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Cards, Worthington meet again

Worthington has stopped the Willmar girls post-season drive to state each of the last two years.

A year ago the Trojans crushed the Cardinals 54-31 in the 2AAA championship game at Mankato. Two years ago, it was 73-55 in the semifinals (Marshall toppled the Trojans in the 2008 section final).

Today's 7 p.m. meeting at Bresnan Arena should be closer. The Cardinals (22-4) have a better chance, a view reinforced by their No. 1 seed. Worthington (19-5), at No. 2, is fresh off a 56-45 win No. 3 Marshall.

Willmar last reached the Class AAA state tournament in 2006, losing to DeLaSalle in the quarterfinals. In 2004, the Cardinals lost in the AAA championship game to Minneapolis North.

At this point, the Cardinals have won 22 games for the second year in a row. In the past eight seasons, the program has notched at least 20 wins six times with a high of 26 in 2002-03.

Today's matchup is a final exam for a tall, veteran team with five senior starters and a deep bench of underclassmen, not tall but well-drilled in the fundamentals.

In the post, Willmar's 6-4 Alex Lippert will cozy up to 6-1 Martha Awal, an athletic, long-reach shot-blocker, who had 20 points and 23 rebounds in the semifinals. The Cardinal defense will also be challenged by Kaitlin Gerber, a four-year starter who will slice inside or hang back to shoot the three. Kayla Vander Veen and Kayla Schroeder are other veteran impact players for the Trojans.

Willmar, too, has a lot going for it. Hannah Smith has picked up her offensive game. She scored 24 in the semifinal win over Hutchinson, her highest output since scoring 27 against St. Cloud Tech on Dec. 5. It was her sixth straight game in double figures.

"I think a lot of that was that Hannah had a bad quad and couldn't push off and get to the basket," said coach Brad Atchison. "She never admitted to a problem, but I can tell she's healthy now."

Willmar will also be looking for a big game from forward Jena Thompson, who will also be called on to guard Awal. Thompson broke onto varsity as a freshman, along with guard Mariel Aamot, when the team finished 15-11. Smith and Lippert started playing with the varsity the next winter when a young but promising team ended up 12-14. Forward Jen Knake, the fifth senior, became a full-time starter this year.

"The key for us is play aggressive and with confidence," said Atchison. "We need to just worry about our game. I think, in past years I got myself in trouble worrying more what they were doing. We've just got to play to win.

If the Cardinals can clear this obstacle, they would advance to Williams Arena for a Wednesday quarterfinal, the time depending on top- four seeding and a random draw.

On the fly

n UW-Superior hockey forward Chelsey Wierschem had quite an end to her freshman season. Last weekend at the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, Wierschem scored the game's only goal with 28 seconds remaining in the third period, allowing the Yellowjackets to upset No. 1 seed Lake Forest, Ill., on the Foresters' home ice. In the championship, Superior (18-9-2) fell 2-1 to UW-River Falls, which advanced to the Division III national tournament. Wierschem finished with six goals (three of those game-winners), three assists and a plus seven in 27 games.

- Sam Sussenguth ended his five years on the North Dakota State men's basketball team with a flourish. In the Summit League quarterfinals before 6,245 at the Sioux Falls Arena, the ex-Cardinal scored a reverse layup with 11 seconds left in overtime to pull the No. 6 Bison within 65-64 of No. 3 Oral Roberts. A last second Bison shot to win missed, ending their season at 11-18. Sussenguth, who started, finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. He averaged 5.7 ppg and 4.9 rpg with a team-high 28 blocked shots.

- Dave Aus (WHS 1988) has his Blaine Bengals (21-4-3) back in the Class AA hockey tournament. Seeded No. 3, the Bengals play unseeded Apple Valley (17-11) at 1 p.m. today. The Bengals took third place last year after losing to Lee Smith (WHS '84) and Eden Prairie in the semifinals 4-2. This time, Smith's Eagles were knocked out 7-2 by No. 1 Minnetonka in the 6AA final.

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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