Tough season tested both coach, players
Winning tests our humility; losing tries the soul. It has not been an easy season for the girls hockey team. There were only two wins in a program that averaged 15 wins over its first seven seasons. Just three years ago this month, Willmar was on...
Winning tests our humility; losing tries the soul.
It has not been an easy season for the girls hockey team. There were only two wins in a program that averaged 15 wins over its first seven seasons.
Just three years ago this month, Willmar was on the way to the Class A state tournament for a second straight year. Two years ago, the program suffered its first losing season (12-14-1) but still reached the section championship game.
Five girls from those "glory years" are playing college hockey: Kendra Ruff at St. Olaf, Gretchen Dahl at University of Wisconsin-Superior, Jordan Nielsen at St. Catherine's and Mandi Samuelson (injured) and Alyssa Dahl at Concordia, Moorhead. Additionally, Elyse Dowdell and Kelsey Maxfield are playing club hockey at St. Scholastica.
This shaped up as a rebuilding year but no one, it's safe to say, expected so sharp a drop-off.
Coach Ross Dahl is now inclined to say things like, "Well, you know, the sun is still going to come up."
He's been coaching hockey since 1982. His first head coaching job was the Princeton boys team in 1984-85. This season presented new challenges.
The Cardinals finished eighth of the nine teams in the Central Lakes Conference. Both Willmar wins came over last-placed Little Falls. Willmar scored 32 goals in 25 games; 15 of those came against the Flyers.
Dahl said he and assistant coach Mike Markkanen were mindful of keeping the girls spirits up in the face of adversity.
"You had to watch their attitudes. You don't want anyone hating the game," he said. "You can't always control winning and losing, but we'd tell them that 'You can control your effort.' "
Willmar had a lot of breaks go against them, some of which have been enumerated in this column earlier. The starting goalie, a junior, didn't return; a top all-around player enrolled at a private school, one quit and two senior defenders -- Krista Hanson and Brittin Dahle -- left due to injury.
Senior Jessica Lohrman, a defenseman and emergency back-up goalie last season, stepped between the pipes full time this season. She faced 709 shots, stopped 587 for a .827 save percentage.
"What she did was nothing short of unbelievable," said Dahl. "She did it for the team but she ended up having a blast. She told me yesterday, she already missed it."
There were difficult times but Dahl salutes his troops: "Hats off. Something brought them back every day. You can quit or get better. It was just as trying for them as it was for us."
Next year, look for this young Willmar team to bounce back. How high depends on a couple of factors. The players must improve their individual skill level, especially shooting. "Shooting takes quickness not only in the wrist but in the mind," said Dahl.
The coaches also want to start a junior varsity team to replace the 14-and-under traveling team. "I believe we're one of two teams in the conference without a jayvee," said Dahl. "It's a big jump from 14s to varsity because you're practicing every day and playing two or three games a week."
Dahl said he and his assistant coach love this game too much to leave it after a tough season. "We all learned you still have to punch the clock every day. The girls did get better. They learned a lot. We hope we left them with a love of the game."
On the fly
n Top goal scorers for the Willmar Cardinals girls' hockey team were: senior Makenzie Anderson (7) and freshmen Chelsey Wierschem and Ashley Hutton (6 each). Senior Victoria Constans, junior Kelsey Swanson and Wierschem all had five assists.
n Augustana's Alison Adamson (WHS 2003) has been selected for the ESPN The Magazine/CoSida All- Academic All-America District VII First Team. The junior guard has a 3.98 grade point average in history and secondary education. She leads the Vikings in scoring (13.8 ppg) and assists (4.1).
n Matt Wetterling, North Dakota State sophomore 184-pound wrestler, won his 24th match with his 17th pin, but the Bison had their dual-meet win streak snapped at six in a 27-9 loss to Northern Illinois Sunday. Another area wrestler, Jacob Bryce of Glenwood, had the team's only other win in the match.
n The Nordic Ski Club reports the Swan Lake ski trail at the golf course is getting "extensive use." The club is exploring a high school meet at Sibley State Park next year. Phil Cleary, a Cardinal senior, won his age group at the Mora Vasaloppet 35k on Sunday.