From pretenders to contenders
This is the eighth year for the boys soccer program and only four years removed from a 0-17 season. That was Richard Courtney's first as head coach. The next year, Willmar posted its first winning season at 9-8-2 and the year after that won eight...
This is the eighth year for the boys soccer program and only four years removed from a 0-17 season. That was Richard Courtney's first as head coach.
The next year, Willmar posted its first winning season at 9-8-2 and the year after that won eight matches in the Central Lakes Conference and 11 matches overall. Last year's record dipped to 7-8-4, a win total already surpassed this fall.
The Cardinals are in contention for the conference crown with four matches to go, but they must win out, including today's match at Kennedy Field with Fergus Falls.
A big reason for the team's success has been the emergence of junior goalie Steve Kluver in only his second year of playing the sport.
"He's been a real surprise," said Courtney before a recent practice. "He played jayvee-2 last year and we didn't know if he'd be ready. But without a doubt, he's one of the two or three best in the conference. He's an athlete."
Kluver's height (6-foot-2) helps in the cage. He's also on the swim team and pole vaults in the spring.
"I'm still learning," he says of his spot on the soccer team. "I played soccer when I was a kid for two or three years, but you don't learn to much there."
Kluver had a shutout against Brainerd on Saturday, a 1-0 win.
Courtney says another key is the outstanding play of sophomore sweeper Josh Wright and defenseman Ahmed Hussein.
Soccer is the high school's most multi-cultural sport, no surprise since soccer (football elsewhere) is the world's pastime. Natives of Somalia and Hispanics who join the team may already have excellent skills and an understanding of the game.
Sophomore Badal Ali is the team's top scorer with eight goals, three on penalty kicks. He's been kicking the ball about since he could walk, he says, though he ran cross-country as a freshman, his first year here.
He's so good with the ball and runs so well, Courtney plays him most often at midfield where he gets more touches. Abdinasir Abdi, also a sophomore, enrolled last spring and "just showed up" on Aug. 13, the first day of practice. The Cardinal rookie has proved an asset either at midfield or at striker, the attacking position.
Strong numbers also contribute to a successful program. The original 66 player turnout (9-12) has remained stable, Courtney said. The jayvee-1 team, coached by Matt Williams, is 6-3-1 with four straight wins. Jayvee-2, coached by Brad Haugen, is 5-2-2. Not all of the eight CLC entries can field three teams.
Willmar has received leadership from senior captains Zach Burton, Carl Fixsen and Ethan Vogel. Their work ethic set the tone from the first day of practice, said Courtney, who also credits Chad Akerson, assistant coach in charge of the defense, with being the "great motivator" if the fire flickers.
Willmar has three CLC games left after today, the last against St. Cloud Apollo (6-0-1) with its speedy and skilled strikers. That match is next Thursday in Willmar.
Beyond the conference, Willmar's goal is to get a top-four seed in the 15-team section. That would mean as many as two home games.
On the fly
n Phil Hedlof, St. Cloud State senior captain and safety from Blomkest, had 11 tackles and three pass breakups in a recent win over UW-Whitewater.
n The Cardinal girls swim and diving squad hosts first-place Fergus Falls tonight. Next Thursday they swim at Sartell where Sabres' seventh-grader Marisa Wood set a school record of 5:15.53 in the 500 freestyle on Sept. 13. She also swims the 200 free where she could meet Willmar sophomore Alissa Tinklenberg.
n Ron Guetter, 47, placed 13th overall at the Pat Boros 10k Trail Run Saturday. He will finish either 1st or 2nd in the 45-49 age group for the 10-race series. Guetter, whose daughters, Amber and Dana, were in Cardinal athletics until graduating, ran his first marathon at Duluth this year beating his four-hour goal by five minutes. Dr. Mike Hanson, who placed third in the Sibley run, is a 1985 Willmar graduate who played tennis for Gil Idso.
n Shorty Schroeder, who entered the Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame last week, had nine years head-coaching experience at Appleton and Litchfield before coming to Willmar in 1966 as an assistant to Russ Adamson. "I learned more in those five years under Russ than I did nine years I was making the decisions," he said. Schroeder's former assistants, Mike Hanson and Dewey Bock, both attended the banquet at the American Legion. Bock's son Brian (WHS '94) was one of the four inductees.
n Also inducted, two-time wrestling state champion and three-sport athlete Chad Carlson ('90), who went on to wrestle four years at the University of Minnesota. He returned to the Carlson dairy farm near Pennock where the herd has grown from 60 milkers when he was in high school to over 600 today. Both Chad and his younger brother Carl, also a state champion wrestler, are raising three sons in the Willmar school district.
n Central Lakes of Brainerd, the Warriors' opponent at Hodapp Field at 6 p.m. Saturday, is 2-2 after beating Mesabi Range 24-13. Rochester is 4-0 after whipping Itasca 37-0. The Warriors (3-1) had a bye last week.