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Still together 10 years later: Run for x-country

The Ridgewater Warriors football team had a good day Saturday.

They won an action-packed game at Hodapp Field in which 71 points were scored. On the mild afternoon, the sun squinted through a hazy sky, highlighting the surrounding hardwoods -- a perfect day from morning to night football.

For three players out of the MACCRAY school district, it was an anniversary they weren't aware of until it was brought up by a reporter.

Ten years ago in the middle of October on this same field, the three had wrapped up their first season of tackle football, losing in the Willmar Youth Football Association championship game.

Quarterback Justin Koenen, wide receiver Zach Thissen and center Cody Haas are in their 10th straight season as football teammates.

But the two years of kid football stand out in their memory.

"That was the most fun you ever have in football playing with all your friends," said Koenen on Saturday after the 44-27 win over the Fond du Lac Thunder.

"After that it gets serious," added Haas.

That first year, MACCRAY was the only entry from outside Willmar in the fledgling eight-team league. As sixth graders, the Wolverines were undefeated and league champions.

The trio from the Raymond-Clara City-Maynard district became part of a junior high juggernaut.

"We didn't lose a game in seventh and eighth grade and were undefeated our freshman year until BOLD beat us the last game of the year," recalled Thissen, who sat out that fall with a pre-season knee injury.

They were starters on varsity the next year. As seniors in 2006, the Wolverines went 10-2 reaching the state quarterfinals.

All three enrolled at Ridgewater College -- Haas and Thissen in the two-year Electronics program and Koenen in the transfer college.

Koenen and Thissen had their most productive game in their two seasons on the Willmar campus, teaming up for six completions and two touchdowns.

Super Saturday

It was Super Saturday at the stadium. Seven bowl games were played around the junior-college tilt. The day started at 8 a.m. with MACCRAY playing New London-Spicer Gold.

The youngsters play on a condensed field, which allows plenty of room for parents and siblings along the sideline. Like any football game, there's a lot of cheering and hand wringing.

The league has expanded to 14 teams. Willmar puts out five teams, New London-Spicer three, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Morris two each. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa is new this year.

A volunteer board started the league and still decides on its direction. In a welcome move, Willmar Community Education and Recreation took over administration of the league six years ago.

Like basketball or hockey or gymnastics, youth league football can be seen as a feeder program. But be sure of this, the youngsters aren't thinking about their future in varsity football on Super Saturday.

Run for x-country

Mahad Hassan's victory this week in the Central Lakes Conference championships extended Willmar's run of individual cross-country titles to a sixth year.

Hassan, a senior, has won CLC boys titles the past two falls. Abdi Awale won two straight before graduating in 2007. In the two years before that (2003 and 2004), Kari Higdem placed first each time in the girls race.

On the fly

n Winter practices are already underway or will be soon at the college. First to start was men's basketball on Oct. 6 with 12 players with two additional prospects out with illness. Three others are on the football team. Bob Knutson's Warriors will scrimmage at Central Lakes on Oct. 25 ... Women's basketball got underway Monday; Carrie Ogdahl expects to have about 12 players though several in volleyball ... The wrestling team will start Monday with about 30 expected in the workout room as Tom Beyer starts his third season at the college after 23 seasons coaching the Cardinals.

n After drawing 1,392 in paid attendance for the Rocori game, the Cardinal football team averaged 1,617 for four home dates.

n Three Willmar Cardinals were chosen as the week's Top Performers in the Central Lakes Conference. Chelsey Wierschem was honored in girls soccer, Jayne Cole in girls cross country and Emily Nelsen for volleyball (offense). Wierschem, a senior captain and goaltender, made two point-blank saves inside the six-yard box in a playoff match win on Tuesday.

Cole, a junior, placed fifth at the St. Cloud Tech invite to lead the team to second place. Nelsen, a senior outside hitter, had 49 kills and seven ace serves in matches against St. Cloud Tech and Fergus Falls.