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Willmar notebook: Warriors serve for chance at 3-peat

This is the time of season Joe Sussenguth and his players relish. Everything is on the line. The NJCAA Region 13A Region Tournament is sudden death. Lose and pack up. Win two matches and it's on to Rochester, Minn., for the Division III tournament on Nov. 9-10.

The college team here has won the past two national titles. Sussenguth also won his first year at the helm, in 2006. The three other seasons also ended at the national event with trophies, twice D-III runners-up and the other a third-place finish.

Sussenguth has a keen eye for finding talent that will thrive at the juco level. He's able to take a dozen young women often out of 12 different high school programs and blend them into a unit. (This fall's count is 14 young women from 12 different schools with RCW and ACGC providing two each).

His success at the college here is remarkable. Six region titles in six years and six top three finishes at nationals.

By going 12-0 at in the Southern Division the Warriors earned the home floor at Willmar for region. At 6 p.m. Friday at the college, the Warriors (21-7) will play No. 4 seed the Cavaliers of Western Wisconsin Technical College (16-7) of La Crosse. At 8 p.m., No. 2 MSCTC-Fergus Falls (12-13) meets No. 3 Rochester CTC (17-8). The Spartans got the two seed with a second-place finish behind Ridge in the MCAC-South.

Ridgewater has been ranked No. 1 all fall in the NJCAA D-III poll; Rochester is No. 9 in the most recent rankings. The championship match is scheduled for noon on Saturday.

Leuze soccer honor

Willmar senior Joe Leuze received Class A All-State Honorable Mention on Sunday. The award was announced at the state banquet at the River Centre in St. Paul attended by the 16 state qualifying teams, other players and coaches.

Cardinals boys soccer coach Jeff Winter attended with his three-year starter.

"I nominated Joe because he has been a three year standout on the varsity," Winter explained in an email. "During his junior year, Joe quickly emerged as a positive leader on and off the field. His teammates respect him and want to work with him. His play elevated him to one of the top player in the conference."

Winter continued: "Joe has been one of the best captains I have had in my career coaching both boys and girls teams, and I've had some good ones. With poise, he co-led the team through many ups and downs. He kept a positive attitude among the guys when we had a three-game skid in the middle of the season and was a big factor in a strong finish that included beating No. 1 rated St. Cloud Apollo."

Winter added that Leuze would prefer the accolades be directed at his teammates, not to himself.

Comm. Christian Run

Catching up with the running crowd, the Community Christian School 5k jaunt at Willmar on Oct. 13 pulled 162 entrants. Top two overall were local runners Mustafa Yusuf (17:43) and Mick Quinn (18:46), the insurance agency owner who had run a fine time in the Twin Cities Marathon six days earlier.

Leading the 92 females in the race were Kristen Woelfel of Belgrade (22:43) and Jen Rauk of Northfield (23:03).

Yusuf, 24, was a top-five runner on back-to-back Willmar's Class AA champion cross-country teams in the middle of the last decade.

Ridge men's hoops

Coach Bob Knutson's 16-man pre-season basketball roster at Ridgewater College includes returnees Zak Pendleton of Redwood Falls (Cedar Mountain High School), Zak Henning of Roseland (CMCS), Jake Rambow of Willmar and Jordan Schwarz of Madison (LQPV).

Jeremy Olson of Willmar is one of seven freshmen listed. Cody Jaeger of Benson is questionable pending the outcome of an injury the sophomore quarterback sustained in the football playoffs.

Where's the ball?

The Cardinal defenders weren't the only ones Tuesday night having a problem sorting out which Elk River back had the football.

Photographers along the sideline often found themselves merrily clicking away at an Elk decoy. I was fooled as many times as I guessed right. Think how much tougher it would be to spot the ball if the Elks were in their home coal-black uniforms.

That was some offense -- three backs in a straight line behind the quarterback with the ends in tight. The formation never varied.

Willmar last gave up 50 points in a game Oct. 14, 2005, a 55-22 loss at home to Brainerd. Before the Elk invasion, the defense had allowed just 19 points per game average and never more than 22 points. But the Elks executed flawlessly behind a sturdy line.

Willmar assistant coaches Doug Doering, an All-State fullback, and two-way starter Jason Schwab were both starters on the last Cardinal team to beat Elk River, 35-19 in the Section 8 big-school final at Hodapp in 1988. All-State running back Tommy Hagert shredded the Elks for 314 all-purpose yards and 5 TDs in the first half.

The Cards also beat the Elks to go to state the year before, 24-21 on All-Stater Dan Carlson's 30-yard field goal with 2:23 left in the fourth quarter. Willmar lost the next week to No. 1-ranked Richfield 28-25 in the state quarterfinal before 2,846 fans at Hodapp with Twin Cities TV coverage. Card QB Ryan Kray threw for 212 yards and 3 TDs but the bigger Spartans twice came from behind the second half to the thriller.

After two consecutive losses, Elk River coach Terry McLean got a measure of revenge upsetting unbeaten Willmar 31-0 at Hodapp in the section semifinal in 1989. MacLean's grandson Maclean Berglove scored two touchdowns at Hodapp on Tuesday.

Despite the lopsided loss, Willmar head coach Jon Konold and his staff has the program on the roll. Numbers are good 7-12 and the junior varsity and freshman team assembled a combined record of 15-2 this fall.

Konold knew from watching video the Elks would be hard to put the brakes on an attack that Willmar hadn't before confronted.

"We've never seen an offense like that and it's tough (in practice) to simulate the speed," he said Wednesday. "Offensively, I felt we had to play really well but we never got going which they had a lot to do with."

Elk River, always in the big-school class, had a physical edge in numbers and size and comes out of a largely 6A schedule. "I feared," the coach said, "They might be more physical. Our kids played hard but sometimes you meet a team that's a little bit better."

Konold had worked with the seniors all four years after coming here from Mankato West in 2009.

"I'm very proud of our seniors. You couldn't ask for a better group and to me they've been special," said the head coach. "It's tough to see it end."

Regard for a coach

The funeral on Saturday for math teacher/wrestling coach Richard Vos filled the gymnasium in Belgrade. The risers on both sides of the court were filled with many more mourners seated on chairs on the gym floor.

The crowd number was estimated by Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Superintendent Matt Bullard at 900.

The numbers in the gym -- children, teens, and several generations of adults -- would seem to indicate the esteem the community holds for teachers and coaches, particularly Rich Vos, who was 38 when he died in a bike crash early on the morning of Oct. 16 near his home.

On a wall outside the gym, a 20-foot banner is taped. On it, perhaps one hundred students had signed their names in felt-tip often with a handwritten tribute.

Here are two:

"Mr. Vos, I hated Math until you became my Teacher. I'll never forget you." (signed) Austin Meyer.

"You were the best ever. You were such a genuine person .... You were such an amazing coach and everyone absolutely loves you. You will never be forgotten by anyone. Ever!" (signed) MacKenzie Winter.