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Card volleyball has had solid defensive year

Section 2AAA is a caldron of sizzling volleyball. The top four seeds are all rated in the top 10 in the coach's state poll: No. 1 Shakopee (26-0), No. 2 Chaska (23-3), No. 9 Eden Prairie (17-9) and No. 10 Prior Lake (22-4).

Unranked Willmar (17-10) is the fifth seed and is at No. 4-seed Prior Lake at 7 p.m. Friday.

"It would have been nice to have a home match, but we're very happy being seeded fifth in probably the toughest section," said first year Willmar head coach Terrin DeBoer. "We'll take our bye and just get in a little more practice."

The Cardinals' strength is defense. Hannah Smith has 473 digs this season alone and 1,076 for her career. Both are school records.

"Our girls are realistic," continued DeBoer. "We know we're the underdogs and will have to be at our best. But our defense can be frustrating for another team. I just marvel at the balls these girls get to. They're so fun to watch."

The adversaries have a common opponent in Hutchinson. The Lakers dipped the Tigers 3-1 at the end of the season while Willmar fell 3-0 at Hutchinson Sept. 21, a match where the Cardinals were not on their game, DeBoer insists.

This Prior Lake team has the most wins in school history after all but one starter returned from a 20-win squad in 2008.

Going for six

The Willmar boys hope to punch their ticket for a sixth straight trip to the state cross country meet today at Eagle Ridge where the Cardinals host the Section 2AA girls and boys meet starting at 3 p.m. The streak began in 2004 with a runner-up finish to Marshall at state.

At No. 12, the Willmar boys are the only ranked team from the 14-team section showing up in the coaches' poll. In the girls race, Shakopee is rated No. 2 state wide and Saber ninth-grader Marie Haugen is ranked No. 1 individually. The top two teams advance so the fight will be for second place.

The Willmar boys finished 14th at state last fall and Chaska, the defending section champion, was 13th.

Willmar's program is strong; at the CLC meet here, Willmar teams won or finished second in three of the four secondary races.

Warriors young

Ridgewater football could have as many as 35 second-year players next year compared to 12 this season. Ten starters on the offense, which struggled mightily, were freshmen. The secondary could also return intact, but the defensive line and linebacking corps will have to be rebuilt.

After flirting with the shotgun spread this fall, coach Rob Baumgarn vows to go back to the run: "We've got to have more balance (running and passing)," he said.

Patrick Cincinatus became the first Warrior running back to exceed 100 yards in a game this season during the loss at Central Lakes College which left Willmar with a 3-6 finish.

The offensive line needs to get more physical, Baumgarn stressed. Special teams were a plus with six blocked punts while also producing four TDs without giving up a kickoff or punt return for six points.

Baumgarn will focus his recruiting in a 100-mile radius of the Willmar-Hutchinson campuses emphasizing that it's a good place to be a student/athlete with a chance to play immediately.

On campus

Former Cardinal teammates in volleyball, Kelsey Hanson and Mary Sussenguth, are having fine college seasons. Hanson, a 5-6 junior (medical redshirt), sets for the Valley City State University Vikings. She is averaging 8.58 assists per game with 29 kills and 173 digs. The Vikings are 11-12 after losing six of their last seven. Sussenguth, a 6-1 senior middle hitter at Minnesota State University Moorhead, is third on the Dragons (18-8) with 2.0 kills per game and her 92 ace blocks leads.

Also at MSUM, redshirt senior Kyle Eckhoff (WHS 2005) finished third in the NSIC cross country meet on Saturday at Bemidji to lead the Dragons to third place. Senior Kari Bloch of Svea finished 43rd as the Dragons took ninth out of 11 teams in the women's division.

Concordia College sophomore quarterback Mike Dunham made the most of his first start. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 299 with two TDs, plus running for 63 yards as the Cobbers ended a four-game losing streak by beating Hamline 41-21. Andrew Larson, who started the first six games, moved to running back and had the Cobbers' first 100-yard rushing day of the season.

On the fly

+Ridgewater College head baseball coach Joel Barta was one of the speakers last weekend at the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Minneapolis. This summer, Barta coached the Thunder Bay, Ont., entry in the Northwoods League. The Ridgewater golf team, coached by Barta, had six players this fall. The top golfer was Nate Nelson of Litchfield.

+Hans Horning (WHS, 1990) will take the East Ridge varsity wrestling program through its formative years. Horning has been an assistant wrestling coach or MSHSL referee - sometimes both - for 11 years. He coached at Pierz last year. The new school in Woodbury has no senior class and will compete in Class AA before bumping to AAA in 2010-11. Horning is a substitute teacher .

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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