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Willmar notebook: Lindsay and Lindsay: the Gopher years

Fellow Gophers from Central Minnesota Lindsay Lieser, at left, and Lindsay Whalen enjoyed the beach in Hawaii at a Thanksgiving tournament in 2001. Photo provided by Lindsay Freeland

This week, Notebook visits with Lindsay Freeland. She's a new mother (baby Clara is going on 8 months) and works for Touching Hearts at Home in hiring and training caregivers. She's married to another former New London-Spicer athlete, Matt Freeland.

She's was especially watchful of the Minnesota Lynx's march to the WNBA Championship.

The sports pages remember her as Lindsay Lieser, a 4-year starter in high school and laser-guided sniper for the Minnesota Gophers from 1999 to 2003.

Her teammate the last three seasons was That Girl from Hutchinson, Lindsay Whalen.

She already knew "Whay" from AAU/high-school basketball and tennis.

Lieser had helped the Wildcats win a state championship in 1998. Smaller Division I programs showed interest. The Gophers, who went 7-20 during Lieser's senior year in high school, were the highest-level program to offer a scholarship.

Lieser was a part-time starter her freshman and sophomore years when the team compiled a total of 17 wins. Cheryl Littlejohn was replaced by Brenda Oldfield.

Lieser started all 30 games her junior year (2001-02) making a school record 73 three-pointers. The Gophers bounced up to 22-8.

"That was an exciting time and I loved playing for Brenda," Freeland told me last week.

But Oldfield (now Frese) left for the top job at Maryland and Pam Borton took over. Lieser didn't figure as prominently in Borton's scheme but she still made 21 starts and drained 26 treys from the off-guard. The Gophers, bolstered by sophomore center Janel McCarville, a farm girl from Wisconsin, won 25 games.

Whalen, 5-foot-9 with a solid build, was the centerpiece, winning Big 10 Player of the Week honors repeatedly.

Freeland says Whalen is still amazing her as a pro.

"To this day she surprises every time you watch her even though you expect something out of the ordinary," said Freeland. "She's not built like a typical (basketball star), but she has such court awareness. She has this knack to know where her body is at all times and how to position the ball for the shot or a pass."

The former Tiger would not only lead the Gophers in scoring but in assists. And she was a favorite in the locker room, a "real goofball" Freeland says. "She taught me a lot about the importance of laughter."

Growing up, Lieser took basketball seriously in a community where girls basketball is prime-time entertainment.

"I'd shoot in my driveway every day in summer and keep track of my percentages from each spot," she recalls. When the weather cooled, she had a key to the gym at Peace Lutheran.

"I was a hard worker and determined," she recalled of her teen years. "It wasn't natural talent."

She wasn't alone in her craving to play an important role for Mike Dreier's Wildcats.

She credits her high school coach for helping her succeed.

"I never would have been the player I became without people believing in me and my teammates. I appreciated his belief in the players," she said. "I'm really proud to have been a part of the program."

Freeland attended Dreier's induction into the Minnesota Coaches Association HOF earlier this month.

She studied kinesiology in college thinking of become an athletic trainer, but it became clear her heart was elsewhere. She spent 18 months doing mission work in Southeast Asia, mainly Bangladesh. Touching Hearts, which provides companionship, monitoring, transportation, memory care and respite for caregivers, continues her interest in helping needy people.

She got to several Lynx games over the summer and to the playoffs, where she visited with Whalen's parents and grandparents. She stays in touch with Whalen via Facebook and texting.

"It was a really memorable experience (playing at Minnesota), something I'm really thankful for," said Freeland. "I feel a sense of pride for (the Lynx guard) and where she's at. She's accomplished so much, worked so hard and she's such a fine person."

(For the record: Lindsay Lieser's dedication to driveway plinking paid huge dividends. In high school, she drained a state record 338 three-pointers with a record 103 her senior year at NLS; at Minnesota, she made 216 treys with a shot percentage ranging from 38.1% to 40.8%).

'Liberian Mafia'

When I wrote last week about Ridgewater players from Northeast Minneapolis and the Cooper Connection, I emailed their former coach at Robbinsdale John Biezuns, asking him about his high-school career. Biezuns, who is now head coach at Minneapolis Southwest, quickly responded but too late to include in last week's Notebook.

His thoughts point out the opportunities that two-year colleges with athletic programs provide inner-city youth.

"Rob (Diane), Melvin (Kromah), Elijah (Swen), and Gabe (Kromah) were all nicknamed the "Liberian Mafia" and Anton (Bedeaux) was best friends with all of them. So, it seemed natural that they would likely all go away to the same school ... Elijah was Mr. Everything, he played 48 minutes of football and was an All-Conference Honorable Mention selection twice. They are right when they say their grades were lacking -- most graduated with barely a 2.0 GPA. Rob Diane had the best turnaround out of any player I have every coached. He began his junior year with a 1.4 GPA and graduated with a 2.3 GPA. Rob is truly an amazing athlete but his work ethic is unparalleled. All of these guys are very special to me, each with a unique personality, but extremely respectful and have some of the most amazing personalities you could imagine. All of these guys have the potential to now go on to 4-year universities. I am glad things worked out so well at Ridgewater. Most of these players needed a change in their environments."

Diane (Dee Ahn nee) finished his first year here with a 2.9 and vows he will push it well into the 3's his final two semesters.

Lady Warriors BB

Ridgewater head coach Carrie Ogdahl has eight girls practicing but could have a long wait to get returning starter Hannah Smith and 6-foot freshman Paige Pistulka off the volleyball team. Post Bobbie Uecker (BLHS), a reserve, is the only other returnee. Alicia Koenen (MACCRAY) played a half year on Northwestern (Iowa) JV. Shantel Kelly (Willmar) will also be expected to help carry the scoring. There's good quickness on the perimeter, says the head coach. Lynsey Runke and Bobbie Jo Deal come from BLHS, Mikell Melius from GFW. Cameo McNeley from Salem, Oregon, is 5-10 and will provide a third option at center with Uecker and Pistulka.

Curling call

Though Willmar won't be hosting the 2013 Nationals or 2014 Olympic Trials, Rick Patzke of USA Curling encouraged the Willmar Curling Club to bid on future men's and women's national events as well as regional qualifiers. Patzke wrote in an email to Matt Proehl of the local club that "We were very impressed with all that your club and community has done to date" and that hosting successfully a 2013 Mixed Nationals, Mixed Doubles, Club Nationals or Junior Nationals would be a "good building block" to prepare for the Nationals/Olympic Trials stage.

Mankato is hosting the Club Nationals in 2012.

On the fly

- After Willmar placed second at the CLC cross-country meet in both the boys and girls race, coach Jerry Popp called it "A good day but not a great one. Both Sartell (boys) and Alex (girls) had at least one runner who had a career best to beat us." Among the highlights: every one of the 13 boys and girls who competed varsity earned either All- Conference or Honorable Mention. The program had a strong day overall. In addition to the two runner-up finishes at the varsity level, both JV teams were also second while the junior high boys placed first and the junior high girls third.

- The Frosh football team that we've kept a eye on has finished 8-1 after concluding its season Tuesday with a 47-32 win at Fergus Falls. The team averaged 36 points per game. At Fergus, QB Augustine Hahn, threw 5 TD passes, including two to wide receiver Austin Grove, and one each to halfbacks Michael Heitzman, Jacob Uken, and Vaughn Johnson. Head coach Brett Aamot notes, "This is a very talented bunch - opposing coaches have complimented them on their enthusiasm, aggressiveness and discipline."

n Xiaodan Yu will keep her game tuned up hitting with teammate Gabie Bierbaum and against the YMCA wall when the weather turns bad. The Section 8AA champion plays in the individual state tournament starting Thursday at the U of M.

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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