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Willmar Notebook: Yu gets back on the court

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Willmar's No. 1 Xiaodan Yu was born in China, started school in Oklahoma and Kansas, attended high school in Oregon and moved to Willmar with her family a year ago.

First, that name.

How do you pronounce Xiaodan Yu, the senior who plays No. 1 singles for the Cardinals?

I asked her. I believe this is close: try Shaow-DAN You.

She's 17-years old. She was born in Hangzhou, China, a large city on the East China Sea not far from Shanghai.

She has lived in the U.S. since age 3½. She speaks flawless English with no accent. She is taking Chinese at Willmar High School.

"I speak Chinese but I'm learning to read and write in Chinese, so I kind of work independently," she told me at Monday's tennis practice.

Her father Jianbin (Jen BAN) Yu works for Pioneer Seed. Her mother Hong Chen is a housewife.

The family moved here from Corvallis, Ore., in mid-September of 2010. At Corvallis High School, which she said is similar in size to Willmar with about 300 students in a class, she played No. 1 singles for the Spartans.

Like here, Oregon tennis meets are played outdoors in the fall but are eight point matches. She placed state runner-up as a freshman and first as a sophomore in Class 5A, the middle of three classes for post-season tennis.

But no one at WHS knew a ringer had enrolled, and she didn't pursue tennis that first fall. "I went out to the courts and no one was there. It rained all week," she shrugged. "The team was already selected since they had started in August."

And there were no indoor courts, a must along the Cascade Range.

Xiaodan was raised in the heartland. Her father did graduate work at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. and

later research at Kansas State in Manhattan. She was in middle school when the family moved west.

It was Gabie Bierbaum, the Cardinals' No. 2 singles, who got her back on the court this summer. "She just called me up and asked if I wanted to hit," said Xiaodan. "I hadn't picked up a racquet in almost a year."

She entered the Waterdays Tournament at New London in late July where she lost to Abby Fragodt, No. 1 singles at UM-Morris, in a competitive match. I watched that match and was immediately impressed by Yu's precision strokes from the back line against an excellent opponent.

She lost her first high school match to Amanda Radel, New London-Spicer senior and a state tournament qualifier.

Last Friday she scored Willmar's only point in a loss to conference kingpin St. Cloud Tech. She beat the Tigers' Kristen Wurm 6-4, 6-2. After the Alexandria meet on Tuesday, she's 6-1 in the CLC and 8-4 overall.

Still, she doesn't feel her game is where it was two years ago when she played tennis every day, year around.

Her coach, Erika Kath, appreciates the new player, even if it's just for one year: "She has wonderful strokes, great consistency, awesome ball placement and she has such a calm, quit attitude. She's a very nice addition to our team."

Big meet for XC

The cross-country team is at the Rocori Invite today, which is held at River Oaks GC just to the north of the high school.

The Cardinals will see 10 schools from its new section home, 8AA. That includes Monticello, the No. 1 team in Class AA, and No. 8 Alexandria. Alexandria's Jamie Piepenburg is ranked No. 2 individually and ran her career best at the Little Falls Invite last week.

Moorhead is rated in boys at No. 7.

"This is our biggest meet, so far," said head coach Jerry Popp.

The program has 90 boys and girls out 6th through 12th grade. It's the strongest team overall Popp has been a part of since coming here in 2004.

The varsity boys, of course, won't match the state championship teams of 2005 and '06; the latter still holds the low team time in AA.

Depth-wise, this team is unmatched. At Hutchinson, the Willmar team won five of the six races and was second in the other. There were high finishes in all six races at Moorhead and the Gale Woods metro meet.

Bob Bezdicek, football assistant coach for 30 years, joined the XC coaching staff this week guiding middle schoolers along with Chuck Gustafson. Doug Rudie is Popp's varsity assistant.

The Cardinals home invite is Oct. 1.


Rolf Peterson is well into the AARP years but the semi-retired mortician seemed not one you'd expect to go into cardiac arrest.

After all, he's part of the daily Noon Time Basketball crowd at the City Auditorium, he works out, lifts weights and looks a decade younger than one who graduated from Willmar High School in 1958 where he played on the 1958 Cardinal basketball team that placed third in the (single class) state tournament.

But a heart attack knocked him to the mat on Labor Day. "I was bushwhacked," he told me Tuesday.

He'd been goose hunting a day earlier. There were no hints until that Monday. He felt an unusual tiredness and then pain in the left arm and chest that did not go away.

He told Carol something serious was going on; they'd better go to town. She drove from their lake home to Rice Hospital emergency.

"My heart stopped twice," said Rolf. "I was essentially dead. They shocked me back."

The Life Link copter flew him to St. Cloud Hospital. They stabilized him for a day and operated Wednesday, Sept. 7. Triple bypass. He spent five days in the hospital.

"I had 90 percent blockage," he said. His heart muscles were starved for oxygen.

Two weeks later he's doing fine; he was in the Peterson Bros. office when we spoke. He begins cardiac rehab soon.

He's full of gratitude -- to his wife for her quick response, to the life-saving measures by the emergency personnel at Rice, to Life Link and the surgeons and staff at St. Cloud.

And he appreciates every email and card expressing support.

"You can't underestimate how important that is in the healing process," he said of the messages.

The standard physical he has each year didn't detect the plague build-up in the heart arteries. He said he had no indicators that would suggest a more detailed evaluation.

"I blame nobody but myself," he said. "You're responsible for monitoring your own health. You have to watch out for your own health whether it's the heart, PSA or mammograms."

"I was lucky, very lucky," said the 71-year-old..

While his healthy lifestyle didn't prevent a heart attack, it likely contributed to his survival and should speed his recovery.

He hopes to be back on the basketball court by the end of the year.

New tennis coach

Jim Anderson, a frequent competitor in summer tournaments and a long-time youth hockey coach, is the new boys tennis coach. He replaces Loren Holter, who retired from coaching after 20 years with Cardinals tennis programs.

CLC top performers

Five Willmar athletes were singled out as Central Lakes Performers of the Week (through Sept. 17) by the conference secretary:

Football-offense: Junior quarterback Alex Grove 17-33 for 197 yds, 1 TD, and 18 rushes for 72 yards.

Boys soccer-offense: Junior midfielder Remigio Becerra, 7 assists in last 5 games.

Boys soccer-defense: Junior defender Joe Leuze was key figure in two shutouts.

Girls tennis: Senior Xiaodan Yu won three matches to improve to 4-1 in CLC at 1-singles.

Megan lifts spirits on swim team

Megan Stier joined the swim team this fall. She's an 8th-grade special needs student with Downs Syndrome.

Megan's mother Lynn wrote school officials telling them of her appreciation for the way she has been received by the team and coaches. Activities director Jamie Thompson passed it on to John Millea who posted it on John's Journal on the MSHSL website. Here's an excerpt:

"Last spring, my husband (Mark) and I talked about wanting her involved in a more "active" sport and one that she really enjoys. I talked to (Coach) Carl (Shuldes) to see if our girls swim/dive team has had athletes with special needs and would this be feasible. He was completely open to the suggestion and this fall we decided to have Megan become part of this team. Carl has been very accommodating to Megan's needs ... Megan is having the time of her life. She feels a part of the team, she has been participating in the diving mostly (for her it means feet first), and is making a connection with the teammates and coaches. Her endurance has improved greatly since practice started in August ..."

Boris Trail Run

The Pat Boris Trail Run at Sibley State Park drew 95 runners Sept. 12 for the challenging 10k jaunt over hill and prairie.

Jeff Schmidt, 46, running coach at Hutchinson High School, was first overall followed by Conrad Bostron, 51, of Spicer and Paul Wymar, 39, of Montevideo.

In the female division, Kristine Duininck, 38, of Spicer and a Willmar graduate won her first citizens race ever after placing second on the trails a year ago. Lori Gehrking, 49, of Willmar was second and Beth Van Gulijk, 46, of New London took third.

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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