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Courtney steps down; Winter to switch sides

The decision came with some anguish, but Jeff Winter has decided to relinquish the reins of Cardinal girls soccer to become boys head coach.

He replaces Richard Courtney, who resigned after seven seasons, including the school's first state soccer tournament appearance in 2008.

Winter, a middle school guidance counselor, has been head coach the past three years and has been with the program for six years. The Golden Valley native played at Hopkins High School and captained the Minnesota-Duluth soccer team for three seasons.

The decision was hard because of his commitment to girls soccer here, he stated. He works with the players starting in seventh grade to develop their soccer skills and watch them "blossom as individuals." For him, it seems, leaving in midstream is a bit like leaving a painting half done.

He informed the girls and parents of his difficult choice at a meeting on Friday night.

On the family side, he and his wife, Theresa, are raising two boys and a girl. Going this route, means "I could potentially coach two-thirds of my children."

Winter believes strongly that the two programs would each benefit from working together on conditioning and skills.

"We have practiced (on fields) side-by-side for years," he stated. "Why not implement some of the same strategies in each program and work together?"

Regarding the boys program, Winter said: "Richard has done a great deal over the past seven years and his work has put me in a great position with a winning program."

There's an abundant of individual talent, he noted. He knows many of the older players from his early years working with the middle school teams.

"I don't plan on changing the program drastically," he said, "but I'll do some tweaking reflecting my own knowledge and love of the game."

The girls soccer team posted 19 wins over their first seven seasons. Winter's team won five matches the first year, 10 in 2008 when it reached the Section 2A final, and nine matches last fall.

The girls head coaching vacancy is posted.

Growth sport

Richard Courtney came to Willmar in 2003 from St. Cloud Tech, where he had been activities director, with an extensive background in soccer, including as an athlete at Cretin and St. Mary's College in Winona. Willmar soccer was his fourth school as a head coach.

He took over a three-year-old program coming off a 2-16 season and started with a bang, going 0-17 in 2003. But under his guidance, the program grew in numbers to where there are adequate numbers for two JV squads, plus a separate program for middle school boys.

Programs aren't measured in wins and losses alone, but in the past three falls, the Cardinal boys soccer teams went 41-18-3. The sport is the most multi-cultural at the high school. Courtney estimates between 30 to 40 percent of the athletes in a given year are Hispanic or African.

"I really think soccer was a motivator for some boys to stay in school and graduate," said Courtney. "When I started here, the cultures didn't mix well. But the last couple of years, it's just been phenomenal."

Getting Somolians on the varsity team has been another advantage for the program, he added.

Courtney thinks the Cardinals' ascension into the upper division of the Central Lakes and advancing deep into the playoffs each fall can be traced to summer soccer. Participation in grades 9-12 was near 90 percent on the traveling teams.

Courtney said he's resigning now because of the time demands of work and family. His wife, Shari, is now working part-time in real estate and the oldest of their three boys is a freshman. Richard, who teaches communications at the high school, has taught an off-campus English course in St. Cloud for 10 years and is an online instructor for a Florida college.

"A big factor in my decision was that I could not continue putting the same hours into the Willmar Soccer Association in the summer. He has been director of boys coaches with fundraising duties last summer and also coached two teams.

"My plate was so full, something had to come off," he said. "It was a hard decision and I know I'm going to miss it."

On the fly

- Ex-Cardinals in the pool helped Gustavus Adolphus beat Carlton 160-140 Friday in St. Peter. Sophomore Alicia Alvarado won the one-meter dive (187.80) and was second on the three-meter board (186.3). Freshman Sarah Hund won the 50 freestyle (25.34), placed fourth in the 100 freestyle (56.17) and swam on the first place 200 freestyle relay (1:39.55).

- Chelsey Wierschem, a freshman forward for UW-Superior hockey (8-3-2), notched a hat trick in the Yellowjackets' 5-0 home win over College of St. Benedict on Friday.

- Sam Sussenguth, a 6-8 senior post at North Dakota State, netted a career best 16 points in the Bison's 79-67 win over Summit League foe South Dakota State last Friday. His previous career high was 12 points.

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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