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Willmar Notebook: Edina had tough time with Cards

Tribune file photo The eight-player 1968 Region 5 All-Tournament team was honored at Williams Arena following Edina's 66-54 win over Willmar. From left, Mark Roth, Willmar; Ron Keuseman and Dave Johnson, Minneapolis Patrick Henry; Ken Hamm, St. Cloud Tech; Gary Syverson, Willmar; Bob Zender and Mark Thoele, Edina; and Duane Proell, St. Cloud Tech. Edina would go on to win its third consecutive state and become Region V's 11th state champion in 17 years.

Beginning in 1966, the Edina Hornets put together consecutive seasons of 26-0, 27-0 and 26-1.

There was a 69-game win streak in there, still the state record.

Willmar took its shot at the Edina dynasty on March 16, 1968, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

It was the Region V final. The Cardinals (19-3) had decked Minneapolis City Conference heavyweight Patrick Henry in the semifinals 56-53.

The Hornets (22-1) had suffered their only loss in three seasons to Richfield, 81-75, in February, ending the streak one short of 70.

The Cardinals came out gunning and took a 16-13 lead after one quarter thanks to the snipping of Gary Syverson from the corner for eight points. It was 32-30, Edina, at intermission.

Willmar led by as much as seven in the second half and trailed by only four with 3 minutes to play. But suddenly after shooting 50 percent for the first 29 minutes, the shots stopped falling and the Hornets pulled away.

Edina's Bob Zender, a 6-foot-7 senior, and 6-6 Bill Fiedler, each finished with 17 points. Zender, now deceased, would go on to play at Kansas State after playing on Edina teams that were a combined 79-1.

It's been mentioned that Zender and the Hornets tossed the final shovelfuls that would bury the one-class-fits-all tournament. The small school/big school split was implemented three years later.

Willmar's tallest defender, 6-5 All-West Central Conference center Dave Lehrke, sat most of the third in foul trouble and drew his fifth early in the fourth. The Cardinals outshot the Hornets from the floor (24 to 22 field goals). The Edina boys sank 22-of-27 from the free throw line for the margin of victory.

Syverson was the game's high scorer with 19 points followed by Mark Roth with 14. Both made the eight-man All-Tournament Team. Lehrke, who went on to coach basketball at Fergus Falls while working for Ottertail Power, finished with 5 points and 3 rebounds. Mark Larson, Ron Snyder, Doug Swenson and Dan Lundahl also scored as head coach Russ Adamson went only two-deep into the bench.

Willmar would get another shot at the Hornets in 1983 in the Class AA quarterfinals. This time Willmar had the height advantage with 7-footer Paul VanDenEinde and would win the game 51-47.

That Friday night 16,730 fans showed up at the St. Paul Civic Center. It was just like old times.

VanDenEinde and Coon Rapids' 6-10 Tom Copa, named Mr. Basketball, were the centerpieces. VanDenEinde was headed to play for Minnesota and Copa for Marquette.

As former Tribune sports editor Bruce Strand, now sports editor at the Elk River Star and frequent Minnesota Basketball News contributor, reports in the current issue: "The semifinal remains the largest crowd in the last 40 years since attendance dropped from the 18,000-plus norm due to multiple classes and competition from the NCAA tournaments."

Woodbury, somewhat overlooked though undefeated, dropped Coon Rapids 56-50 in OT for the championship.

Swansson has Royals back at state tourney

Scott Swansson was at that game. He would join the Woodbury coaching staff the next year.

The 1974 Willmar grad hasn't missed a state tournament since he was a child attending games with his father, Al Swansson, a city rec director and Willmar Community College basketball coach from 1962-74.

Swansson joined coach Del Schiffler's staff in the winter of 1983 and has coached Royals basketball ever since. As head coach, he has taken the Royals to state in 2006, '07 and this year. He coached Schiffler's grandson, Bo, a couple of years back.

Scott, who played on the Cardinals' 1974 state entry, takes an active role in each state tourney, whether the Royals are there or not. He's been running a scoreboard clock at courtside for 27 seasons and has no plans to quit, even with the Royals a qualifier this year.

His unseeded Royals (24-5) drew No. 1 Hopkins (28-1) today in a 10 a.m. quarterfinal at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Youth wrestling

The Willmar Youth Wrestling Team qualified for the Northland Youth Wrestling Association State Tournament held in Rochester March 31-April 1. Willmar qualified its first-ever NYWA team in 2010.

Team Members are Sully Anez, Conlan Carlson, Kale Bockleman, Jack Roehl, Mattix Swanson, Zach Gadient, Caden Carlson, Jonas Anez, Harley Anez, Grant Deegan, Kaden Streed, Israel Navarro, Clay Carlson, Alex Backes, Adam Bengston, Mason Swanson, Ethan Roux, Cael Carlson, Mathew Bengston, and Kevin Perez.

The coaches are Brock Streff, Carl Carlson, Chad Carlson, and Cory Backes.

On the fly

n The coaching vacancies for head volleyball and girls basketball are posted but will likely go unfilled until its clear what teaching position will open up in the district.

n The Cardinals track and field team is at an indoor track invitational on Saturday at St. Cloud State University. Boys golf is next to open on April 10 at Pebble Creek in Becker.

n Willmar grad Kelsey Fehl's Minnesota State Moorhead Dragons are picked for 12th place in the NSIC fastpitch softball race. The team lost five seniors and is 4-11 in the preseason.

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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