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A brown December to remember

The Willmar Nordic ski team skates at a practice on "Cardinal Pond" behind the high school on Wednesday with the temperature at 32 degrees. New snow clung to the ice but all else is brown as head coach Brad Haugen, foreground, strains each day for a new training routine in a snowless December. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

While the snowless winter has its conveniences, it's been hard on cross-country skiers.

Cardinal Nordic coach Brad Haugen is trying to keep 50 boys and girls -- 12 of them first time skiers -- motivated.

Without snow, the team runs, roller blades, hill bounds and works on core conditioning.

The team has traveled to practice at Andes Tower Hill and the Elm Creek Park Reserve in the northwest metro. They've also managed two meets, one at St. Cloud Riverside and the other at Powder Ridge at Kimball.

A year ago there was three feet of snow on the ground -- plus some on the Metrodome carpet.

You could still ride bike on the twisting, rolling trails at Sibley State Park or at the outdoor learning center near Lake Florida.

The lakes are clear for ice skating but not much good for skiing.

There's little hope for snow before year's end. Snowless Decembers have happened before.

In 1999-2000, Nordic's second season, head coach Mary Beth Nehl, instrumental in starting the new program, had to cancel all three meets in December. The dearth of no snow also forced cancellation of a Jan. 4, 2000, meet at St. Cloud and what would have been Willmar's first invite later in January.

One hopeful note, there's snow in Eveleth where the Cardinals are schedule to compete at the Mesabi Invite on Jan. 7.

Minnesota Bisons

The North Dakota State Bison have made it all the way to the NCAA Division I Football Championship game. The Bison meet Sam Houston State Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

A check of the Bison 2011 roster reveals Minnesotans make a substantial contribution. While players come from far and wide, Minnesota high-school graduates are the most numerous with 35 rostered players. North Dakota is next with 19 followed by Wisconsin with 10.

The Bison men's basketball team (8-2) is at Minnesota (11-1) tonight (7 p.m.). The Gophers lead that series 25-2. The Bison received a forfeit in 1976 and won on the court in 1936.

Reynolds Cup

The Willmar Cardinals vs. Litchfield/DC boys hockey series is scheduled to return to a 2-game yearly series again next year.

This is the old Cream Can game series. No one seems to know what happened to the old milk can.

But now there is a custom-made stainless steel milk-can trophy. It will be named the Reynolds Cup/Cream Can Series in honor of former Cardinal Stephen Reynolds, who passed away unexpected on Nov. 29.

The shiny trophy will be engraved with the results of 73 meetings so far of the Highway 12 rivalry dating to the first clash in 1972.

Funds for the project were quickly raised by friends of Cardinal hockey who sent out letters to Stephen's teammates.

Mike Reynolds, Stephen's father, said his son would be surprised by all the fuss because of his unassuming nature.

A memorial alumni game with teams composed of teammates 2008-2011 is planned for Dec. 29 at the Civic Center.

There is still no word on what may have caused the death of the young college student, who died at home one day after complaining of not feeling well.

On the fly

- Casey Sussenguth, the former Cardinal and Ridgewater College standout, is averaging 13.2 minutes per game for Southwest Minnesota State (5-5). He's supplied 5 ppg while shooting 55 percent with 2 rpg. Tramel Barnes of Montevideo, another West Central Tribune All-Area pick, is averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds per game. The junior guard is playing about 22 minutes per game.

- Former KMS 3-time state champion, Kevin Steinhaus is ranked No. 8 at 184 pounds. The Gophers' redshirt sophomore has a 6-1 victory over No. 5 Quentin Wright of Penn State on Nov. 20, the 2010-11 national champion at 184. Steinhaus, whose home town is listed as Pennock, went 34-12 last season and earned All-America recognition.

- The Willmar Cardinals host Sauk Rapids in boys basketball tonight. The Storm, who were 1-26 a year ago, are off to a 2-3 start, including a six-point win over Rocori on Friday.

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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