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Another season on horizon

The Willmar Cardinals boys varsity cross country team leads off a six-mile morning jaunt on a township road from the high school Wednesday morning. From left, Derek Ballandby, Matt Weitzel, Danny Voss, Matt Konieczny, Mowlid Mohammed and Anders Byberg. The boys and girls cross country meets starts Monday at Moorhead. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

The start of classes is 11 days ahead, but let the games begin.

I have no affection for the Vikings -- they always stomped a team I once favored long ago -- and other than Joe Mauer, the Twins hold little interest. These are the teams who matter -- and these athletes pay to play.

The 2009-10 Willmar sports seasons launched this morning with the Cardinals girls tennis team hosting New London-Spicer at 9 a.m., and then playing Hutchinson in the afternoon.

The Cardinals girls soccer team hosts Minnewaska Area at 5 p.m. today at Kennedy Field. The team got to the section final last year for the first time, losing by a goal. Senior Samantha Thompson leads the defense with varsity veterans Baylie Young, Chloe Donohoe and Sara Kallhof deploying at midfield. Eighth-grader Jordan Martens takes over in goal. Owatonna transfer, sophomore Megan Skalla, is a nice addition, states coach Jeff Winter.

On Saturday, the Willmar swimming and diving team stages its invitational with six guest teams scheduled to participate. Diving begins at 10 a.m. and swimming is set for 1 p.m. The boys soccer team heads to Mankato East to meet the Cougars, surely set on avenging its loss to the unheralded Cardinals in last fall's Section 2A semifinals.

The cross country teams, some 60 strong from junior high through varsity, bus to Moorhead on Monday for a 12-team invitational beginning at 10 a.m.

The volleyball team, after warming up with several scrimmages, entertains Minnetonka on Tuesday at home under new coach Terrin DeBoer, a former Central Minnesota Christian School athlete.

The gym now has a full-size scoreboard on the north wall. The new scoreboards were purchased by the Willmar Basketball Association. Activities director Jamie Thompson said there was no money in the school budget to make such a purchase.

High expectations

Tennis coach Erika Kath returns all 10 starters from a year ago.

"I've worked with these girls for three or four years," she said. "I've got high expectations for this year."

The team came to practice Aug. 17 in good form after playing "a lot of tennis over the summer", Kath said.

Katie Switzer will lead off at 1-singles, with Brooklyn Leitch/Heidi Wilson pairing at No. 1 doubles.

"The lineup is almost interchangeable," said Kath, who played high school tennis at New London-Spicer. "We have a lot of players very close in talent."

Another good note: the 17 freshmen are seven more than average and the most in her six years.

It will be hard to top the last two seasons in boys soccer: a school-record 14 wins in 2007 and the first state tourney appearance in 2008.

But coach Richard Courtney has more experienced players back than a year ago, when the team made steady improvement to play its best soccer in October.

Defense will be the touchstone with Josh Wright at stopper or sweeper, and Tim King also returning. Josh Freitas moves up from JV 1 to guard the goal. Abshir Ahmed leads the attack with Ahmed Hussein back for his senior year after schooling last year in Connecticut. Badal Ali can play back-to-front with equal grace and punch in Willmar's usual 4-4-2 deployment.

Both the boys and girls program will run two JV teams; the girls program includes 7th and 8th graders, while the boys include only 9-12.

The Willmar boys cross-country team returns Matt Weitzel, Danny Voss and Mowlid Mohammed in its attempt to reach the state meet a sixth year in a row.

Jayne Cole is back to lead the girls program.

Fans got a look at football's new offense last night at Hodapp Field. It's a no-huddle, shotgun with a single running back, if any. Returning part-time starter Mark Dunham takes the snaps at quarterback. New coach Jon Konold moved the intra-squad scrimmage to evening for the first time. The defense, under Bob Bezdicek, will remain the 3-5. Bemidji provides the opposition Sept. 4. The Lumberjacks spoiled Willmar's visit to the Northland in last year's opener, 25-12.

Three for Hall

The Cardinal Pride newsletter has announced three inductees to its Hall of Fame. They are Fargo native and pioneering Cardinals girls varsity coach Judy Aagesen and three-sport athletes Scott Swansson (WHS '74) and Bob Martin ('81).

They will be featured at a banquet Oct. 2 and introduced at halftime of the Homecoming football game.

On the fly

n Late addition to rosters already published: Alizabeth Haug, freshman, girls soccer; Nicola Weiser, junior exchange student from Germany, girls tennis.

n Cathy Braun (WHS 1998) is in Florida this week to try out for the U.S. Air Force softball team.

n Elyse Dowdell, new coach of the girls soccer JV 2 squad, played both soccer and hockey at UW-Superior after graduating from Willmar in 2004. She recently returned from a stay in Arizona.

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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