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Willmar notebook: Gymnasts: A breed apart

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Willmar's lone senior Abbey Weiler, focusing on Tuesday's vault, has been team MVP each year since her debut as a freshman.1 / 2
Tribune photo by Rand Middleton During Willmar Cardinals parents night on Tuesday, the Weilers were introduced at the Kennedy gym prior to the gymnastics meet with Melrose: Chuck and Michele Weiler with daughters, Abbey, the team's only senior, and Hilary, a sophomore.2 / 2

Abbey Weiler joined the Willmar varsity gymnastics team at the start of the 2008-09 season. She was a freshman but a savvy competitor. She's joined the Wings gymnastics club as a kindergartner and for six seasons starting in third grade had competed in club gymnastics tournaments around the state.

She participated in her final high-school home meet Tuesday.

"It went so fast," the team's lone senior told me before the meet with Melrose.

For four year, the three-time MVP has been a low-key team leader and a reliable scorer in all-around while excelling in floor, her favorite event.

Small of frame, she has stayed free of injury in a sport where bruises, strains, sprains and even breaks are not uncommon. She recalls only a hyper-extended elbow in 10th grade keeping her out a "couple of meets." During her years on Wings, she developed routines in all four events that served her well all through high school.

"I haven't added a ton of stuff," she told me. "I've cleaned up my form, definitely, but I work on perfecting what I have."

Gymnastics coach Larry Selchow said it's not so simple.

"She's upgraded in all of her events," said the head coach. "She's always improving and striving to excel."

He recalls the time she "ripped off the uneven bars" while doing Giants on the high bar and went flying before crashing to the floor.

"I've seen athletes that never would do Giants again after that happened because it's such a scary thing, but she had the courage to persevere and she got her Giants back," Selchow said of acrobatic move.

Gymnasts are fearless. Like most amateurs, I feel I've done just about everything in athletics, except ski jumping and skateboarding, and survived. But who dares a double twist full Tsuk after a full-out sprint down the runway to pounce on a spring board before tapping the table and whirling into space. Would you?

Nor while standing on the 4-inch beam -- all eyes watching, mind you -- would even the most gifted athlete without extensive training want to attempt a standing back tuck somersault with the point being to stick the landing on a virtual 4x4 board.

But Ms. Weiler and her teammates do it every day.

"It can be nerve wrecking to compete," said Abbey, "but I not nervous before a meet."

She's just been doing it so long, though it will be ending soon. And it may be the end of her competitive gymnastics career. She's thought about it at college but so few athletic programs outside major universities any longer include gymnastics.

There will still be a Weiler in the program. Hilary is a sophomore competing on JV and also part time varsity. Another younger sister, Ellissa, opted for hockey.

Though she has earned multiple all-state and all-conference honors, Abbey said her top moments in the sport have been her two state meets: floor and all-around as a sophomore and beam as a junior. She had season-bests at Tuesday's meet in all-around (36.550), floor (9.50) and 8.7).

Her career bests are 36.9 all-around as a 9th grader, 9.5 floor both this season and last, 9.25 beam in 9th and 11th grade, 8.9 bars in 9th and 9.35 in vault, twice, both this year.

Card Pride HOF

Cardinal Pride, the citizen backbone of Cardinal athletics, each year since 2002 has inducted athletes, community volunteers and retired coaches/athletic directors into its Hall of Fame.

The 11th Class will enter on Sept. 28. Nominations will be accepted by the CP Board of Directors through May 1.

The board stresses that duplicate nominations are not a problem since any additional information will be helpful in making a decision.

To qualify, an athlete must be out of high school 10 years while a coach need be retired.

The Willmar High School website has a nomination form that may be downloaded. The Fall Winter Sports Program also has the form. If you have question about Cardinal Pride or the HOF contact a board member or phone Mary Amon at 320.222.8566.

On the Pond

Jon Olson, who played Cardinals hockey in the mid-80's, would like to make Green Lake Pond Hockey Tournament an annual event. But the owner of O'Neil's Restaurant in Spicer said he will need more help, especially when it comes to preparing the skating surface which is just off the city park.

The 4-on-4, no-check play in a tight space puts a premium on quickness and stickhandling. It's entertaining to watch and is surely a blast to play.

In the championship Sunday afternoon, Papa Swany and the Puckheads outscored The Oaks 7-3. The Boys tipped Healthy Scratch 12-6 for third.

The Puckheads roster: Ben Villnow, Randy Swanson, Bryce Dahl, Dan Swanson, Lee Engstrom and Luke Norbie.

Volleyball Classic

The Women's Volleyball Winter Classic March 3 is accepting entries through Feb. 24. Twelve teams from throughout central Minnesota had registered by Tuesday. WCER supervisor Brad Bonk said 20 to 22 teams will likely be competing in one of three divisions: Power I, Power II and Semi-Power. Trophy to champs and cash payouts top 4 or 5 teams. The Oaks at Eagle Creek is the sponsor and winning teams will get a gift card to the Oaks. The team entry fee is $110. Visit the WCER website or phone 231-8490.

On the fly

- Central Lakes Performers of the Week are: BBB-Offense, Austin Rambow, junior forward, scored 32 points in two games; GBB-Defense, Casey Marcus, senior guard, had 5 steals and 4 rebounds in one game; Girls Nordic, Erika Aaker, placed 19th in 4.5k Classical race at Alexandria; Gymnastics, Abbey Weiler, senior all-around, had a personal best on bars and placed in 3 other events at invitational.

- The Willmar boys hockey team has crucial games with Section 6A foes on Monday, home vs. Fergus Falls, and at St. Cloud Apollo a week from today. Willmar is tied with Apollo for the fourth-best record facing section opponents.

- Bonnie Henrickson's Kansas Jayhawks broke into the Top 25 Sunday, at No. 25, but lost in overtime on Tuesday to Oklahoma 74-68 in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are 5-4 in the Big 12, 16-5 overall.

- Edina boys basketball coach Pat Dorsey, whose Hornets beat his home-town Cardinals 80-68 on Jan. 21, beat Minnetonka (13-4) in their Lake Classic season opener 68-55 on Tuesday to run their winning streak to 14. The same night Scott Swansson's Woodbury Royals saw their nine-game win streak clipped at Cretin-Derham Hall 59-56. Both head coaches played guard on Willmar state tournament teams.

- Tim Hanson's North Wright County girls hockey team leads the Mississippi 8 Conference with a 4-0-1 record and is 15-6-2 overall and unbeaten in its last 10 games. The RiverHawks blanked Hutchinson4-0 on Tuesday.

- Liam Johnston ranks seventh on the Little Falls Flying Aces in scoring ; in 35 games the forward has 11 goals and 7 assists. The Aces are a member of the North American 3 League, a Tier III USA Hockey Junior developmental league.

- Sam Warzecha, a student at St. Cloud State from Willmar, is earning a healthy chunk of spending money officiating hockey games. He will referee his first Minnesota State High School League game this evening at Little Falls which is hosting Sauk Rapids.

n Gustavus Adolphus sophomore Alissa Tinklenberg led the Gusties to a 158-141 win at St. Thomas on Friday winning the 200

back, 500 and 1,000 free, and anchoring the first-place 200-free relay. Her time of 10:41.34 in the 1,000 free broke the pool record at Anderson Recreation Complex Aquatic Center. In January, she won or was part of a winning relay team in 15 of her 16 races.

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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