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Just for kicks, times six

Willmar senior Chloe Donoho has been a mainstay on the Cardinals girls soccer team since seventh grade. Donoho leads the team with 18 goals. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton1 / 2
Willmar senior Sara Kallhoff has been a mainstay on the Cardinals girls soccer team since seventh grade. Kallhoff is the assist leader with 11. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton2 / 2

WILLMAR - Sara Kallhoff and Chloe Donoho are in their final month of a six-year run on the Willmar Cardinals girls soccer team.

They've played under three different head coaches. The senior pair played on varsity squads that won a total of four times their first two years. The last two seasons they've been a part of squads that have won five matches alone in the playoffs and are 1-0 this post-season going into today's 4:30 p.m. Section 2A quarterfinal at Kennedy Field.

"They both know the sport so well," said head coach Chelsea Brown. "I think of them as 'universal players'. They can play any position. Sara is even our backup goalie, if something should happen to Jordan (Martins)."

Jeff Winter coached in the girls program the past five years until being appointed head boys coach this year. He was the girls head coach the last two years when the Cardinals reached the 2A final in 2008 and semifinals in '09.

"Chloe really started to develop her game at the end of last year. She's fun to watch. She's at the top of her game," said her former coach. "I thought of Sara as the fire behind the team. She is the emotional push that gets people going."

Back in 2005, then head coach Doug Rossum had to rush the youngsters into the varsity lineup. Today, with greater numbers, a promising seventh-grader's first stop would by junior varsity.

"It was scary, I think, for a seventh or eighth grader to be out there with (senior) high school kids," said Winter, who was a JV coach at the time. "It's a tough thing."

Both girls were just 12 years old when pulled up to varsity.

"It was kind of intimidating," remembers Kallhoff. "I was nervous. The girls were bigger. We were quite little and got shoved around, but we learned to fight back. I think that's where Chloe and I learned our aggressiveness."

That year, the Cardinals won three matches. The next year, as eighth graders, they experienced only one win. Kallhoff, a three-sport student/athlete, scored her first varsity goal that season. "That was so long ago," she said.

Donoho moved here with her family from Omaha in fifth grade. Soccer was big deal on the northwest side of the Nebraska city where she played since age five.

Donoho remembers going to a junior high practice and the next day being tabbed by Rossum to join varsity.

"We were so tiny," she recalls. "The Brainerd girls were huge. I remember as a forward going up against these big defenders, and I wasn't that strong and they'd just knock me over."

As the years went by, that would happen less and less.

The girls were encouraged by older teammates. They also formed a friendship with freshman Hannah Murphy, the team's MVP on offense as an eighth-grader, who would become the program's first five-time letterwinner.

The next fall, 2006, classmate Emily Dowdell joined the varsity team. In 2008, freshmen Bailey Young, Courtney Jacobson and Rachel Lawton came on board. Those six have a combined 26 years of varsity experience, a big reason the team got the No. 4 seed in a 14-team section.

Donoho leads the team in goals with 18, plus five assists. Kallhoff has potted seven goals and her 11 assists leads the team.

Kallhoff said her most exciting moment was the 2008 section final under the lights in Albert Lea where the Cardinals lost in an overtime shootout.

Donoho, who looks forward to playing college soccer in the MIAC, would recommend soccer to any seventh grader.

"It's so much fun, working with 10 other girls out there," she said. "If you mess up, there's 10 girls to support you. It's like your family."

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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