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Willmar Notebook: Notes from the arena

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The three individual state wrestling titles won by the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City contingent on Saturday are rare for a Tribune Area school, but it has been done before. Most recently, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg put three on the Class A podium’s top step in 2009 in successive weight classes: seniors Kevin Steinhaus (160, 47-0) and Mitch Hagen (171, 46-0) and junior Joel Bauman (189, 42-2), who also helped KMS win the team title that year.

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Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City finished the three-day event at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with the runner-up trophy and four individual medals.

It was a golden finish for two-time champion Larry Bomstad who will leave the Falcons with a school-record 231 wins and wrestle next at St. Cloud State, Logan Peterson at South Dakota State and Lucas Damm, also a two-time champion, at Southwest Minnesota State for former Ridgewater College coach Jesse Nelson.

Maverick Whitcomb, who won bronze and is aiming for football, told me that many of the seven seniors on this year’s roster have been together since fifth grade.

“Logan and I wrestled since preschool,” Maverick said relaxing in the first row of the arena during the Class A championship round. “Lucas and Larry started in fifth grade. I had urged Larry to try wrestling.”

Maverick said it was clear from the start that Larry was athletically gifted. By sixth grade they had permission to wrestle in the room with older kids.

Former Falcons’ head coach Tim Roberg, now at Paynesville, deserves credit for giving Bomstad a foundation “with no bad habits,” Peterson told me. “He’s an amazing coach.”

Peterson and Bomstad are in back-to-back weight classes so they mano-a-mano daily in the practice shed behind the school. Peterson, who earned his 200th career win during the semifinals Saturday, prefers a competitive training room as “iron sharpens iron.”

I asked Damm, the 220-pounder, if he enjoyed his year as the defending champion after his win in 2013. “I definitely enjoyed it. Sometimes, you didn’t think about it. A lot of times this year, I wasn’t giving myself much credit and lacked confidence which led to several of my [four] losses. Eventually, I just told myself, ‘I’m good and I can be better.’”

In the light-heavy weight class there are brawny lads stout enough to fling a hay bale to the 10th row. Damm went 84-9 the last two winters and 8-0 in the Xcel crucible.

The Falcons’ young head coach Mike Amsden inherited a talented wrestling room and he’s made the most of it, along with his dedicated staff. In two years, the Falcons have won two team trophies and eight individual medals, five of them gold.

Three-day attendance at the state meet was 51,301, down 4,700 from 2013, but the arena still roared.

Willmar flat at State

On the other hand, the Willmar Cardinals seem to peak both emotionally and performance-wise at their section meet.

The Cardinals have won an unprecedented three Section 6AAA tournaments in a row and lost a fourth, in 2011, by criteria.

The last two years have produced 15 state qualifiers. But only Colten Carlson, the 160-pound runner-up in 2013, has medaled (top six). This year Willmar wrestlers were a combined 5-10 individually. The seventh-ranked team in AAA went 1-2, losing in the consolation final to Moorhead a second year in a row.

Moorhead wrestlers showed more fire in that match; they clearly seemed to want the fifth-place trophy more. I also thought, physically, they looked stronger in most matchups.

One thing that stood out to me in my two days in St. Paul was the physical development of the best wrestlers. They were “cut.” Not everyone, but most had shoulders, upper arms and deltoids like an Olympic gymnast.

Carlson and Willmar junior Vaughn Johnson have the kind of upper-body strength that can turn even a ranked foe. Vaughn is only a third-year wrestler but has been to state individuals twice already and won twice this year while going 3-0 in the team event for a 5-2 Xcel record.

Winning three straight section titles plus this season a Central Lakes Conference title is like getting nominated for an Oscar — a reason to be proud. But successes raise expectations and Willmar delivered only a consolation semifinal win for the second year in a row.

Co-head coaches Ed Oehlers and Justin Brown have the program upward bound and with a junior-heavy team should be in the mix again next season.

Hockey time

Lee Smith (WHS ’84) has the Eden Prairie Eagles back at state hockey for the sixth time in the past 15 seasons. The Eagles (17-8-3), seeded third, take on unseeded Centennial at 1 p.m. Thursday. Centennial, in Circle Pines north of St. Paul, took out Blaine (22-5-1) by a 2-1 score in the Section 6AA final. The Bengals are coached by 1988 WHS grad Dave Aus.

Smith’s Eagles have worked overtime this year, going 3-0-3 in games with an extra period. If the Eagles win, they will meet either No. 2 Lakeville North or Roseau in the 6 p.m. semifinal Friday at the Xcel Center.

Luverne, representing the “Soybean Section,” beat New Ulm 6-1 after ousting Hutchinson 4-0 in the semifinals. The Cardinals’ unbeaten 27-0-1 record didn’t impress coaches’ seeding committee and they will have to take on No. 2 Hermantown in Wednesday’s 11 a.m. Class A quarterfinals. The Hawks’ (22-4-1) four losses were to AA opponents and their wins include a 3-1 decision at Brainerd, the CLC champion. Additionally, the Hawks have reached four straight Class A state championship games, losing in 2010 to The Breck School and each of the last three years to the St. Thomas Academy Cadets, which this season decided to test the ice in AA and did not make the state field.

In the program’s first state visit, Luverne can’t match the Hawks’ rugged schedule and state-tourney experience and likely their depth, but it would appear the almost-in-Iowa team has the talent, speed and goaltending to be competitive, if they don’t get rattled by the setting.

The Willmar 14

The Cardinal icemen would have liked another shot at Luverne, who they lost to 4-0 on Jan. 11, but that didn’t happen when Willmar fell 5-4 in OT in the semifinals to New Ulm, after leading 3-0.

The graduation toll is 14 deep, taking all the top scorers but No. 2 Isaac Kobienia (18 goals-13 assists-31 points) and No. 9 Riley Grabow (6-5-11). Levi Goosmann (2.66 goals-against/89.0 save percentage) also moves on, though understudies Nick Revier and Jacob Anderson return. Senior center Hunter Mottinger was the top scorer with 17 goals and 16 assists.

Girls hoops opens postseason today

The No. 6-seeded Cardinals lost to No. 3 Worthington 65-50, at Willmar, on Feb. 21. This Section 2AAA quarterfinal game will be at Worthington tonight starting at 7 p.m.. The Lady Trojans have just two losses, both to Southwest Conference rival and the section’s top seed, Marshall.

Last year, Worthington competed postseason in Class AA, losing a one-point game to BOLD in the section championship.

The Cardinals’ formula for victory is simple: shoot well and often and take care of the ball. The winner moves on to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter on Saturday to face the winner of No. 7 Mankato West at No. 2 Hutchinson.

On the fly

Mankato West nixed the Worthington boys on Saturday 80-71 in 2AAA. That sends the No. 2 Scarlets against No. 1 Marshall on Thursday at Minnesota State Mankato’s Taylor Center.

Ridgewater College wrestling coach Tom Gruhlke said his first NJCAA Tournament has raised his ambitions for the program. A high school coach for three decades, Gruhlke said the Spokane tournament experience was “fantastic” but the competition so intense he must re-evaluate his approach to recruiting and teaching if he wants his wrestlers to have a shot at All-America honors.

The NDSU Bison women won the seventh straight Summit League Track and Field title on Saturday in Fort Wayne. Freshman Rose Jackson was a place-winner with a fifth place in the 60-meter dash.

Concordia senior center Alexandra Lippert scored a career-high 25 points in her final game at Memorial Auditorium and also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, but the Cobbers (21-5) fell to St. Thomas, a team they’d beat twice in the regular season, 71-56 Thursday in the MIAC playoffs semifinals. The Tommies (24-4) went on to beat top-seed St. Mary’s (24-3) for the automatic NCAA Division III berth. Concordia and St. Mary’s on Monday received at-large berths in the 64-team field.

The St. Thomas men’s basketball team made the 62-field as an at-large choice after the MIAC regular-season champions were upset by St. Olaf in the playoff championship game on Sunday. The Tommies (22-5) were without third-year starting point guard Erik Tengwall (New London-Spicer), who has been out with an injury since Feb. 22.

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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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