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Willmar notebook: Hockey by the numbers

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton The Willmar Cardinals’ diminished roster includes sister pairs Natalie and Amelia Amon, from left, and Shelby and Riley Schneider. The Schneiders skate every other shift at forward. Amelia is a defensive player while Natalie, an eighth-grader, skates JV.

On a Wednesday visit to the Civic Center:

The Willmar girls hockey team may be only 3-11-1 but you’d never know it from their smiles.

Playing a wonderful game, they are having a good time, which is what high school sports should be about anyways.

It’s not that this is a bad team; they’re just outnumbered.

Each game, head coach JaColby Anderson reminds the girls — whether they need to be or not — that the team is only two lines deep and “We have to battle game in and game out.”

Other teams, quite a few of them, run only two lines with the option of a third line each period. The Cardinals’ third line is the first junior varsity line and is only available one period.

The rule is only four periods in a day. Anderson would like to see that go to five to allow more flexibility but he isn’t holding his breath.

Willmar is down to nine skaters on its varsity roster, plus goalie Johnika Wodash and JV goalie Peyton Setrum. The JV team has 10 skaters, but Kaylee Chester and Natasha Turrubiates are sidelined with concussions, Chester by an auto accident.

Fourth-year varsity defenseman Allison Freese has been off skates since Nov. 26 with a concussion. It’s her third and she hasn’t been able to pass the clearing test and doesn’t expect to come back until next season.

Anderson, who played his hockey growing up in Brookings, S.D., salutes former Cardinal athlete Matt Dawson for “rejuvenating the youth” program and easing the numbers back up.

Many varsity programs have solved the numbers issue by co-opting. Take Section 8AA: Brainerd is merged with Little Falls and Pillager; Sartell and Sauk Rapids are an item. The Icebreakers are a trifecta of St. Cloud’s three high schools. Six high schools mix in the River Lakes waters; four high schools make up the Buffalo Bison while North Wright County counts Annandale, STMA and Monticello. Only Moorhead, Bemidji and Roseau stand alone.

New London-Spicer would be a natural co-op for Willmar but that horse left the barn some time ago.

The Schneider sisters ignite much of the Cardinals’ scoring. Ninth-grader Riley is the right wing and 11th-grader Shelby is on the left edge. Riley joined the high school program in seventh grade and this year leads the team in assists; Shelby has excellent speed and is the top goal-scorer.  They compete so hard; they expect a lot of themselves and their teammates, sums up Anderson.

Amelia Amon, a junior captain, is first-line defender who Anderson says plays “like she’s 6 feet tall. She’s our Ryan Suter since she’s on the ice a ton, penalty kill, power plays the entire two minutes.”

Younger sister Natalie is a JV forward and has dressed at the varsity level. Her true position is yet undetermined as she is still early in her hockey development. She even eagerly dressed as a back-up goalie with Peyton Setrum sidelined with a hip injury during the last game of the New Hope tournament.

All four girls are three-sport student/athletes.

This evening, the Cardinals entertain Sartell/SR and on Saturday are at the Cardinal Arena vs. Cambridge-Isanti/Mora/Pine City.

Football changes

High school football may have a new look in 2015. District scheduling is an “action item” for the MSHSL Board of Directors at their Jan. 23 meeting.

District or group scheduling would place schools by size, geography and “like schools,” i.e. strength of program. Almost surely, a district would include at least two classes, though nine-man will alone form its own districts.

A district might be a big as 16 schools, even 24. The recommendation is that districts divide into sub-districts to form conferences. Importantly, the schools “will be able to develop a plan that works best for their district.”

Dr. Steve Beals of Montevideo, who was appointed by the Governor to the Board last year, explained that lot of thought has already gone into the proposal but the League is looking for feedback.

The idea is not for the League to dictate but rather to trying to resolve the ongoing problem of football scheduling, which is not confined to the 6A monoliths in the Twin Cities suburbs.

“This is not out to destroy conferences; it’s a plan to create a large enough grouping to allow more flexibility in scheduling,” Beals said.

Admittedly, some schools because of their size and location will always be on the periphery, namely Moorhead, Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Marshall. In any case, Kevin Merkle, MSHSL associate director, said that “Section Scheduling” never caught fire but “group or district” scheduling shows promise of being a “viable option.”

Something else must be settled soon: with TCF Stadium is only available for Prep Bowl No. 13-14, 2015, a one-time fix must be found for an early finish to the football season.

To maintain, the full-round of section and state playoffs, either practice must start a week earlier (Aug. 3) or eliminate the scrimmage weekend and instead play the season opener after two weeks of practice. Also, under consideration — reduce the number of section qualifying teams from eight or six currently to four.

A final decision could be tabled until the March meeting.

On the fly

n The Bremer Bank Boys Basketball Classic fizzled this past holiday break; three of the four games were not competitive and even the championship turned lopsided in the game’s last “quarter.” It’s no time to stand pat with the four-team formula. It’s become difficult to get interesting first-round match-ups. Nothing is finalized, but Willmar athletic director Ryan Blahosky stated an eight-team jamboree is under consideration. This could work. Breakdown Sports’ Granite City Classic was a 14-team menu with seven games played back-to-back over two days at Apollo and then Halenbeck Hall. Second-day matchups were also predetermined. That allows room to come up with competitive, or at least interesting, pairings. Willmar vs. NLS could still be the finale each year.

n Freshman guard Greta Walsh (Litchfield) made 6 of 9 shots scoring 16 points and senior center Alexandra Lippert (Willmar) contributed 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks as the Concordia Cobbers (4-2,  7-3) beat St. Olaf (4-2, 6-3) at Northfield 83-57. The Cobs had only six turnovers.

n Kevin Steinhaus (Pennock/KMS) placed fourth at 184 pounds at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga. The Gophers placed third behind Penn State and Oklahoma State.

n The Kandiyohi Historical Society/Stinger Baseball HOF inaugural 12-person list of candidates could easily be three times as long, but it does provide a chance to reminisce. I wasn’t around here when Art Grangaard and Howie Schultz helped Willmar’s semi-pro team win the Class AA state title in 1952, one year after the Gophers’ Dick Siebert managed the Litchfield Optimists to the ’51 title. Schultz was a former Brooklyn Dodgers’ first baseman (407 games 1943-48) who was too tall at 6-foot-6 for the military and was replaced at first in ’47 by  Jackie Robinson. Howie was a St. Paul native who also played two years for the Minneapolis Lakers and ended up with a pension from both the NBA and major league baseball.

Grangaard arrived here in 1946 and jacked up the Rails with area recruits Lefty Ranweiler, Howie Peterson and Gene Olson, plus Schultz and pitching ace Gene Kelly, who would stick around to become city rec director before taking a similar position in Bloomington.

n For the record: I believe I misstated former Cardinal three-sport standout Doug Runke’s graduation year. He’s a 2001 alumni.

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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