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Rand Middleton's Willmar Notebook: Ridgewater volleyball keeps winning

If you haven't caught a Lady Warriors match at the college, there's another chance at 1 p.m. Saturday when they host Rochester, the second-place team in the division. After winning at St. Cloud Tech College on Monday, the Lady Warriors are 9-0 in the MCAC South and 19-2 overall. Last night they were at Anoka-Ramsey in Coon Rapids.

The team played 20 matches in 34 days through the end of September.

"My concern going into (the season) was that we wouldn't have enough practice time to get back in the gym to work on areas we need to improve upon," said head coach Joe Sussenguth. "Fortunately, we've been able to make corrections within matches and the few practices we have had. After a rough outing at Minnesota West, we've turned a corner and we are playing very well. I still think that there is plenty of room to grow with this team, considering we have 10 first-year athletes. We have great depth and we've pushed each other in practice, though I still think we can go harder."

The coach points out that the team has three hitters (Kelsey Stommes, Taylor Elzenga, Hannah Smith) with a hitting percentage at or over .300. Defense and passing are also strong points.

"Our servers have been very effective in creating out-of-system situations for opposing offenses that helps set the table for our defense," remarked the head coach.

Smith has a division-leading 48 serving aces and Molly Hurrle's 10.3 set assists per game are by far the best in the state.

Sussenguth isn't hiding his pleasure with how well this squad has performed.

"I've been surprised at the progress we've made thus far," he said. "Though I knew we had the talent in place, originally, I thought we wouldn't reach the level we're at now until the regional tournament (Oct. 28-29). I hope that we haven't reached our peak yet and as we have the potential to get much, much better."

Next week the 2010 national champions travel to Wilmington, N.C., for the Coastal Classic.

Gustie down

Alec Saunders heard an awful sound in his neck when the Gustavus Adolphus middle linebacker collided with ex-Cardinal teammate Michael Dunham on Saturday.

His head snapped back, much as a whiplash in a car crash.

Dunham, the Concordia Cobbers quarterback, scored on the play. With Saunders rolling in pain in the end zone, both teams took a knee.

With the possibility of a spinal cord injury, EMTs and the Gusties trainer and assistants took great care not to do further damage to the 230-pound junior. Helmet and all, he was strapped and taped onto a backboard and then lifted to a stretcher, a process that took nearly a half-hour.

His parents, Linda and Jon Saunders and his girl friend since high school, Emily Nelsen, also a student at Gustavus, followed the ambulance to hospital in Mankato.

"It was a very scary thing," said Linda this week. "Right away, you think of paralysis."

Alec had the same thought. Lying on the turf, he was encouraged that he had feeling in his limbs. Though told to be absolutely still, he couldn't help but feel his toes and fingers wiggle when he commanded.

"They did everything right," said Linda, referring to the precautions taken at the stadium where 4,000 were on hand for the 80th Homecoming. The crowd included many relatives, including Linda's parents from Buffalo Lake.

Linda said her son never lost consciousness, since this wasn't a head injury. He reached the emergency-room table still in full battle dress with a bloody knee. His uniform emitted that sharp aroma unique to football or hockey gear soaked in sweat.

It appears that a ligament or muscle popped along his spinal cord. X-rays and tests were all clean, Linda said.

"It really scared him," said Linda. "He is always joking and smiling but this really shook him up. In the emergency room, he never made any jokes even when he was able to stand on his own. This was nothing funny. When he was cleared to leave, there were tears."

The Gusties head coach Peter Haugen and the defensive coordinator Corey Shea both came down from St. Peter after the game. So did the campus chaplain. Prayers were said. He went back to his dorm room for the night.

Saunders already had a team-high seven tackles when he was injured just over four minutes into the third quarter. The first-year starter is the Gusties leading tackler.

Big crowd for frosh

A large crowd on a splendid evening turned out for the intra-county rivalry of 4-1 freshmen football teams at Hodapp Field on Monday evening. The Willmar's frosh won the spirited game against New London-Spicer 40-22. Willmar was coming off its first loss, 12-6 at Alexandria, which is a team they beat 48-14 at Hodapp on Sept. 1. This time the 9th-graders were off their game committing 11 penalties (mostly holding, according to head coach Brett Aamot). Alexandria hasn't lost since the early loss at Willmar.

Scoring TDs Monday night for Willmar were HB Jacob Uken on a 53-yard run, FB Vaughn Johnson on a 51-yard run, HB Michael Heitzman on scampers of 12 and 11 yards and QB Augustine Hahn on keepers covering 1 and 12 yards. Hahn threw extra-point conversions to Austin Grove and Eli Gunderson. The team hosts Sartell Thursday in their final home game.

The Willmar sophomores are 2-3 with the losses all tight games.

On the fly

- The Public Works Department has overseen an improvement to 15th Avenue SW that could reduce water problems due to big rains at Baker Field. The street, which runs between Dorothy Olson Memorial Pool and Bill Taunton Stadium, was raised 2 to 2½ feet to reduce the threat of street flooding. Banking was added also to the stadium picnic area to diminish the chance of water rising over the patio stones. In addition, public works director Holly Wilson pointed out that a channel was dug along the pond bottom to expedite drainage. "Baker Pond" is the collection point for the tiling draining the Swansson complex across Willmar Avenue and Baker Field.

- Willmar senior soccer forward Graham Dahl sustained a broken nose in the match at Alexandria on Sept. 25. He played two days later wearing a protective mask at Sartell in a meeting of the CLC's leading teams which ended in a 3-3 tie.

- Gretchen Amundson, a Clara City native living in St. Cloud, and winner of the last two Green Lake 12-milers, finished the Twin Cities Marathon in career-best 3:09, which was 51st of 3,679 females.

- We wrote last week about Willmar teacher Eric Mean's brother Alex, who spent his early years in Montevideo, and now starts at defensive end for the Air Force. Alex Means (No. 9) had quite a game Saturday. He made 12 tackles, one for loss, made an interception and in overtime blocked the Navy extra-point try allowing the Falcons to escape Annapolis with a 35-34 win, after leading by 18 points in the fourth quarter. Air Force is at Notre Dame on Saturday.

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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