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Willmar Notebook: Time and hoops march on

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Willmar Notebook: Time and hoops march on
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Minnesota has staged a boys basketball state tournament every year starting in 1913. Each creates a lifetime of memories for school boys and small communities. 


March 1964

For today’s history lesson. Please turn to Page 10 in the West Central Daily Tribune, March 16, 1964. What? That’s no excuse. But I figured as much.

Luckily, I have it here. Please follow along.

The headline states “Benson Wins First Trip To State Cage Tourney … Defeats Brainerd 53-38, Meet Proctor Thursday”

A separate story is headlined: “500-Car Caravan Greets Winning Benson, Sunday at Clontarf … Over 1,000 Fans Jam Benson to Welcome Champs.”

Wow! You’d think the Beatles had overflown MSP and landed at the Benson airport.

Locally, the Braves were just as big a sensation, minus the screaming. After a 5-5 season in the West Central Conference, they won the District 21 Tournament (beating Wheaton) and then whacked Glenwood, a team that beat the Braves twice in the regular season, before rolling over Brainerd, the ’54 State champs, at Concordia College. 

In the Sunday celebration in front of the radio station, Mayor Keith Welker presented Coach Don Eckhoff with a key to the city. The school band played and a KBMO announcer interviewed the players.

Legendary Tribune Sports Editor Lefty Ranweiler reported that 6-foot-3 Dick Hawkins and 6-1 Jim Hanson were the top scorers on an all-senior starting five, followed by center Dave Svingen, fed by flashy guards Bill Brockmeyer and Wally Svor. The Braves, Lefty noted, were also unbeaten in football and the wrestling team won the conference title.

The Braves would go two-and-out at Williams Arena later in the week. On statewide TV, the unbeaten Proctor Rails held off a late Braves’ surge, 64-63, before Hutchinson finished the Braves off 57-52 in consolation. The first-round games and championship rounds on Friday and Saturday filled the ‘Barn’ with over 18,000 fans each session. It was another glorious ending for Southwest Minnesota, similar to Edgerton’s conquest of the state bracket four years earlier, as Luverne clipped Rochester, which had knocked off pre-tourney favorite Edina-Morningside 80-57 in front of 18,800.

On the same day, March 20, UCLA upset Duke 98-83 for the men’s NCAA national championship before 10,864 at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.

What about Willmar in the winter of 1963-64? Well, the Cardinals beat Benson twice in the regular season, went 10-0 in the WCC, whose top scorer that year was a kid from Montevideo averaging 22.7 ppg, name of Rick Maursetter.

The Cardinals took a perfect 21-0 record into Region 5 at Williams Arena where they were spilled in the semifinals by Edina-Morningside, a first-time qualifier, 57-47. Willmar couldn’t put the brakes on 6-3 Bryan Grohnke (33 points). Willmar shot just 27.7 percent (18 of 65).

The Red & White topped St. Cloud Tech in the third-place game behind 29 points from forward Dean Rau, the lone senior starter, to end up 22-1. Rau and junior center Jeff Hinz made the All-Tournament Team. The next year, Willmar lost to Minnetonka, 65-58, in the Region 5 final, finishing again 22-1.

Which of the following are true?

A. Coach Eckhoff deserved to be 1964 Coach of the Year.

B. The Beatles would not have got a 500-car escort.

C. Willmar played in the toughest of the state’s eight regions.

D. Benson would not return again to The Dance until six years into the 21st Century.

E. All of the above.

(The answer: E)

March 1954

When Willmar shocked Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School on March 20, 1954, a Saturday, by a 50-49 score for the school’s first region title since 1929, this paper put out its first (and only) Sunday Extra. It was delivered to subscribers in the city.

Tuesday morning, the paper reported: “A CROWD OF MORE than 700 persons stood in line for three hours hoping to buy tickets for the Willmar-Austin basketball game Thursday night at Williams Arena.”

The photo shows men in mackinaw jackets and women in long winter coats standing in a line stretching far down the city sidewalk. Mrs. Walter Brown is identified outside the Chamber office as the woman at the front of the line.

In the grip of state tourney fever, sadly, only 300 tickets were available, reported the newspaper.

Dapper Chester “Ace” Hoberg (he got the nickname at Augsburg where he starred in athletics) had coached the boys to a 23-0 record; he, too, along with football coach Bill Hansen had helmed the JV Bombers to a 17-1 mark.

Either the Patriots or two-time defending state champ Hopkins were favored by the pundits to win Region 5. When Willmar prevailed, the feat generated a two-deck, six-column headline in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. Renowned prep writer Ted Peterson gushed: “”Undefeated Willmar pulled the big surprise of Saturday night’s windup … Willmar stunned the so-called experts in Williams Arena.”

Renville won its first region title, nipping Dawson 47-46 on 6-foot-5 Warren Brant’s last-minute field goal. The Region 3 champs drew Region 7 heavyweight Hibbing and would defeat the Bluejackets 51-48 in the tournament’s opener.

Willmar, as is legend, lost to pre-tournament favorite Austin 43-40. The Packers, in turn, would lose to Brainerd, 57-56, and the Warriors would go on to shade Bemidji in an all-jack-pine final 49-47. The Cardinals topped Red Wing 56-40 and then Hibbing 69-65 for fifth. Renville lost to Austin 69-43 for third place.

Willmar senior forward Roy Nelson and junior center Bob Anderstrom, along with Renville junior guard Charles Huselid, were named to the 10-player All-Tournament Team, also labeled the All-State Team.

Despite the 25-1 record and consolation trophy, the loss to the “tall timber” in the Austin line-up was painful.

Sports editor Loren Wolfe, who wrote with passion and colorful detail, observed that the Willmar shot makers had their worst night of the season making just “5 buckets out of 24 shots from the outside and trying from all angles … with just a bit of old lady luck the Cards would had this game.” Overall, Willmar shot 27.2 percent (15-for-55). 

The 6-foot-3 Anderstrom didn’t take up basketball until his sophomore year when the family left their turkey farm for a home in town. A gifted athlete, he scored 20 points to lead all scorers but no one else had more than six points for the Cardinals.

I would be remiss in this 60-year retrospective not to mention the other starters and regulars on that storied team: dynamic junior guard Augie Schmidt, senior forward Ralph Howell and junior guard John Eid. Other lettermen were Paul Iverson, Charlie Nelson, Jerry Mueleners, Dean Wanner, Marlin Berg, Francis Majerus, and Dewey Aldrich. Iverson and Aldrich were early off the bench. Aldrich, who would gain over 1,400 all-purpose yards the following fall in football, generously shared his high school scrapbook kept by his mother.

So, loyal readers, among the things we may have learned about hoop’s golden era, which ended in 1972 with the advent of A and AA:

A. Region 5 ruled the state tournament, winning half (11) of the 21 titles from 1950 to 1971.

B. In the Big Game, Willmar most often shoots 27 percent.

C. That one-class basketball had its time in the winter sun but succeeding years have demonstrated that the multiple-class structure makes sense and is just as thrilling if you are involved as a player, coach or fan.

D. March Madness is a blessed affliction to wind down a long winter.

Willmar grad named girls hockey coach of year

Tracy Engstrom Cassano (WHS ’98) has been honored as Class AA Coach of the Year by her colleagues in the girls hockey coaches association. In her first year at Burnsville, the Blaze reached the state tournament for the first time since 2010.

A four-year starter for the University of Minnesota Gophers, Tracy was at nearby Rosemount for five years. She took over a team that had not won a conference game in seven years and got the Irish to a second-place conference finish and first state trip.

A P.E./Health teacher, Tracy was bumped at Rosemount and taught and head coached Chaska/Chanhassen from 2011-13, winning a conference title. A retirement at Rosemount opened a teaching job where she now works while she and husband Mike (her assistant coach) raise three children ages three-and-under.

Her brother, Lee, is head boys hockey coach at Shakopee, which nudged Mound Westonka 5-4 on Jan. 4, coached by his Cardinal classmate Doug Runke.

On the fly

Alexandra Lippert’s four-year career as a starter at Concordia College ended Friday with a 79-72 loss to UW-Whitewater in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. She scored 11 points. Freshman starting guard Greta Walsh (Litchfield) scored six.

Back from injury, Erik Tengwall (New London-Spicer) led six Tommies in double figures but the UST lost in the opening round of the D-III Tournament to Augustana (Ill.) 88-77 to end up 23-5.

Long time Willmar hockey coach Ross Dahl is excited to see his high school hockey coach at Albert Lea, Roy Nystrom, be inducted into the hockey coaches hall of fame last week. Roy coached high school hockey 48 years, 41 at Albert Lea.

Good to report that Ty Olson, young son of LDC boys hockey coach Chris Olson, returned home Saturday after a lengthy stay at Gillette Children’s Hospital to recover from injury suffered Jan. 4 in a car accident along with older brother Braden. The boys were already playing hockey by the hour in their basement, though at a “somewhat slower pace.”

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. 
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