well, who knows the rest of the story.

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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