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Willmar Notebook: Cards ready to calm the Blue Wave

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton On a pitch and catch, junior slotback Chris Cunningham cuts upfield as senior cornerback Ben Muller (10) closes during Tuesday preparations for Brainerd.

Willmar football engages Brainerd at Hodapp Field on Friday evening. Each fall at this time, a Cardinal fan feels ever hopeful. We're like Charlie Brown pining that this will be the time that there is a valentine in the box from the Little Redheaded Girl.

Realistically, though the Cardinals are darn good this year, the Blue Wave visit yields only disappointment.

Each year one looks for the chinks in Stolski's armada while building up the positives in the Willmar flood wall.

But Brainerd has outgrown Cardinal football. There are 1,600 kids up there and a little under a thousand here.

Willmar has lost nine times to the Warriors this century, none of the conflicts in doubt. The closest score? Jon Konold's first year here, 2009, the final margin 35-13, three touchdowns.

The last win came in 2000 (is that this century or last?). I remember the night. The game was in Brainerd, two-time defending champion, and both teams were 1-0. Arriving back in the office from a game in Danube, I tuned in the broadcast by Todd Bergeth on KWLM.

It went down to the last minute. With the Warriors marching to paydirt, Cardinal linebacker Scott Barney picked off a pass at the Willmar 15 and ran it back past midfield to clinch a 14-6 win.

In a splash of exuberance drawing on the pounding chant of a popular song, by Baha Men, this writer wrote:

"Who let the dogs out?"

That was the lede. Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!

It was a peak year in Willmar sports fueled by the exorbitantly talented, both athletically and academically, Class of 2001.

However, the previous two falls these same lads had lost to the Silver Helmets by a combined 69-7 score.

Let me list the seniors on the 2000 squad named All-CLC or Honorable Mention: Judd Beccue, Matt Breen, Adam Campbell, Adam Dittberner, Nick Engan, Kyle Halliday, Carey Jeremiason, Luke Juhl, Erik Maursetter, Jared McLister, Doug Runke (defensive MVP), Jeremy Sather, Karl Spilseth, Nate Villnow (offensive MVP), James Wallace and Steve Wetterling. The head coach was Ken Heitzman, whose sophomore son Michael starts at running back on this fall's team.

Despite all the standouts among 27 seniors that year, Willmar at its peak could only beat the Wave by 8 points. At 6-1, Willmar shared the CLC title with Brainerd before losing in the second round of the Big School class to Burnsville to finish 8-2.

It was hoped the season would set the tone for the new century but the Cardinals would win just seven games over the next four seasons.

In the 1980s and into the early '90s Willmar had an edge in wins against the Warriors. That's when the two schools were near in size and both played in the Big School division.

This year Brainerd is the only outstate school in the new Super 32 while Willmar is one of the smaller teams, enrollment-wise, in 5AAAAA.

Yes, there is always hope. Brainerd lost its opener. Their backfield is new, though by the third game that doesn't mean a whole lot.

Willmar has shown plenty of pizzazz on offense and an aggressive defense. But down the stretch Friday, Fergus exploited a porous pass defense magnified by only light pressure the Spartan QB.

Brainerd doesn't always finish first in the CLC but its dominance in the Central Lakes Conference since the early 1990s speaks for itself. Nineteen times beginning in 1990 the Warriors have finished either first or second, including ties.

Which reminds us of the Bill Hansen teams that ruled West Central Conference football in the 1950s, '60s and into the '70s -- the biggest town with the highest enrollment before departing to become a charter member of a new eight-team Central Lakes Conference in 1977.

Looking at the two rosters for tomorrow's game, the Cardinals' 71 souls are the most grades 10-12 in Konold's four seasons. Stolski, who has the record for wins in the state and ranks among the nation's leaders, will have 93 boys to choose from.

So, forget the Dogs. That was yesteryear. Instead, we turn to the Korean rapper Psy of "Gangnam Style" fame. In the lyrics of another little ditty, Psy exclaims ... "If you have taken out your sword, at least slice up some radish."

Wyatt doing well

This column recently wrote about Tim and Lori Hanson and their near return to their hometown and the sudden illness of their son Wyatt. I emailed Tim asking the couple how their son was doing. Tim responded: "We found out ... that he has a bone marrow virus. It could last six months or longer. It just has to take its course. It's not good or bad news. At least, for the most part, all tests have come back negative as far as cancer. However, his spleen is still enlarged and his blood counts are still as low as they were when we left Children's Hospital. He will have a difficult time fighting off colds or viruses. We will need to really watch his health at school and are required to immediately bring him into the local hospital if he catches anything. He's completed two-action packed days of kindergarten and loves it. Hopefully, it continues that way."

Lori had been offered the activities director job here and Tim might have applied for the girls hockey opening. The 1992 Willmar graduates decided this was not the right time to move and retained their respective teaching jobs at St. Michael-Albertville and Monticello.

Coaching openings

Willmar will be naming new coaches in girls basketball and girls hockey before the end of the month.

The committee received 31 applications for the basketball job and 14 for the hockey position.

Thank goodness so many individuals are still interested in such extra-curricular positions. Coaching requires so much time and energy, and not just in season. And no matter how hard a coach works, you might notice that their efforts aren't always appreciated and your decisions are often questioned.

Volleyball honors

Willmar's starting sophomore setter Riley Grussing was recently named to the 1st American Volleyball Coaches Association "Phenom List."

The list identifies elite high school underclassmen from across the country that have received honors identifying them as top players in their region. There are over 300 players on the list, including 15 from Minnesota.

The new listing compliments the Under Armour Watch List which identifies elite high school senior players who possess the potential to be considered for the Under Armour High School All-America Awards Program.

Riley also was recognized in Breakdown Sports Elite 50 Underclassmen. Hitter Emily Minnick is in the Super 100 Seniors for Minnesota.

On the fly

n At the All-America Cross Country Invite on Saturday in Decorah, Iowa, junior Jayne Cole ran fifth on her team for second place Luther College. She covered the 5k in 19:45 to finish 21st among 168 runners. Junior Matt Weitzel, also running for the host team, finished sixth on his team in a 4-mile time of 22:05, 30th overall. The Norse placed sixth.

n University of St. Thomas harrier Tom Seifert placed third as the Tommies placed six runners in the top seven to win the seven-team Crown College Invite on Saturday. He posted a time of 27:56 for the 8k, second fastest on the team.

n In Cardinal cross country, eighth-grader Sophie Schmitz won the Girls JV 4k in a time of 16:22 at the huge Baumann/Rovn Meet hosted by Hopkins last Thursday. There were 184 runners in her race; a second JV girls race had 230. Her winning time was the best for both.

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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