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Cardinal wrestling rebuilding, but numbers down

Wrestling coach Casey Johnson, the son of a wrestling coach, knows it takes time to build a winner.

Over his first two seasons at the Cardinal rudder, his teams have managed eight wins.

"We need more numbers," said the Wisconsin native this week. "We had 30 wrestlers in seventh through twelfth grade. We had them all in the (senior high wrestling room), but next year we'll probably go back to having the seventh and eighth graders at the junior high. That should help numbers because I think we lost some kids because of the need to take a bus over here."

The key is the youth program. It's healthy right now, the varsity coach said. Ex-Cardinals, brothers Chad and Carl Carlson and Cory Backes, are among the adults guiding the youngsters at the Tuesday/Thursday practices.

The program attracts minorities which is important. Hispanics, who play soccer but not much else at the varsity level, are well represented in youth wrestling.

"What's especially a plus is that the families are involved," said Johnson. "Mom and dad are at the practices.

Willmar struggled to put a competitive team on the mat. Johnson was sending out seven varsity-ready wrestlers most nights. The rest of the weights were filled with JV kids or were forfeited.

All-conference wrestler Cody Stegeman and Lucas Kremer were the only seniors. Johnson said the 4-16 season is disappointing, but the guys coming back are enthusiastic.

Right now, he figures; "We're still three or four years away." He can't be discouraged.

Tom Beyer, who now coaches at Ridgewater, headed up the Cardinals from 1981-2007. His first team went 0-12 and the next 4-12. He didn't have a winning season dual-meet season until his fifth year (10-4). The first conference title came in 1988.

A key was the emergence of young talent, like the Carlsons and the late Troy Haglund. All three would go on to win state titles and wrestle in college.

The Carlson brothers, who are dairy farmers near Pennock, have sons in elementary wrestling. Their kids would be third generation Cardinal wrestlers. It's something to look forward to.

"Yes," agreed Johnson, "but we need some success before they come up."

Neumann won 101

Former Cardinal wrestler Tony Neumann finished his fourth season at Concordia College by making a repeat trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The fifth seed at 197 pounds was upset in the first round and then went 1-1 in wrestlebacks on Friday. The 2007-08 All-America was one of only two Cobbers to qualify for nationals.

Neumann was 33-11 with six falls his senior season and finished 101-65 for his career. He's a social studies/education major.

State curling here

The Willmar Civic Center is the site for the Minnesota State High School Bonspiel this Friday evening through Saturday. Eight teams will compete using three sheets at the Blue Line Center.

The teams, some of them co-ed, are sponsored by their local curling clubs. Teams are coming from Duluth, Owatonna, Mapleton/Maple River, Mankato, Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Eveleth.

Willmar has two teams: Team Oestreich is Stevin Carlson, Alex Benson, John Juni and Josh Oestreich; Team Wierschem is Maddie Sandberg, Loren Sing, Rebecca Freese and Chelsey Wierschem.

Collision course

Edina (24-4-0), coached by former Minnesota North Star defenseman Curt Giles, got the No. 1 seed in the Class AA boys hockey tournament starting Thursday, but coaches of the next two seeds are both ex-Cardinals and could meet in the semifinals. Lee Smith's Eden Prairie Eagles (25-3-0) are No. 2 and play the defending champion Hill-Murray Pioneers (18-9-1) at 11 a.m. while Dave Aus and his Blaine Bengals (24-3-1) meet Rochester Century (20-7-1) at 1 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center.

If both win, the two Willmar graduates from the 1980s would face off at 6 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.

On the fly

n Willmar native and former Cardinal Bonnie Henrickson's eight-seeded Kansas Jayhawks (6-10, 17-12) will play No. 9 Nebraska in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament this afternoon in Oklahoma City. The winner gets No. 1 Oklahoma on Friday. The Jayhawks won four straight Big 12 games for the first time in nine seasons when they upset Baylor, ranked No. 5 nationally, at Lawrence 69-45 on March 5.

n I can't seem to get it right, but Jay Bredberg is one of nine seniors who played hockey for the Willmar Cardinals this winter. Also Patina Queenan is a sophomore playing on the Ridgewater College women's softball team.

n Playing for the Section 2A-AA squad, senior Chelsey Wierschem totaled four goals and an assist at the 10th annual Minnesota High SchoolSenior Classic at the Schwan's Super Rink in Blaine. Her team went 3-1 and beat out the 8A-AA team coached by former Cardinal Tim Hanson in an overtime shootout. Hanson is head coach at North Wright County.