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Despite youth movement, boys hockey off to 2-0 start: Freshmen fever

Blending a mix of varsity veterans and newcomers the Cardinals boys hockey team is 2-0 for the first time since 2002, when they led off with wins over Litchfield/DC and St. Cloud Cathedral.

The five sophomores skating full time for coach Dan Tollefson's boys hockey team is the largest group of sophomore varsity regulars since the 2001-02 season. That edition, which also included two freshmen, ended up 3-18-1. But the next two seasons under John Wilson, Willmar went 17-8-1 and then 14-11-1 in 2003-04, the last time boys hockey posted a winning record.

Sophomores Mitch Fader, Grant Schow, Liam Johnston, Landon Peterson and Gabe Amon bring a lot of promise, but the pace and physical play of the Central Lakes Conference will take some adjustment.

Since the 14-win campaign, the Cardinals have logged a total of seven CLC wins and five ties in the last four seasons.

Due to a temporary drop in numbers, the Willmar Bantam hockey program for eighth- and nineth-graders is putting just one team on the ice this season.

But typically, there's no shortage of basketball players.

There's 30 boys out in the freshmen class. Dustin Carlson and Mike Buer are freshmen the coaches. They can select only 18 boys to take to road games because of bus capacity.

"When I was playing we had two buses, but now with cuts, we just take one and it fills up fast with the varsity, sophomores and coaches," said Carlson.

The freshman will try play an "A'' and "B" game at Roosevelt when the visitor has enough bodies. On the road, Carlson tries to arrange to play at least three halves so he can get everyone floor time.

Both Carlson and boys and girls swimming coach Carl Shuldes have made full recoveries after recent cancer surgery. Shuldes, starting his 13th season as the boys head coach, had surgery for prostrate cancer one year ago today.

"Mayo's given me a clean bill of health," he said. "At this point, there are no more checkups scheduled."

Shuldes made a rather fast recovery.. He credited the medical team at Mayo and the support of family, friends and colleagues when he returned to Willmar and eventually to the pool deck for the season's final month.

Carlson was diagnosed with testicular cancer in September of his junior season. He had surgery 10 days later -- after playing in the St. John's game. He was done for the season, but vowed that he'd be return to play his senior year. It took a lot of work in the weight room, but he returned to play for the 2007 Cobbers and was a captain.

Steve Grove pits his Cardinals against another quality Class AAAAA program on Friday when they play the Tartan Titans of St. Paul at 7 p.m. Friday at the sixth annual Breakdown Tip Off Classic at Marshall High School. The Titans ranked No. 7 in Minnesota Basketball News pre-season poll. Marc Sonnen, a 6-3 guard who averaged 19 points-per-game as a junior, is a Top 10 pick by MBN. This is Willmar's first trip to the Tip Off.

The Tip Off is a showcase off top-shelf talent. Tartan will also test itself against St. Cloud Tech, No. 4 in MBN's poll. Also on Saturday, No. 8 Mankato West meets No. 10 Eden Prairie.

Hilary Groothuis, who starred in both volleyball and basketball the last two years at Ridgewater College, is taking classes at Southwest Minnesota State while also coaching the MACCRAY C team at her alma mater and assisting Carrie Ogdahl here at the college.

Groothuis will transfer back to Ridgewater for spring term to finish up her AA degree.

She tried basketball at Southwest but admits she was in over her head. "The girls were bigger and faster, all of them, most of them from out-of-state," she said.

She plans to attend Minnesota-Morris next year and play basketball.

n Tony Neumann (WHS 2005) a returning All-America wrestler at Concordia College, is off to a 12-3 start after finishing third at the Minnesota State Moorhead Dragon Open on Saturday. Earlier, he was the 184-pound champion at the Cobber Open.

- Under the weight of 28 turnovers, Bonnie Henrickson's Kansas Jayhawks (5-1) suffered their first loss on Sunday at Milwaukee, losing 67-57 to Marquette at the Al McGuire Center. The 1981 Willmar graduate is in her fifth season at Lawrence.