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Willmar notebook: Clock starts for Cardinal sports

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton The Willmar Cardinal swimming and diving team hits the high school weight room three days a week before school once classes begin. Senior Erika Aaker is in the foreground at Friday’s one-hour workout. Ed Oehlers, co-head wrestling coach, is the new weight room supervisor.

This reporter asked the fall Cardinal varsity coaches to provide an early outlook for the approaching season.

Cross country, Coach Jerry Popp: Numbers are in the 70s and expected to grow as kids finish up with vacation, work and begin school. There are a number of kids who don’t have transportation to the high school, so they must wait until school starts.

The boys and girls varsity teams look very strong. We had the most kids ever go to the Wyoming Big Horn Mountain Running Camp (37). About the same high number participating in the summer citizen races, mostly 5ks, which has been good preparation.

Our varsity girls lost senior Cassandra Johnson from the 10th-place team at Class AA state. The boys lost Ryan Sawyer and Conner Haugen from the section team that finished just behind Moorhead for the second qualifying spot behind champion Bemidji. Both finished top ten at state.

As CLC meet and sections get closer, it will become clear where we stand in relationship to other powers in our conference and section. This is a crazy time with so many kids, but it is also my favorite time just fitting the pieces together and watching the kids grow and have fun as a team.

Volleyball, Coach Traci Grussing: We have 48 girls out 9 through 12. Kendra (Neis) Berg is the new JV1 coach. Mandi Norby is taking a year off with the birth of her second child last winter.

Many of the girls worked hard over the summer and we will have a lot more depth on each team. I have also been really impressed with our incoming freshmen group.

We will have a balanced varsity. We lost most of our offense with the graduation of Emily Minnick and Anne Dunham. Returning hitters McKenzie Hasted, Leah Ruter and Dani Rosen will have to step up, along with Jennie Magnuson, to fill the hole left by last year’s seniors.

We return Allie Roehl at libero and Riley Grussing at setter, so we have experience at the key leadership roles on the team. We also have several new players who will push for playing time.

Our goal is to take second in the Conference. Defending champ Fergus Falls return most of their players from last year and are currently ranked second in AA. They are our opener on Aug. 29. Our varsity players work hard and have a great attitude.

Girls tennis, Coach Jim Anderson: The Willmar girls tennis team is coming off a 14-5 season, finishing third in a tough conference. The team graduated 10 seniors, leaving the doubles side totally open. There are only three returning starters from last year’s team, all on the singles side. Eighth-grader Cayle Hovland will move from 2-singles to 1-singles. Older sister, Bailey, a senior, moves from No. 3 to No. 2 with Hannah Hansen going to No. 3.

Amelia Amon and Bergen Vollan will battle for No. 4; Senior Caroline Bell will move from JV doubles to 1 doubles but will have to find her a suitable partner. Returning juniors competing for a spot in pairs are: Molly Brown, Kaylee Chester, Sydney Fischer, Kayln Kopacek, Kalley Prahl, Claire Schmit and Emma Sebey. Sophomores are: Emma Asche, Erica Ellingson, Ellie Skaalerud and Erin Vance. The Cardinals scrimmaged Bloomington Jefferson and the Dutchmen at Melrose on Friday.

Boys soccer, Coach Jeff Winter: We are seeing the benefits of adding seventh- and eighth-graders to our program two years ago. The initial group now has reached ninth grade and is our largest group, at 14. We will have my biggest group of seniors ever, at 13. Also, we have 11 juniors, so our numbers are up. We have 63 total players for all three teams at the moment and are hoping to gain a few more in the lowest grades.

The team is more diverse than ever with a foreign exchange student from Germany and a player who joined us from Norway. In addition to all the other countries represented on our team, we are the most diverse sports team in Willmar. I am very excited about the first few days and how the boys are responding. We have a very strong team.

Also, thanks to a collaborative financial support, we have added a fourth coach, which means that I will have an assistant coach for the first time ever. Brad Haugen will join me on the varsity bench and Pablo Obregon will move to JVI. The new coach, is actually a returning coach, Jeff Newberg, who was a captain my first year with the boys and co-coached the JVII, with James Liimatta. It makes us more efficient allowing us to break down into smaller instructional groups at practice.

Girls swimming and diving, Coach Carl Shuldes: Numbers down slightly at 44. State competitors Liz Gorans and Rose Jackson graduated along with Captain Zoe Vossen. Returning are state qualifiers Kennedy Holwerda (200 Medley Relay and 200 Free Relay) and Miranda Kuchta (200 Medley Relay).

We should have decent depth in most events, but as always a few holes to fill. Strengths will be our relays and sprints, backstroke, and breaststroke. Depth must be developed in the butterfly and IM. Young diving squad shows lot of potential. Sartell and Brainerd again the teams to beat in CLC; we should be in the top half.

Football: This reporter will visit soon with football coach Jon Konold, but I do know this: Football graduated 21 seniors and lettered only 12 juniors in 2012. So a lot of spots will be filled by the new junior class and surely a few sophomores will have to play major roles. Both are strong classes, each finishing 8-1. New offensive line coach Ken Heitzman, former head coach and most recently assistant coach at the college, has to build a new line after graduating five starters tackle-to-tackle.

Girls soccer Coach Chelsea Brown has to cover for heavy graduation losses but a lot talent returns. That includes All-CLC and team MVP goalie Jordan Martins and top scorer Shelby Schneider. Assist leader Stephanie Thompson also returns and most improved Riley Schneider.

On the fly

n The Stingers report an average gate of 1,084 this season, ranking it ahead of Rochester (994), Green Bay (913) and Alexandria (463). Madison averaged 6,110 followed by La Crosse (2,979).

n BOLD coach Steve Solem lost his father Donald, 85, last week. The funeral was Monday in Windom. Among those showing their respects at the service at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior were former players and this year’s football team in their red team jerseys. Donald Solem played football at the junior college in Worthington in 1946 after coming home from the war. His son played for the Bluejays in 1978 and ’79. Steve was a running back. The quarterback was Mike Dammann, the head coach and athletic director at MACCRAY.

n Jordan Smith slugged his fifth homer of the season, a two-run shot in the fifth in a 9-8 loss Wednesday at Potomac. He’s hitting .282; his 126 hits are tied for second-most in the Carolina League.

n Scott Leindecker, 43, will have his Bemidji Lumberjacks girls swim team here once again for the Cardinal Invitational on Aug. 24. The Willmar grad was at the Green Lake Triathlon, competing on the long course (2:15.00, 25 of 78). His son Jaxon, 10, competed Saturday in the Kid’s Triathlon.

n Warrior football at the college will be 50 years old in 2017, not this year as I stated in a photo cutline last Saturday. Mel Lewis’s first team went 5-2-1 and would finish first or second in the conference the first eight seasons. Lewis left in 1979 to coach the UM-Morris Tigers. Basketball, the first sport at Willmar Community College did start in 1962-63, under Al Swansson, followed the next year by both wrestling, under Russ Hanson (replaced by Jerry Slattery the next season) and baseball, also under Swansson, who was also the city recreation director. The first sports for women came along in 1973 with basketball and volleyball, each coached by Linton Lehrer.

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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