Willmar gymnastics travels to Melrose Saturday for the Section 6A meet, sure to be dominated by the home team.
The Dutchmen (Dutchgirls?) are the highest scoring team in Class A and second statewide to only AA leader Northfield.
The rest of the field, 8 teams in all, will be fighting for the leftovers.
The team winner is a foregone conclusion. Melrose has posted a high of 149.292 (the Dutch won the West Central meet Saturday at 148.23) while No. 9 Alexandria is at 140.125 and No. 10 Willmar at 139.659, according to the Minnesota Gymnastics Coaches rankings. No other 6A team is in the top 25.
The Dutchmen have won 18 of their past 20 section meets.
But individuals give others hope.
Abbey Weiler, Cassie Johnson and Stephanie Thompson each compete in all-around. That means a chance to qualify top four all-around or on any or all of the four events. Additionally, the Willmar line-up will include Haley Mottinger, Alexis Miley, Maddie Lindblad, Samantha Goeser and Nicole Marshall -- each in eighth or ninth grade -- and sophomore Hillary Weiler.
Abbey Weiler, the team's only senior, is a two-time state qualifier.
"Abbey can go in floor and vault," said coach Larry Selchow. "She had a terrific vault at conference. Her highest ever. Cassie has chance in vault and floor and Stephanie on beam and floor. Anything beyond that would be a pleasant surprise."
All-around is also a possibility for the three Willmar entries, though the competition is rugged with the three Brinkman sisters and Lydia Butkowski from Melrose and Briquelle Bowden from Alexandria, all scoring from 35.575 to 38.1 (senior Hailey Brinkman) at their respective conference meets.
The march-in begins at 12:45 p.m. and the competition 15 minutes later.
Also at the meet: New London-Spicer, Morris Area, Benson/KMS, Paynesville and Ortonville.
The Warriors' basketball team listed a 14-player roster when they played Northland in Willmar on Dec. 3. It appeared coach Bob Knutson had put together a promising team. There were three centers from 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-7 and two of them were wide body. There was good outside shooters and the team could run the floor.
At practice Tuesday one day away from a game at Riverland, Knutson drilled his team practice 4-on-4. The 6-foot-8 player in the post wasn't even on the team. Johnnie Miller is a football player filling in at practice.
Volunteer assistant coach Rich Houske surveyed the scene.
"The kids we got left are all tough," he said. "They just battle right to the end. We don't have a post; the last game we took more three-pointers than two-pointers."
The Warriors' losing streak reached 11 on Saturday.
In a season of attrition, players have departed because of academic failure and personal situations.
It got worse on Feb. 8 when 6-foot-5 Jordan Schwarz (Appleton) suffered a concussion and laceration that will keep him out at least two weeks.
The young men still playing are from nearby, excepting Cody Warner from Long Prairie. Zak Pendleton and his older brother Tyler are out of Redwood Falls (Cedar Mountain), Jake Ruhland from Eden Valley, Jamie Boonstra from Raymond, Neil Helgeson from Kimball, Zach Henning from Prinsburg and Jake Rambow from Willmar.
"Rambow backs down from no one," said Houske. "His uncle Steve was that way; so was his dad (Jon)."
The Warriors have always been competitive but this season with a depleted squad many games have got away quickly.
But Houske notes that the head coach has remained "positive" throughout and continues to be an exceptional teacher of the game.
"We're not deep enough now to compete with some of these teams and the division has never been stronger," Houske added.
The Warriors schedule also includes home-and-away series with North Dakota Science and the brand new Dakota County squad coach by Jay Pivec, formerly at Minneapolis CTC. Both are NJCAA DII programs with exceptional talent.
Of note: Zak and Tyler lead the South Division in free-throw percentage at 86 and 78 percent, respectively.
A Missouri winter
One can imagine this is what winters are like in Missouri or southern Iowa -- chilly but mostly brown and only an occasional need to locate a snow shovel.
February is so un-Minnesota this February, the Ridgewater College baseball team may start getting outside to hit fly balls and go through situational plays.
Currently, first year head-coach Dennis Boe has his 21-player roster working in the college gym following basketball practice.
There are six sophomores on the team, including pitcher/outfielder Jordan Ruter of Raymond. First-year players from Willmar are Jake Rambow and Nathanial Swoyer. Jarrod Holmgren from Clara City was a sophomore on the MACCRAY team the won the Class A state title at Chaska in 2009.
The Warriors have 9 games scheduled in St. Petersburg, Fla., March 4-9.
The Lady Warriors will be in Titusville, Fla., for the Cocoa Beach Challenge from March 3-5 for 7 games and at Rosemount for 3 games in the Irish Dome on March 22.
Wednesday was the first full-team practice and there was the possibility of being outside on the college field.
Coach Todd Thorstad's roster returns five sophomores including pitchers Andrea Krause (Bloomington) and Shannon Heitz (Glencoe). Pitcher/IF Brittney Nissen and catcher Brenna Holwerda join from BOLD, IF Jenna Kincade from Paynesville, IF/C Christal Stavne and OF Khia Lohse from MACCRAY, C Datriana Jensen from Benson, OF Brooke Carlson from KMS.
From the Kansas Jayhawks website: An all-school assembly was called to order Feb. 9 at Schwegler Elementary School in Lawrence. Once the students had gathered they were surprised with a guest appearance by Kansas women's basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson who spoke with the kids about performing well in school, specifically the Kansas state assessments tests.
In just a few short weeks, students at Schwegler Elementary will take the state's standardized tests. The Kansas State Assessment is what Kansas uses to determine whether or not a student meets standards in specific areas such as reading, writing, math, science, and history/government.
Coach Henrickson encouraged the school to do their best on the exams and suggested cutting out outside distractions such as television, radio and phones during study time. The Jayhawks' head coach compared the students' preparation for tests to her team's training for upcoming games.
"I told them how important it is to make the sacrifice to be better. If they want to win as a team, and they feel like their school is a team, the best way to make the team better is to make yourself better," Henrickson said of her message to students. "That is something we talk about in our (basketball) program. The best way to make our team better is to get better individually, so I shared the same message we use with our players."
Henrickson, who graduated from Willmar in 1982, coached against Iowa State last night. Her Jayhawks were 6-6 in the Big 12 and 17-7 overall going in.
Cream Can returns
The new Cream Can boys hockey trophy was on display at the Willmar Cardinals boys hockey game on Tuesday. The shiny hardware is named the Stephen J. Reynolds Cup, honoring the Cardinal hockey player who died suddenly of a heart infection in November at age 20. A steal plate has a laser printing of Stephen's senior picture. Two other plates engraved by the Trophy Shop list the Litchfield, later Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, victories year-by-year and the Willmar wins.
The U.S. Highway 12 series, which dates to 1972-73, was discontinued after the 2007-08 season due to the antics of some fans. The historic Cream Can, dating to the inception of the series, has disappeared.
Two Willmar men got together to create a second Cream Can: Terry Tone, who has had two sons play in the Willmar program, and Matt Shrupp, who played on the Cardinals' 1987 CLC champions and whose son, Paul, and Jacob Tone were 2009-10 captains along with Ben Leitch. Terry Tone found the stainless milk can online from a company in Nebraska. The photo engraving was done by a company in Illinois.
Fundraising letters to cover the cost of the project were sent to each of Stephen's teammates 2009-2011 and the response was "fantastic," Matt Shrupp said.
Later on Tuesday evening, the trophy traveled to Litchfield where the Dragons were playing. It's in their trophy case for now since LDC shaded the Cardinal 4-3 on Dec. 2 when the conflict resumed before an enthusiastic but well-behaved crowd at the Cardinal Arena.
On the fly
n Kelsey Evans at Briar Cliff in Sioux City, Iowa, has started 24 games for the 20-6 Chargers (10-5 GPAC). She is averaging 10.5 ppg, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and also has 52 steals and 29 blocks.
n Willmar girls hockey loses seniors Baylie Young, Kylee Hulscher, Paige Davis, Kendra Maxfield and Becca Freese but excellent skaters will return. Coach Jason Mayer said he's looking forward to next year. Willmar's primary need will be to find one or two scorers who can consistently bury the puck, not just put it on goal. Freshmen Amelia Amon, Annie Johnston, and Shelby Schneider each show great promise but must get stronger if they are to increase their impact on offense. Mayer said Madison Sandburg is ready to take over for three-year starter Young in goal.
n Casey Sussenguth, former Cardinal and Ridgewater Warrior, is coming to the end of his college career. The 6-foot-7 senior forward for Southwest Minnesota State is averaging 15 minutes, 7.0 ppg, 3.2 rebounds with 8 blocked shots (third on the team). The Mustangs (13-6 NSIC, 14-9) host Bemidji State on Friday and play their last home game Saturday against UM-Duluth on Senior Night in Marshall.
n Willmar Central Lakes all-conference and honorable mention, including danceline, will be published in mid-March, after most of the winter seasons are complete and the information is released by the CLC office.
n St. Cloud Tech's 6-0 win at Willmar in boys hockey this week was partly fueled by the sons of former Cardinal athletes. Sophomore forward Riley Bates is the son of 1983 grad Paul Bates while junior defenseman Joe Setrum is the son of 1985 grad Gary Setrum. Joe and Riley each had an assist.