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Willmar Notebook: Warrior baseball attracts attention

The Ridgewater College baseball team's three visits to the NJCAA Division III World Series this century has four-year colleges beating at the door.

Recently signing letters of intent are Warrior sophomore pitchers Ryan Krause (Moorhead) and Chris Butala (Rocori), both with Mayville State (N.D.), pitcher Alex Stein (Big Lake) and infielder Travis Fluck (Redwood Falls) with Bethany Lutheran of Mankato and Steve Boldt (Red Wing) with Grand View (Iowa) College.

Adam Ferrell, a right-handed pitcher from Eau Claire, Wis., has accepted a full scholarship from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is the second Warriors to sign a Division I tender. Pitcher Ethan Vogt (Sauk Centre) signed last fall with the Minnesota Gophers.

Zach Etter (Menahga), a transfer from Iowa Central, and perhaps the team's most versatile player, has generated loads of interest but is yet to decide. Zac McCann (Litchfield) is leaning toward Upper Iowa.

Coach Dwight Kotila worries that after three days of rain which cost the Warriors three doubleheaders his squad will be rusty heading into the state tournament this weekend in Rochester. Eight teams will compete Friday and Saturday for four spots in the Region 13 Tournament May 12-14 to be held in Willmar.

At 12:30 Friday, the Warriors meet Itasca College in the first round of the state tournament at the Rochester college field. Vogt and Ferrell are tabbed to make the first two starts.

Helin award turns 40

Mike Fischer announced at the Senior Athletic Awards Program on Monday that the Helin Memorial Award was marking its 40th year.

The award is named after Jim Helin, a 1965 Willmar graduate who died that fall in a car accident returning from college at St. Olaf. Fischer, a high school social worker here, was a classmate. Jim's friends started the memorial in 1966 when the athletic banquet was a father-son affair. Helin was a committed three-sport athlete who grew up in Pennock and was admired by classmates for his gentle nature and high moral standards.

Fischer said the anniversary was made more meaningful by the presence of Jeanne and Luke Erickson, the wife and son of the late Lane Erickson, another '65 graduate and a good friend of Helin. Luke Erickson and Dick Anderson, younger brother to the late Dean Anderson (WHS '58), presented the first Dean Anderson/Lane Erickson scholarships to five deserving student/athletes.

Knutson on phone

Bob Knutson will get a late start recruiting for the Ridgewater College men's basketball team. But that could work to the advantage of area athletes yet undecided. At most, Knutson will have four players returning from last year's 10-14 squad but it could be one or two. Five freshmen did finish the season but one of those (Shawn Thissen) is a sophomore academically.

The former New London-Spicer coach has been contacting coaches he knows from 12 seasons as the Wildcats' head coach. "I've already got some leads on kids that haven't yet decided," said the middle school teacher, who left the high-school coaching ranks after 25 years in 2001.

"I'll be trying to make more contacts and if it seems certain an athlete hasn't made a decision and he can play, I'll try and get in touch," said Knutson.

Knutson plans to emphasize athletes from the central Minnesota, much in the style of retired coach Mike Johnson (1979-2003). "I enjoyed going to Ridgewater games over the years and seeing the area coaches there and parents that I knew," he said.

On the fly

n In last week's column, I misstated the age of Edel Fernandez, coach of the new soccer program at the college. He is 32 years old. In recent developments, the team is expected to play home games at the new Roosevelt complex with practice at the college.

n Due to NCAA strict regulations regarding athletes on full rides, Laura Nielsen (South Dakota State, basketball) cannot accept the Dean Anderson/Lane Erickson $1,000 scholarship awarded her. Paul Schmitz, activities director, said the committee will meet again to determine how the money might be dispensed.

n Shane Swanson (WHS 1992) competed in one of the country's premier mountain bike races last month taking third in his age class in downhill at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif. Swanson is a family practice physician living in Redding. This was his sixth Sea Otter.

n It appears that Callie Nelson and Andrea Brown will continue their pitch-and-catch collaboration for four more years. Both are planning to attend Gustavus Adolphus and play softball for the Gusties.

n The Willmar Youth (Tackle) Football League expects 10-12 teams this fall with Atwater fielding a team of 5th-6th graders for the first time.