Willmar notebook: These Cards ready to hit
No easing into the schedule for Willmar volleyball. Tonight, at home, the girls entertain Fergus Falls. The Otters went 12-0 in Central Lakes matches last fall and finished 29-4 overall. Willmar did take them to five games in their only meeting.
The Cards finished 8-4 (tied for second with Alexandria) in the CLC and 13-12 overall. Gone from that team are all-conference picks Emily Minnick to North Dakota State for volleyball and Anne Dunham to Ridgewater College, where she plans to play basketball.
Traci Grussing, who coached the Bluejays of Central Minnesota Christian for 17 years, starts her second year as Willmar head coach.
She listed tonight’s rotation as senior McKenzie Hasted (OH), junior Leah Ruter (OH), junior Dani Rosen (MH), senior Jennie Magnuson (MH) junior Allie Roehl (libero), freshman Cami Sletta (OH) and junior Riley Grussing (setter), with defensive specialist senior Ashlie Skonard also entering.
Other team members are junior Jamie Reyes (DS), senior Tia Erickson (OH), senior Miranda Roelofs (OH) and sophomore Sarah Smith (MH).
“The team is coming together well,” Traci Grussing told me. “We have a good starting group but also people on the bench pushing for playing time. We looked good at our two scrimmages. Serve-receive and offense are strong. Riley is setting well and Leah and Dani have emerged as our leading hitters. Our defense and serving are improved over last year.”
She went on to say that the challenge is to stay mentally strong and confident against strong opponents.
“We play great when we are confident but we lose our confidence too easily,” she commented. “My goal for the opener is that we play Fergus close and stay mentally in it the entire match. If we do that we could give them a true test.”
Starting times are listed at 5:45 p.m. for JV1 and JV2 with the varsity scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
The Cardinals will debut Friday night at Sauk Rapids, a team that finished 1-8.
Don’t be fooled. Coach Bill Magnuson, a Windom native who coached here under Deryl Ramey in the ‘90s, has 20 seniors to lead the Storm into battle. You get the feeling the Storm looks at 2013 as their year to right the ship.
Willmar will offset its youth (only 12 seniors) with speed, athleticism and experience on defense.
It’s a sleepless night before the opener for many coaches. The anticipation could keep a fellow up all night drinking coffee, though I don’t know if Jon Konold even likes the bean.
“Absolutely, this is an exciting time,” said the head coach. “You wonder how the new squad is going to come together and the identity they will have. Unlike the last two years, we’ll have a new quarterback and that’s a big piece of the offense and leadership.”
It’s a transition year. Willmar graduated almost two-dozen 12th-graders from last year’s 4-5 squad.
Augustine Hahn, the junior, gets the call at quarterback. Sophomore Zach Radermacher, whom the coaches also like, backs up.
Here’s the rest of the opening night lineup, starting with defense: Leon Richards and Joel Engel at tackle; Cole Haugen and Joey Lee at end; Buzzy Tollefson and Jacob Croonquist at inside backers and Colten Carlson and Travis Deegan outside; Chris Cunningham and Eli Gunderson at the corners and Tyler Stegeman at strong safety.
On offense: Carter Shuldes at center, Alex Khalil at right guard, Leon Richards at left guard, Engel at right tackle and Matt Hennes at left tackle. Starting receivers, who will rotate with four others, are Cunningham, Austin Grove, Nick Coquyt and Tyler Pendill. Junior Michael Heitzman is the running back a second straight year.
There’s three two-way starters there but Konold emphasizes each will get ample breaks, especially in the hot weather, with rotating substitutions.
Willmar competed at a high level on Saturday at the Litchfield scrimmage with Marshall and Hutchinson. The Cards displayed a big-play capability at running back and wide receiver and excellent pursuit on defense. The players were aggressive and seemingly comfortable in their assigned roles, added Konold.
Willmar’s up-tempo style will give defenses trouble. Where this team might have trouble is holding its own for 48 minutes against teams that are bigger and older and just as athletic.
Heat is on
The Cardinals moved their afternoon practice on Tuesday to 6:30 p.m. The Monday practice, sans pads, had two 45 minutes chapters with an indoor break between. Wednesday the Frosh and JV teams went at 6:30 a.m. while the varsity went under the lights starting at 8:45 p.m. for two hours.
The freshmen open at 5 p.m. today at Sauk Rapids; the JV plays at 4 p.m. today at Hodapp with the college game to follow, no sooner than 7 p.m.
Warriors open tonight
It took two busses to get some 75 Warriors and staff to the football scrimmage at Crown College on Friday. Head coach Rob Baumgarn said his team held up well against the four-year college outside St. Bonifacius.
The Warriors had a four-way QB battle in preseason. Baumgarn plans to split the calls between Trevor Nystrom and Wes Oswald, both sophomores. They will rotate every three series. Nystrom will start tonight against Itasca College (scheduled kickoff 7 p.m.); he was a starter on the 2011 team but was out of school last fall.
Baumgarn likes the speed at wide receiver. Matt Koerner showed he’s coming on as a blocking fullback to replace graduated Nathanial Swoyer. Adihia Bell showed well at safety coming up to stop the run. Place kicker Modesto Cruz showed enough leg to boot 40-yard plus field goals, though the goal irons were not yet up at the college’s new KleinBank Stadium.
Itasca, 2-6 in 2012, lists four starters returning under first-year head coach Tom Inforzato, former assistant at Mesabi Range.
Will it Play Again?
The doors are shut for now at Play It Again Sports, hidden between the Kandi Mall and First Street. Business has not been good, owner Jeff Melby tells me.
In a bid to keep the store going, Jeff and his wife Kina are opening the doors again from 5-8 p.m. Friday evening serving food and beverage. He hopes to save the business by generating community support and moving inventory in the next two to three weeks or the doors will likely close for good.
Play It Again has been part of Willmar for 22 years. The Melbys bought the store from Doug Quick four years ago. He said the move from First Street, where they were adjacent to McDonald’s; to a parking lot location between New to You and Herbergers definitely hurt traffic.
“Some people thought Play It Again had closed,” he said.
The franchised business sells both new and used sporting goods and exercise equipment.
On the fly
n Josh Dale (WHS ’98) is the new activities director at Worthington High School, where he started his career as an educator. He moves from Alexandria, where he taught for seven years and coached in both the Cardinals’ basketball and baseball programs. Josh played two years of basketball at Ridgewater College and then got his four-year degree at St. Cloud State. He has a master’s degree and administrative degree from St. Mary’s University, Winona. Josh and Chris Hentges were co-MVPs on Mike Hanson’s ’97-98 team.
n The MCAC website lists four ex-Ridgewater Warriors on college rosters this fall: Dominique Mitchell at Iowa State, Lawrence White at Texas State, Emmanual Williams at Jamestown College and Tyrell Martin at Hamline. Also, Davontay Stevens and Andrico Rolle are at Southwest Minnesota State.