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Willmar Notebook: Card wrestlers striving for perfection

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Assistant coaches Carl Carlson (WHS 1992) left, and Tony Neumann (WHS 2005) teach the intricacies of a particular takedown move during Tuesday’s practice in the senior high school wrestling room.

A visit to the Wrestling Room: Keep a close watch on the Cardinals wrestling team in February. They are nearing an undefeated Central Lakes Conference record. That has only happened just once — a long, long time ago, in the 1989-90 season.

There were four wrestlers on that Cardinal team that would combine for five state individual titles in the era before the split to three classes: seniors Chad Carlson (2 titles) and the late Troy Haglund, and sophomores Carl Carlson and Andy Reigstad.

Also all-conference that year were Hans Horning (5th at State), Pat Radabaugh, Ryan Snyder and Matt Wilson. The head coach was Tom Beyer, a Morris native still teaching here, whose first team in 1981-82 finished 0-12.

This team (6-0 in the CLC and 13-2 overall) has a dual meet at Sauk Rapids (1-4, 3-10) this evening and the final CLC match next Thursday is a home meet with Fergus Falls (0-4, 2-10). There is free admission to the first 100 Willmar students who do not have passes.

There’s a lot of coaching going on in the room. Co-head coaches Ed Oehlers and Justin Brown each wrestled in high school, and Ed went on to wrestle at Concordia College, where Card assistant coach Tony Neumann was a freshman when Oehlers was a fifth-year senior. Neumann earned All-America honors.

Over in the corner, working with the upper-weights is Nathanial Swoyer, Willmar’s most recent state champion (2011). Carl Carlson, a state champ in ’92, is a dairy farmer but the ex-Golden Gopher is all coach, too. His sophomore son, Colten, chips in during teaching breaks with his own insights.

Tyler Steen, who wrestled for MACCRAY and played NCAA Division I college baseball at North Dakota State (after one year at Ridgewater), was working one-on-one with Jalen Cabrera. Steen and Swoyer are middle school coaches but have moved into the varsity room for the remainder of the varsity season.

Oehlers points out that this is still a young team that could be even stronger next year, though senior starters Zach Leuders (7-2 after returning from shoulder surgery), Austin Miley (25-5) and Leon Richards (20-5) will be missed.

The junior veterans are Juan Resendez (19-11), Travis Deegan (21-3), Vaughn Johnson (23-4), Cabrera (9-10) and Estevan Navarro (22-4). Another junior, Augustine Hahn, was off to a fine start but a recurring foot injury has taken him out of the line-up, as it did last season.

Colten Carlson is 27-2 and another sophomore, Logan Walkow is 21-8. Colten’s little brother, Clay, leads off at 106. The eighth-grader is 17-9. Then there’s Jon Linden, in his first year in the sport. The junior has won five matches filling in for Leuders.

This weekend, the No. 8 Cardinals (AAA) are in for a challenge at Anoka. The Cards open against the No. 7 Tornadoes and if they win would face No. 1 Apple Valley a second time this winter.

Tip-top management

Student-managers are a dedicated lot and often underappreciated.

I like to tell the girls walking the sidelines logging football stats or imputing on a tablet at basketball games that as far as the Tribune sports staff is concerned “You are the most important element of the team.” No stats, no story!

In the Cardinal mat room, Adi Gunderson, Hannah Gallagher and Anna Backes sat with their backs to the wall, computer and scorebooks in hand. They were imputing every takedown, escape, near fall, major, etc., wrestler-by-wrestler.

What else do they do? They wash and dry the wrestlers practice duds and singlets, keep book and video tape. They attend each practice and make each bus trip.

What’s in it for them? “We get a letter,” one of trio chirped.

And how is that that they came to manage? “We were with the middle school team and the coaches asked us if we’d be with varsity this year.”

Anna’s father, Cory is a former Card wrestler, active in youth wrestling and Adi’s older brother Eli, is a wrestler and also is in football and track. Hannah we knew earlier as a baseball fan because the Gallagher family hosts Stinger players.

Will you put our picture in the paper? They asked. Well, it’s not up to me but I’ll try. I know readers do look at the photos. “That’s right,” beamed Hannah, smart phone in hand. “I don’t read the stories. I just look at the pictures.”

Johnson commits

Kyler Johnson, the Cards’ 6-foot-4 senior guard, has committed to Waldorf College in Forest City Iowa.

He also visited Morningside and Briar Cliff. There was also interest shown by Valley City (N.D.) and a California college.

The No. 25 Warriors (5-0 in the Midlands Conference, 11-5 overall) are a NAIA Division II program that allows partial scholarships. Kyler expects to sign the letter of intent soon.

On the fly

n Chris Cunningham says he will attend Concordia and play football for Terry Horan. The Cardinals wide receiver would be reunited with his quarterback for two years in high school, Alex Grove, who is a Cobber freshman this year. Buzzy Tollefson is headed to Annapolis this weekend to tour the Naval Academy. He’s been nominated and applied. He hopes to get accepted and would play hockey.

n The Willmar Curling Club and fairgrounds board would cooperate to build a long, horizontal building on the northwest midway with windows looking out at Upper Foot Lake. The building would replace the quaint 4H sheds and their popular screened café. The building would have modern food service and space for four curling sheets and refrigeration equipment. The cost is put at $1.8 million, which will have to be raised through fundraising.

n In a visit with A.D. Ryan Blahosky and football coach Jon Konold, it is unclear what happens next, now that the Minnesota State High School League board has voted to support district scheduling for football. For Willmar, its pod of 16 to 24 teams could look completely different depending on if the district geography ties them most closely to the southwest or the northwest. In either event, they believe it marks the end of the CLC as a football conference.

n Overheard in the Club Bethesda locker room: Kenneth Newberg, 70, will run Saturday’s Frozen 5k — if he doesn’t have to work. He operates a packaging machine at the Turkey Store, working 40 hours a week plus overtime. Encouraged by his doctor, he joined the fitness club in 2012 and started running last year. “Best decision I ever made,” he said of going active to halt the advance of high cholesterol. “[Director] Melissa Wentzel and Josh Dahlke got me going.” Josh, a former Cardinal and Concordia athlete, was an exercise leader three years at Club B before taking a sales position this fall with Second Wind Exercise in the Twin Cities.

n Likely, all seven Willmar High School boys basketball seniors have a future in college basketball, if they chose: Tyler Stegeman and Dylan Schueler are both interested in Ridgewater College. The Cobbers like Joel Carter and Adam Nibaur’s explosive senior season has made him a magnet for college recruiters in both football and basketball with the baseball season upcoming. Brady Damhof has made a remarkable comeback in three sports after a hunting accident as a sophomore. Josh Holtz is a 6-4 center in the rotation whose court time has been limited but he too could find a spot, including the college here.

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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