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Willmar notebook: Gymnasts on the rise

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Willmar junior Stephanie Thompson, from left, and sophomores Alexis Miley and Kendall Hein finished second, third and first in all-around, respectively, on Tuesday at Benson where the Cardinals’ gymnastics team posted its highest team score (143.925) in 10 years.

Three years ago, the Cardinal gymnastics team reached the 130s just once, a 132 score in a loss to Alexandria in a 2-7 season.

Two days ago, at Benson, the Cards scored a 143.925, the highest evaluation since the 2003-04 season. The years of experience are providing dividends whether it is from youngsters coming through the school program or off the Willmar Wings club team.

An early payoff is qualification for the Class A True Team State Meet that will be held at Melrose on Jan. 25.

Willmar’s three highest scores will rank them near the middle of a 10-team field topped by Austin (147.15) and Melrose (147.1).

At True Team, the score of all five gymnasts in each event will count toward the team score, compared to the best four of five the rest of the year.

Coach Jodi Mottinger said the invitation is “Great news. The girls are very excited.”

Packing a punch

Diamond Tello, 13, a boxing national junior finalist last year, avenged her loss to the 2013 National Junior Champion Shannon Perez on Saturday. The match was at Wadena on Saturday in the 125-pound weight class.

The three judges awarded Tello a narrow but unanimous decision thanks to her combinations and hard punches that had Perez, also 13 and from Grafton, N.D., retreating. Perez had won their meeting at the Ringside Nationals at Independence, Mo..

Also at Wadena, in her ring debut Amber Castellano, 18, tired in the third round and lost a competitive bout to Kira Ollila of Fargo, N.D., in the 155-pound class. Both Willmar fighters are trained by Alex Tello, Diamond’s father and a certified USA boxing coach as well as Kirk Davis of the local club and St. Cloud club coach Scott Kelm.

Gym rats

Steve Grove, the boys basketball coach, has another exciting group this winter.

What stands out for this bunch is their athleticism and dedication.

All fall, Joel Carter, Brady Damhof, Kyler Johnson and Dylan Schueler were in the gym working on their game before classes. Now it’s hard to get them to leave the floor at the end of a practice.

And three-sport athletes like Adam Nibaur, Tyler Stegeman and Austin Grove just keep getting better. Nibaur, now a 6-foot-6 senior, has emerged both in football and hoops.

“Basketball’s physical play no longer bothers him because of his outstanding fall season as a receiver (34 catches for 489 yards),” Steve Grove said.

“Adam also is a great athlete,” the coach said. “He’s developed the post moves but he also has the ability to step out behind the three-point line which pulls out his defender creating opportunities for other players to drive the lane.”

Nibaur is a 50 percent shooter on the bonus shots.

Willmar (5-1, 9-4) is scheduled to host Alexandria (3-4, 4-7) this evening.

Lakeville connection

After graduating from Lakeville South High School in 2011, Zane Peterson enrolled at UW-River Falls. He didn’t like it and went back to the family farm in the rocky, low hills between Lakeville and Northfield.

That’s when Paul Donner pointed him toward Ridgewater College and its ag programs and where he could also wrestle for the Warriors and coach Tom Beyer.

Donner, originally from Clarkfield, was Beyer’s assistant at Willmar High School from 1987-1997, before moving his family to Lakeville. He was at Lakeville South as an administrator close to the wrestling program which meant he worked with Zane and his younger brother Tommy.

Donner is now at Lakeville North as an assistant principal and head wrestling coach. His Panthers are so far 10-5.

Zane came to Willmar in the fall of 2012 enrolling in farm operations and wrestling for Beyer, who retired after coaching here since 1981 at the high school and then the college.

On Saturday, at the Warriors open tournament, Zane won the heavyweight division while Tommy, a North Dakota State Bison, won the 197 class.

The Peterson brothers, to date, are the only Cougar wrestlers to win a state title. Zane was the first in 2011 (at 220 pounds) and Tommy is Lakeville South’s first two-time champion placing first in 2012 and ’13 at AAA State.

3-night stand

There’s a boys hockey feast at the Cardinal Arena starting this evening with River Lakes (5-9) and then the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears (9-3-1) on Friday evening followed by the Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl Blue Devils (10-5-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday. Those two Northern teams are here for the first time and also play at Hutchinson on opposite days.

The Blue Devils are coached by former Cardinal head coach Reed Larson, a native of Grand Rapids. Willmar beat both these teams a year ago this week on the Iron Range but both programs are much improved this season.

The Cardinal girls face River Lakes at Paynesville tonight. The Stars (4-2, 10-6) have moved into third place in the CLC after dumping Alexandria 6-1 on Tuesday and are within one win of tying their victory total for all of last season.

Mat showdown

The Willmar wrestling team, now No. 8 in Class AAA, is at Alexandria tonight pitting the conference’s last two unbeaten. Alex is 5-0 in CLC duals and Willmar 3-0. The winner will have a running start on collecting the CLC title outright. Willmar will have four conference matches left after tonight but will be a favorite in each.

Coaches Ed Oehlers and Justin Brown certainly are gunning for not only the title but an undefeated season. That’s only been done once before by a Willmar team (7-0 in 1989-90). Willmar tied for the title in 1997-98 (6-1) and 2010-11 (7-2).

The wrestlers felt they competed well at the Monticello duals against Apple Valley, which is in a class by itself. Behind the No. 1 Eagles, it’s pretty much a tossup in AAA.

On the fly

n Ridgewater College coach Joe Sussenguth is one of six featured clinicians for Saturday’s North Country Region Volleyball Clinic at the College of St. Benedict. Also featured at the clinic in St. Joseph is Gophers’ head coach Hugh McCutcheon and the Blazers head coach Nicole Hess.

n Southwest Minnesota State head coach Jesse Nelson, former Ridgewater wrestler and later head coach, saw his Mustangs (2-0 NSIC, 5-2) nudge Augustana College 15-14 on Tuesday, the first dual meet win over the Vikings in 15 years.

n Ridgewater wrestling coach Tom Gruhlke says first-year college wrestler Matt Meyer (Atwater/ACGC) sets the standard in the wrestling room with his work habits. Meyer went to Brainerd to Central Lakes College for landscape architecture but dropped out after one semester and volunteered with the Brainerd High School wrestling team. He’s now enrolled in the carpentry program here and enjoying it. He’s already got in 30 matches with 19 wins wrestling mostly athletes at four-year schools.

n Ben Henle (Spicer/NLS) went 2-1 with a major at 141 pounds as No. 22 Saint John’s went 1-2 at the National Wrestling Coaches’ Association Division III National Duals on Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. The Johnnies’ losses were to top-five programs.

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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