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Willmar notebook: Spring sports arrive on time

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton At last, outdoor and sunshine: Willmar assistant baseball coach Tom DeBoer issues addresses the varsity during fielding drills on Tuesday on the playing field behind the stadium at Kennedy Elementary. The Cardinals open the season against their Central Lakes Conference foe Alexandria 5 p.m. today at Baker Field.

Not bad — tennis, ballgames and soon golf — 10 days into April. A year ago, it was the last of the month before there was sustained traction for outdoor activities.

The Cardinals track invite, rained out two years running, is a go today starting at 4 p.m. Guests are St. Cloud Apollo, Willmar Community Christian School, Central Minnesota Christian, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Marshall, New London-Spicer, Redwood Valley, Rocori and Sartell.

This is both a varsity and junior varsity meet with unlimited entries.

Willmar had its second time trial on Tuesday hosting Brainerd and St. Cloud Tech.

Off to a fast start is senior sprinter Chris Cunningham. At the Central Lakes Conference Indoors he was second in two of the dashes and third in the 400 and won the long jump (19-11). Both Josh Holtz and Nick Coquyt placed top six in the 400. Distance runner Tom Seifert looked good in the time trial Saturday with Anoka.

NLS has a top sprinter in Adam Essler. The Cats’ Shane Zylstra will compete but not in high jump at this time while he heals completely from an injury.

Also, watch for Central Minnesota Christian sprinter Danielle Wubben, who won the 100 dash at Olivia on Tuesday (13.02) and the long jump (16-02).

Girls golf

Coach Jodi Mottinger has just a single senior with the return of Megan Iiams and only one junior with a full-time varsity background in Alex Kennedy. They will serve as captains.

Also back are letterwinners Bergen Vollan, a sophomore, and freshman Grace Sawyer.

“Their swings are looking good,” Mottinger said. “There will be a couple of varsity spots up for grabs when our season starts Monday at St. Cloud Wapicada.”

Returning off the junior varsity are sophomores Jordan Sankey, Morgan Glup, Julia Lundquist, Martha Roberts and freshman Emily Skalla. JV competitors must show they are ready to make the jump from 9-hole JV meets to 18-hole meets on the CLC varsity circuit.

Newcomers are junior Alex Freiberg, and seventh graders Amanda Mathiasen and Lindsey Grabow.

Ellwood holes out

We failed to note at the time, but long-time boys golf coach Dave Ellwood resigned at the end of last season. He’s helmed the Willmar varsity program for 19 seasons.

Dave, a fourth grade teacher (Roosevelt), is eligible to retire at the end of the present school year.

“My health has been on the decline,” he said in an email, “so I decided [last spring] was a good time to give up the golf position.”

About 15 years ago he was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disorder named Kennedy’s Disease that is described as “incurable and non-treatable.”

“It’s … become more difficult to walk and write the last few years. I also felt that the team should be very strong this year and this would be a good time for the transition. My original goal was to try to make it through this year and get to the magic number 20, but after last year I just didn’t feel I could do it. I have no immediate plans for the future other than to do some traveling while I am still able and try to golf some more.”

The view from here is that Dave’s kindness and helpfulness were a given. Even when he was scolding someone (which was not often), so sunny is his disposition it was like beating a misbehaving pup with a feather duster.

Ellwood first coached the JV squads under Peter Aus. When Aus moved on to Bethel College, Ellwood became head coach in 1996. His first team won the Central Lakes Conference title (by 8 points over SC Tech). Evan Carruthers, Matt Pommier, Aaron Roth, Dave Peterson and Eric Burg each earned all-conference scoring honors. Two years later Roth finished third in state individual.

Three times his teams finished section runner-up, but in 2003 the Cardinals won the Section 2AA team championship on a tiebreaker with Litchfield. Chase Thonvold’s final-round 69 on his home course led the Cardinals, whose only other section title came in 1974 when Merv Ellwood, Dave’s father, was the head coach.

Mara takes over

Like Ellwood. Bryan Mara ascends from the JV role to head coach. Mara had JVI the past two years and JVII the year before that after moving here from a teaching position at Paynesville.

Mara teaches music at both the senior and middle schools, emphasizing band lessons and band class, plus he manages the pep band.

The native of Rockford, Ill., is a graduate of St. Norbert College in Green Bay, where he majored in music and also played Green Knights football. He and wife Traci have two children.

The Central Lakes’ 2013 runners-up return All-CLC Top 16 scorers freshman Levi Hauser and senior Tony Kallevig, a three-time honoree. Also returning with a varsity letter are Zachary Berget, Jacob Croonquist, Brady Damhof, Hunter Mottinger and Riley Grabow.

“I love the game, the competition and teaching, and am looking forward to a great season,” Mara said.

Cayler’s crew

In year three, softball coach Shannon Cayler returns six starters from last spring’s abbreviated (by weather) schedule when the Cards went 6-9 in the CLC and 0-4 non-conference and playoffs.

Junior third baseman Allie Roehl, a fine fielder, lashed 24 hits (.387 BA) with 15 runs and nine stolen bases.

Senior Sarah Stadem, a solid defender at first with a long reach, batted .344 with four extra base hits and seven RBI.

Besides those two, shortstop Jordan Martins and second-sacker McKenzie Hastad are back. Leah Ruter toes the pitching slab for a third straight season. Cayler anticipates a two-pitcher rotation with freshman southpaw Lexi Kopacek deemed ready for the varsity grind.

Up from JV, Amelia Amon and Hannah Schirm will share catching/right-field duties to start.

The outfield returns starters Megan Rudnick and Jamie Reyes. The reserves “are very flexible” and will be plugged in, as needed.

Academically, the team is top drawer with a 3.9 GPA measuring the top 10 scholars. The team is scheduled to open today at Alexandria.

Diamond boys

The Cardinals baseball team should make a leap forward after just two wins in 2013. Eight full- or part-time starters return for today’s season/home opener vs. Alexandria.

Top returning players include All-CLC and All-2AAA choice Tony McCleary (.333 BA, 15 hits), pitcher Cole Christensen (17 innings, 1 win, strikeout leader), RBI leader Cole Hagen, top fielder Tyler Stegeman, Brett Swanson (.333 BA, 10 hits) and 6-foot-7 pitcher Adam Nibaur, who averaged a strikeout per inning.

Coach Mark Stier, in his 11th season, said “We are happy to have four or five guys who can start on the mound. Nibaur’s height will challenge opposing hitters. Christensen has a strong arm and will rotate between the mound and shortstop. Stegeman will also have the chance to display his athleticism both on the mound and in center.

“McCleary and Swanson will bring experience in the outfield along with Hagen who will also play some third base. Our senior captain is catcher Evan VanDenEinde, who is recovering from a broken arm but is expected back midseason. Zach Hormann and Noah Vreeman also catch. Middle infield will be solid with Austin Smith and Bryce Broman. Josh Tinklenberg will give us some extra pop at the plate while playing first base.

“Brandon Wedel has shown a strong spring arm and bat and will help on the mound and in the outfield. Also in the mix of things will be Isaac Kobienia and Zach Radermacher.”

The coaches are working with 55 prospects 9-12. With no fields ready until this week, many have practiced at the Mike Kingery hitting facility in Kandiyohi.

Cardinal Pride

Cardinal Pride’s annual Red & White meeting is 6 p.m. Monday in the upstairs community room at the library.

This is an organization that benefits all sports at the high school.

HOF nominations for 2014 are due May 1. A form can be found on the school district’s website.

On the fly

n Both Cayler and Stier are Minnesota-Morris grads where they played the sport they now coach. Stier’s staff includes ex-college players Tom DeBoer and JaColby Anderson (both Augustana) and Tyler Steen (Ridgewater, NDSU). DeBoer was a top pitcher for the Cardinals under Stier in the late ‘90s.

n A throwback game is planned for New London-Spicer vs. Cards again (it was twice rained out in 2013) with wood bats, old jerseys, and a traveling trophy.

n Winter MVP’s as selected by winter sports program: Dance, Kelsey Blackwell; basketball, Courtney Magnuson and Kyler Johnson; gymnastics, Stephanie Thompson; wrestling, Vaughn Johnson; Nordic, Jack Erickson and Erika Aaker; hockey, Johnika Wodash and Hunter Mottinger; swimming/diving, Trent Flegel.

n Honored in the first weeks of spring by the CLC office are track Cardinal thinclads freshman Sophie Schmitz (second 400 dash at CLC indoor) and senior Tom Seifert (first 1600 and 3200 at time trials vs. Anoka at SCSU.

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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