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Willmar faces Titan of prep wrestling, again

Does Willmar have a chance against the Eagles of Apple Valley? Realistically, what team in Minnesota, or the USA, can pick the Eagles' feathers?

But, the Cardinals do have the opportunity to compete hard, wrestle smart and takes that fire into the second round.

Squaring off with the Eagles (61-2 the past two seasons) is like running in a big-time marathon; you're not going to beat the Kenyans but you still can run your best race.

Willmar took on the Eagles in 2005 in the same stage of the Class AAA Tournament. The outcome on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center was a 54-15 score. The No. 2 Eagles lost their semifinal match to No. 1 Owatonna 27-24. The Eagles went on to finish third.

That, folks, is the only year since 1998 that an Apple Valley team has not made its way home across the Minnesota River without the first-place trophy. Put another way that is 12 state titles in 13 years. In MSHSL tournaments, only girls tennis sees such dominance in juggernauts Rochester Lourdes (A) and Edina (AA).

Back in '05 Willmar was just 10-6 at the end of the regular season but Tom Beyer's team won three straight for the section title.

Apple Valley scored 7 falls vs. the Willmar lineup. The Cardinals 15 points came on a forfeit win at 130, a 3-0 decision by Peter Johnson at 145 and Tony Neumann's third-period pin at 189. Neumann is back with the Cards, after wrestling for Concordia College, as an assistant coach. Sophomore Drew Larson lost just 7-6; two years later he would be a state runner-up at 145 pounds.

Willmar has 7 individuals -- a record number -- in the individual tournament running Friday/Saturday. The Valley advanced boys in 13 of the 14 weight classes. Three of the Eagles are returning champions and a fourth a runner-up.

In the opposite bracket is No. 4-seed Prior Lake (23-11) and White Bear Lake (20-7). Willmar (20-5) can get a third match at 5 p.m. by beating the loser of that match which matches the No. 9-ranked team (the Lakers) and No. 11 (Bears).

Willmar has won only one match in the state setting. In 1998, their first trip to the state dual-meet tournament, the Cards whipped Osseo in the second round. John Tatge (fifth) and Derrick Cruze (sixth) placed individually that year.

Last year the Cardinals collected two individual medals: Nathanial Swoyer, now at Ridgewater College and a junior-high coach, won the 189-pound title and then junior Alex Johannes took fourth.

Most of the first-round matchup would appear to give the Willmar entrant a reasonable chance of advancing.

Eighth-grader Logan Walkow (29-11) takes on eight-grader Taylor Venz (30-5) of Farmington at 106 pounds; junior Nate Mittag (35-7) matches up with Apollo's Grant Dullinger (33-6) at 113; at 120, it's sophomore Austin Miley (32-9) vs. junior Trent Butcher (30-10) of Chaska; at 132, Johannes (32-4) faces senior Dakota Trom (27-4) of Apple Valley; next at 138, Colten Carlson (29-6), an eighth-grader, faces Forest Lake senior Tyler Isaacson (35-6); senior Seth Pollock (35-4) wrestles Lakeville North frosh Luke Westrich (30-10); and at 195, senior Martin Cabrera (13-3) may have the toughest matchup since he is facing unbeaten senior Clay LeVasseur (21-0) of Rogers.

Class AA and A quarterfinals all start at 9 a.m. Thursday on one of the 8 mats spread over the Wilds' home ice. It's a crazy scene played out before home-town fans (7,000 last year for Session 1) who will generate the highest decibel readings of the entire 3-day event.

The Cardinal fan bus to state Thursday morning, if not full by now, is a free ride, I'm informed. Several Willmar businesses are paying for the coach ride. Sign up today at high school (11 a.m.-1 p.m.).

A sendoff for the team is scheduled for 12:50 p.m. today as the team bus is loading at the high school.

Swim and dive

Diver Bennet Woltjer and swimmers Nick Aaker, Ben Fuglestad and Michael McLain each return to the state meet at U of M Aquatics Center a third time. A.J. Derouin is back a second time and Connor Haugen is on board for the first time.

Woltjer medaled last year and should move up this year into the top five. Willmar 400-relay is in the running for Saturday's championship heat. In the other events, the seeding indicates the Cardinals will be shooting for the consolation heat.

For example, the 100 freestyle has 28 swimmers spread over four heats. Sixteen swimmers will advance. At 50.18, McLain is behind 21 swimmers a faster seed time out of their section.

Montevideo is also sending down five swimmers and a diver, Chase Testa (eighth last year). The Hawks are medal contenders in the 200-medley relay. Jack Speath, Adam Peters, Tyler Gort and Tommy Payne won the Section 3A race in 1:40.60, a time second only to St. Thomas Academy at 1:40.36. Payne, a sprinter, is third fastest seed in both the 50-freestyle (22.11) and the 100-free (48.58).

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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