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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Some of the 150 faces prepping for the Willmar Cardinals 2012 track and field team photo taken Monday on the backstretch at Hodapp Field.

Willmar notebook: Willmar's band on the run

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sports Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The Cardinals track and field team is something like a rock band.

Willmar is their base but the performances are all on the road, excepting the Optimist concert, err, meet.

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So, to get a glimpse of this successful program one needs to attend a rehearsal.

Monday, as it turned out was, was photo day under a blue sky.

For the team photo, a low riser was hauled onto the backstretch. Steven Lottman, a professional photographer with a studio at Eagle Lake, had his hands full.

A sitting for a basketball team must be a slam-dunk by comparison.

There were 140 athletes -- a record number for the middle of May head coach Jerry Popp told me -- plus 8 or 9 coaches, some volunteers. A dozen middle-schoolers are in the JV/Varsity mix.

It took five minutes of cajoling, rearranging, clearing the background and repeated demands for quiet to set the formation to the photographer's satisfaction.

Then, it was just a couple of quick clicks of Steven's shutter to capture the moment, any shadows erased by three overhead flashes.

I was thankful team photos are not part of my job description. Did I just witness the most populated team photo in Cardinals sports history?

Popp told me 158 students signed up in March; most who didn't stick it had quit in the first week. It's a young team, too, with 2 senior girls and 8 senior boys.

Such robust numbers are a blessing for the coaching staff which needs to fill 18 girls and boys events.

The depth helped Willmar win both ends of the 6AA True Team meet at Hutchinson. Earlier this month, the girls placed second of 6 schools at the Ed Bourelle Invite at Albertville while the boys took third. Both teams were second at the Alexandria tri on Tuesday.

Chris Cunningham, just a sophomore, was voted the boys MVP at the Bourille. He finished second in the 100 (11.43), won the 200 (23.07), placed third long jump (18-11) and ran on the runner-up 4x200.

Last fall, Cunningham emerged as a two-way starter at wide receiver and cornerback on the varsity football team. He credits head football coach Jon Konold and assistant track coach Carl Shuldes with "reshaping" his running style.

"Last year, I just felt like I was taking up space," he shrugged. "Now it's fun to be scoring points for the team."

Chris Odens, a senior, has been only a step behind his younger teammate in both sprints.

He chuckles when he says "It's kind of hard to lose to him."

He also finished second in pole vault to fellow Cardinal senior Bennet Woltjer in the STMA meet. Woltjer cleared 12-6 for first and Odens 11-6.

Odens started on both the football and hockey teams this year. He's heading to North Dakota to major in nursing, choosing a medical career like older brother Pat, now a third-year medical student in Minneapolis after getting his bachelor's degree at Grand Forks.

Cunningham and Odens are on the same 4 x 200 relay that will be aiming for the state meet in June. Odens is the only returning member of a Cardinal foursome that competed at Hamline last year.

Senior Bailey Young won the 100 intermediate hurdles at True Team. She also runs on a formidable 4x100 relay team with Shelby Schneider, Brittney Serbus and Rose Jackson.

Young has dealt with a stress fracture in her right foot, which has limited her meets and the number events in any one meet. She just missed state hurdles a year ago with a third-place at section. A three-sport athlete, she will compete in both soccer and track (but not hockey) at Concordia College.

At True Team, Jackson won the 100 (12.91), 200 (26.61), 400 (60.97) and the long jump (17-3¾).

"I died out," the sprinter said of the 400, her least-favorite race. But she added that her endurance has improved this year, thanks in part to her second season on the swim team and the mandatory weightlifting.

Last June, as a sophomore, Jackson qualified for state in four events and medaled in three. She long jumped 17-5 at the Alex meet.

Popp used the meet to test the relays against the clock while individual events were secondary. The boys 4x200 relay with Cunningham, Odens, freshman Eli Gunderson and junior Alex Grove won by more than 3 seconds in 1:32.08, third best in school history. All eight "A" relays posted season bests with five braking into the school's Top 10 Honor Roll, Popp said.

Popp estimated 100 season- or career-best efforts at Alexandria. Individual highlights included Matt Glup 20-4½ long jump, Emily Minnick's 5-0 high jump, Bailey Hovland's 116-6 discus and Carrie Bell's 113-10 discus. (See meet results elsewhere in today's sports section).

The Spring Tour 2012 continues at the Class AA True Team state meet Saturday in Stillwater.

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