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Cards claim West Central Cup

Willmar's baseball team celebrates a section final victory but they could have been celebrating any number of accomplishments from the 2017-2018 season. The Cardinals won the inaugural West Central Cup. Jake Schultz / Tribune

Coaches and athletic directors around the state are dusting off shoulder pads and untangling volleyball nets in preparation for the 2018 fall sports season. Newly minted seniors are ready for their turn to lead the chants in the huddle and accept the captain's armband or the starting role under center.

Everyone is eyeing the first game of the year, planning for a win and strategizing where they'll want the parade to go after they win the state title.

Or maybe, just maybe, they'll try to pick a spot in the trophy case for the imaginary, but all-important West Central Cup.

Before the 2018-2019 season begins, though, let's look back at the 2017-2018 season West Central Cup Champions: the Willmar Cardinals.

Was it ever a doubt?

Willmar won the inaugural title thanks to strong showings in each of the three seasons, highlighted by state tournament appearances by both cross country teams, the girls basketball team, where they reached the semifinals before a 65-64 loss to eventual champions and top-seeded Cooper, the wrestling team and the baseball team. The wrestling team saw a similar fate as the girls basketball team, losing in the semifinal match to eventual state runners-up Shakopee, the tournament's top seed. The wrestling team, like the girls basketball team, took fourth place. Unlike the wrestling team, which reached the state meet for the seventh time in a row, or the girls basketball team, who made it two in a row, the baseball team surprised Section 6AAA. The baseball team reached the state tournament for the first time since 1987 with a strong crop of seniors and timely hitting combined with excellent pitching. The gymnastics team also made a state appearance after showcasing solid depth and top-level talent all year, supplanting Melrose, a perennial power in Section 6A that had reached 10 straight state meets. While at the Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis, the Cardinals took sixth place as a team and featured five athletes with top-25 finishes individually.

Toss in a section final appearance for the boys basketball team, softball team and volleyball team and individual state titles for wrestlers Clay and Cael Carlson, Willmar seemed to have the first West Central Cup season in the bag. The Cardinals easily distanced all other area teams with 680 points but let's not forget, this is a per-sports-team basis. This very fact left an opening.

Lac qui Parle Valley made things interesting with a spring season surge, winning the Class A girls state golf tournament and featured the Class A state champion in Rachel Halvorson. In golf alone, the Eagles tallied 140 points and added 50 more with Julie Overton's state championship-winning discus throw and a strong performance by Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd runner Keiser Freetly. The Eagles also just missed out on an extra 25 points as the baseball team cam one game shy of reaching a section final.

Thanks to a handy calculator, the Eagles led all spring point-getters with 190, topping Willmar's mark of 105. Willmar's lead was too great, though.

The Cardinals wrapped up the school year with an average of 28.3 points per team. LQPV took second with 22.8 points per team (365 total points) and Dawson-Boyd, who also received 50 points for Overton's throws, Freetly's runs and a relay team, took third place with an average of 14.4 points per team and 230 points total.

Willmar appears poised for another strong run at the West Central Cup but a new year means a clean slate. This year could be the chance for another school to make a magical run at a state tournament for the first time in school history or, at the very least, since before my birth.

That special run might just start now.

2017-2018 Final West Central Cup Top 10

(1) Willmar 28.3 (2) Lac qui Parle Valley 22.8 (3) Dawson-Boyd 14.3 (4) BBE 11.4 (5) Litchfield 11.3 (6) BOLD 9.8 (7) Minnewaska 9.4 (8) KMS 8.2 (9) Paynesville 7.8 (10) ACGC 7.3

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