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Cardinal gains measured early

At the end of October on the football field in Hutchinson, the Cardinals varsity football team seemed beaten coming off the bus.

The Tigers were huge, obviously more muscular and determined to uphold their tradition of playoff success against. To the delight of the home-town crowd, the Tigers marched through the Cardinals like pugnacious fifth-graders playing the cherubic third-graders at recess.

That ended Jon Konold's first year as head coach. Nearly a year later, the Cardinals have grown up a bit.

When Hutchinson and Willmar engaged again last Saturday at the annual Watermelon Scrimmage, the Cardinals apparently stood their ground.

"I was pleased with the defense," said Konold Tuesday. "We held up physically. The weight room time really paid off."

Offensively, the results were less clear. That's no surprise with finesse slower to reveal itself than brute strength.

"Offensively, we were jittery at first," said Konold. "As it went on, we were running the ball better. (Our quarterback) completed a pass for about 25 yards standing in the pocket as he was getting hit."

That's sophomore quarterback Alex Grove, who will be making his first varsity start on Friday night at Citizens Field in Alexandria.

The two-hour scrimmage, hosted by Litchfield, allowed the varsity to get in about 120 snaps, equally divided between offense and defense. The Cardinal defense got to the enemy ball carrier quickly but needs to improve on finishing with better tackles, Konold said.

Overall, the morning left Konold feeling "very optimistic."

That's a good place to start. But Willmar has to negotiate an uphill gravel road to start. After a 9-2 ledger in 2009, Alexandria is dealing with large graduation losses including quarterback Colin Erickson and 6-foot-5 wide receiver Mark Whiting. Those other Cardinals will be sky-high to defend their pride and extend last year's success in front of their home town.

A week later, Willmar gets its first look at the Cardinals when they entertain Brainerd at Hodapp Field. Whatever happens, the first two games of 2010 are each an intriguing test.

On the Fly

Terry Horan (WHS 1985) starts his 10th season at Concordia. The Cobbers are slotted fifth in the coaches preseason poll. No MIAC school mines the west-central area like the Cobbers' staff. Willmar's Michael Dunham is the returning starter at quarterback, a position at which the newcomers include his brother Mark and Colin Erickson of Alexandria. Senior guard Justin Hanson out of New London-Spicer is a returning starter. Sophomore Ryan Filipek, a 6-6, 290-pound offensive tackle from Willmar, is vying for a starting spot. All together, the Cobbers' list 13 players from this area. The freshmen crop includes safety Luke Peterson and defensive end Justin Zylstra off the NLS Wildcats' state championship team. The Cobbers open Saturday at Dickerson State.

The Willmar Cardinals volleyball team plays its first home match on Tuesday against Alexandria, which hasn't lost a conference meeting since 2007 when they were 11-1 and shared the title with Rocori. Hitter Sam Trumm returns though Alex lost three other all-conference picks. Marshall, the defending Class AA champion and No. 1 ranked, beat the Cardinals at Alexandria on Tuesday 25-15, 25-20, 25-17 while Willmar lost its opener in four games at Minnetonka.

It was a good start for Willmar's cross-country teams with both squads taking third in 12-team meet. Anders Byberg impressively placed second in the boys 5k trailing only 2008 Class AA individual state champion Lukas Gemer of Moorhead.

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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