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Willmar notebook: Every wrestler has a story

Tribune photo Rand Middleton Cardinal sophomore Augustine Hahn, from left, first matches were last weekend; senior Cass Herzog found redemption in the climatic match and sophomore Vaughn Johnson stuck around after a three-win first year.

When your team wins the deciding match and advances to the state tournament on the fifth tiebreaker, there’s no shortage of unsung heroes.

Every winning move, as well as every preventative measure, becomes key.

How about Estevan Navarro, the Cardinals’ 138-pound sophomore? He got shackled 19-4, a technical fall, late in the third. But Wes Drogenmueller, the No. 3-ranked Class AAA wrestler at 138, couldn’t pin Navarro, which would have meant six points instead of five and the difference in a match that ended 31-31.

Then there is Augustine Hahn, a varsity full-timer as a freshman. This year Hahn, who quarterbacked the Cardinals’ sophomore football team to eight wins, broke his foot between seasons “being dumb.”

He was in a cast and on crutches and didn’t resume light training until Jan. 15.

His absence was felt. Willmar was most vulnerable at the three weights from 182 to 220. Hahn got his first chance in section tournament and he responded with a pin in 20 seconds in his first match at 182 pounds. He then won a 7-4 decision at 195 in the semifinals and in the final he posted an 8-3 decision at 195 to bring Willmar within two points of the lead, 27-25, with two weights left.

“I was real nervous that first match but after that it was OK,” he said.

With the Cards trailing 31-25, Cass Herzog, the senior heavyweight, had no alternative but to pin his Wayzata opponent. Anything less would send the team down to defeat.

He came through with the fall at 3:06, knotting the team score. Willmar won on the fifth-criteria (most six-point outcomes).

Two years ago, Herzog lost the heavyweight match via a pin, allowing Bemidji to tie the Cardinals and the Lumberjacks won on criteria.

It made this victory doubly sweet.

“That was the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in high school sports,” he said. “It was such a great feeling.”

Herzog is 31-0 and ranked seventh in The Guillotine poll.

“I’ve matured,” said the 275-pound All-Central Lakes Conference lineman, comparing his senior and junior seasons. “I’m more aggressive, more physical.”

Starting Friday, he gets a chance to make the state individual tournament, which eluded him last winter. Another shot at redemption.

With square shoulders, a firm jaw and thick neck, Vaughn Johnson has an athlete’s cut. No wonder the middle school wrestling coaches had an eye on him.

He lifted weights in the winter to get strong for football. He played running back and middle linebacker this fall on the sophomore team). He finally gave wrestling a try last winter as a freshman.

With no background in the sport, he couldn’t do much more than absorb punishment, often taking on a rated wrestler as opposing team’s shifted personnel to gain maximum points.

He finished 3-16 and recalls two of those wins came by forfeit.

On Saturday, the second-year wrestler, who now has some moves, went 2-1 with the loss coming in overtime.

Against Wayzata, with his team trailing at 170 pounds, he knew he had to earn some bonus points. He won by pin, extending his record to 23-12.

Hahn won an 8-3 decision and although Jalen Cabrera lost 8-0 at 220, by avoiding a fall he kept Willmar within six points.

Cue the heavyweight.

Back with his buddies

The Cardinals boys hockey season came to a quick end — in overtime in the section playoff at Fergus Falls.

But what memories. This team was plenty accustomed to tight games. Five of the last nine outcomes were determined by one goal. And, also in Fergus, the first meeting between the teams in December ended in draw.

Until this season, senior goalie Joey Benson hadn’t played with the kids he grew up with since ninth grade, his second year of Bantam hockey.

The family had moved to Prior Lake and then to Eau Claire when his dad, Dr. Terry Benson, took new medical positions.

He wasn’t happy at the Eau Claire school he attended last year and where he played a half-season of varsity hockey.

The youngest of four brothers wished he could be with his old friends for his final year. So he and his mom Betty moved back and Joey won the starting spot and his mom found work.

He’s not a big kid so he needs every bit of skill and cunning to protect the cage. His stingy stats of about 3.0 goals allowed and a 90 save percentage ranks him fourth in the section.

Assistant coach Tom Wodash said no one has worked harder: “He’s very intense and hates to lose. He gives you all he’s got.”

McLain top seed 3A  

Cardinal senior swimmer Michael McLain is seeded first in both the 200-freestyle and 100-freestyle heading into Friday’s Section 3A meet at Sartell.

Willmar’s 200-free relay is third and the 400 free relay second.

A.J. Derouin is sixth in the 200 and 500 free races but only two seconds out of third.

Trent Flegel’s seed time ranks fifth in the butterfly but just two seconds out of third. Connor Haugen is top nine in both the 50 and 100 free and has a shot at reaching Saturday’s championship heat.

Swim prelims are at 5:30 p.m. Friday and the finals are 2 p.m. Saturday.

Montevideo and Litchfield are also in this strong nine-team section that also includes Hutchinson and Melrose, but the host Sabres are a solid favorite for the team title.

Johnson, Mottinger to state gymnastics

Senior Cassandra Johnson and freshman Haley Mottinger will represent the Cardinals at the Class A Individual Gymnastics meet.

The competition starts at 11 a.m. Saturday at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

Johnson will compete in both vault and floor and Mottinger on the vault.

Last year Johnson scored 9.3 on her best of two vaults to place 17th overall.

Youth basketball takes over town this weekend

Seventy-nine teams compete Saturday and Sunday at the annual Willmar Basketball Boosters Association Youth Basketball Tournament.

Thirty-five girls teams are at the senior high school and at Roosevelt. The 42 boys team will use those floors plus the middle school.

More than 160 boys and girls are in the Willmar youth program. This is the boosters’ biggest fundraiser. Proceeds support middle and high school programs through purchases of uniforms, scoreboards and scorer’s table.

On the fly

n Give me a break department: The other day our news clerk took a call from a disgruntled  man complaining that there was no coverage of the Yellow Medicine East Silhouettes’ High-Kick State title. It was pointed out that there was a photo and article on Page B2 in Monday’s paper. “But it’s not online,” he complained. True, not everything in the paper gets uploaded to this free service. But the daily paper is available for purchase, either physically or the complete issue is available online by subscription; that’s how we stay employed.

n This reporter never tires of reminding young women that equal rights in athletics are a recent development: Toni St. Pierre was a junior at Hopkins in 1972 and wished to run cross-country but there was no team. She sued the Minnesota State High School League with backing of the American Civil Liberties Union and was joined by Peg Brenden, a senior in St. Cloud who wished to play tennis. Judge Miles Lord favored the girls, one of the first such decisions in one of the nation’s first such challenges. She joined the boys cross-country, nordic ski and track teams her senior year. St. Pierre, 58, died Feb. 2 of cancer in Minneapolis. The Star Tribune’s Sunday issue devoted a full obituary to her passing. As an adult, the mother of three was an obstetrical nurse and triathlete.

n Alissa Tinklenberg’s record-breaking time in the 200 backstroke of 1:59.92 at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships ranks third nationally in NCAA Division III behind a 1:57.31 and a 1:59.13.

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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