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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Ridgewater College “geography majors,” from left, linebacker Luke Blanch, Plain City, Utah; kicker Modesto Cruz, Gainesville, Ga.; and strong safety Adihia Bell, Milwaukee.

Willmar notebook: Taking the road to Ridgewater

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Luke Blanch and his dad left Plain City, Utah, outside Salt Lake, dialed in the GPS and headed for Kandiyohi County. The trip took 22 hours.

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“We stopped at Mount Rushmore,” Luke told me Tuesday at practice. “I’d never been there.”

This is a new beginning for Blanch, a starting inside linebacker for the Warriors. He attended Weber State, in Utah, after graduation, but didn’t play football while allowing a hip injury to mend.

His contact with Ridgewater College came via assistant coach Joey Clancy, whose original interest was in the team’s quarterback and wide receiver. But it was Blanch who ended up in Willmar.

“I like it here,” he said. “I do miss the mountains, though.”

It was pointed out that there were some big elevation changes on the trip to Ely to play Vermilion. “Those are hills, not mountains,” he countered.

Things are working out. He stays in an apartment building just off campus. He likes the competitive level of the junior college game. “There are a lot of very skilled players in this league. They just didn’t get recruited because they came out of small schools, or off bad teams, like me, or didn’t have grades.”

There’s just one Utah junior college, Snow College, in his home state. Ridgewater and the nine other Minnesota programs are for many young men a chance to get a two-year degree, stock up credits for transfer, play football again and maybe earn that plum to a four-year program and play two more years.

Modesto Cruz, a placekicker, is from Georgia. He said Georgia Military is the only two-year college he’s aware of offering football. He drove here alone.

“I like Minnesota,” he said. “There’s a lot of natural beauty.”

Coach Clancy had contacted him through a recruiting service. Admittedly, all Cruz knew of the state was the Vikings and its wintery reputation.

“I haven’t been homesick,” he said.

He has an apartment in town. He said his parents are paying for his education and he plans to get a job in the offseason.

Head coach Rob Baumgarn got in touch with Adihia Bell, who was a running back and outside linebacker at Wisconsin Lutheran, in Milwaukee, on a 10-1 team.

He didn’t have the grades for a four-year college.

“I’m on it now,” he told me with broad smile. “This is a new start. I want to get a liberal arts degree and move on to a university.”

Baumgarn helped him find a furnished apartment in southwest Willmar.

It’s been easy fitting into a new team and town, he told me. It helps that there are “so many cool guys here.”

Adihia (Ah-DEE-ah) plays strong safety. He had 12 tackles Saturday in the win over Northland that put the Warriors at 3-0.

Baumgarn calls Clancy, a 1995 Willmar High School graduate, his “recruiting coordinator.”

He enjoys the role. Rob and Jim (Mitteness, defensive coordinator) are great coaches, he said.

Working off a list provided by the head coach, he contacts school administrators, coaches and teachers to learn all he can of a prospect.

“I really feel we’re helping kids,” he said. “They have a chance to be on the field again and continue their education. There’s always the chance to earn a scholarship to a D-II school. Even with a two-year degree, it helps your employment chances. It shows you have discipline.”

This is Clancy’s third year with the team and when it comes to the intricacies of recruiting via the internet he’s still learning.

Although the MCAC is in NJCAA D-III and can’t offer athletic scholarships, out-of-state students pay the same tuition as in-state.

The roster is 75 deep. Unlike some years, there have been few drops. It’s difficult to keep everyone involved while getting reps for the starters. Not everyone will get game time each week. If this team remains cohesive, it would greatly contribute to a deep run in the playoffs.

Football changes

Next year North Dakota State College of Science and Bottineau will come into the MCAC football conference. They will be in a division with Ridgewater, Minnesota West, Fergus Falls, and Northland. The North Dakota schools, which compete at the NJCAA D-II level, must drop football scholarships.

The Central Lakes Conference will crown two champions in football for the first time. With the addition of Grand Rapids, Moorhead and Bemidji for football only there are now 12 teams divided into a north and south division. Conference secretary Roger Wilson said the champions in each will be based on the overall record.

Running with baby

The October issue of Minnesota Monthly has a full-page photo of Carrie Tollefson with her two children. The Dawson native and 2004 Olympian plans to run her first marathon in New York City on Nov. 3, which would be about five months after giving birth to a son, Everett, who joins daughter Ruby in the Twin Cities household.

Carrie has been doing commentary for the New York Marathon for four years. “I figured it was time for me to practice what I preach and get out there and run 26.2 miles,” she told the magazine. “This is a journey, and it’s supposed to be a fun one. Hopefully, it will help me lose this little baby belly, too.”

Minnick starting

Freshman Emily Minnick of Willmar has started all nine matches for the North Dakota State volleyball team. The 6-foot-1 middle hitter is third on the Bison with 57 kills (129 attacks, 19 errors) and second in blocks with 7. She also has 19 digs. The Bison went 0-3 at Statesboro, Georgia, last weekend and are 0-3 for the season.

On the fly

n St. Olaf cornerback Derek Henle (NLS) had a team-high 8 tackles in the Oles’ 20-13 loss at Decorah, Iowa, to Luther College. Austin Stone (NLS) is getting carries in his first year at Minnesota State Moorhead. He ran 6 times for 9 net yards in Saturday’s 27-20 loss to Southwest State.

n Baylie Young (Willmar) has started all six games for the Concordia College soccer team. She is a sophomore defender.

n Also on the Cobber campus, senior cornerback Nathan Boie (Willmar) has nine tackles and senior safety and co-captain Luke “Pedro” Peterson (NLS) 11 tackles in the team’s 2-0 start. Coach Terry Horan (Willmar) leads the team against St. Olaf at Jake Christiansen field Saturday in the MIAC opener (the Cobbers are picked fourth in the MIAC pre-season). Former Cardinal QB Terry Luschen is the team’s technical coordinator as well as the JV offensive coordinator. Dave Klug (Litchfield), former NFL linebacker, is a long time Concordia assistant coach.

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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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