Cardinals take flight to state

MANKATO - The third try was magic for the Willmar Cardinals. "This feels so good," said Jena Thompson on the floor of Bresnan Arena. "Finally, we're going." The Cardinals validated their No. 1 seed Thursday night on the Minnesota State University...

Don't try it
Kaitlin Gerber, left, of Worthington looks for a shot as Willmar's Jen Knake applies defensive pressure in in the first half Thursday at Minnesota State, Mankato. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

MANKATO - The third try was magic for the Willmar Cardinals.

"This feels so good," said Jena Thompson on the floor of Bresnan Arena. "Finally, we're going."

The Cardinals validated their No. 1 seed Thursday night on the Minnesota State University, Mankato campus with rollicking 77-68 win over No. 2- seed Worthington in the Section 2AAA girls basketball final.

"We had so much energy tonight," said Thompson, a third-year starter whose season was ended on this same floor each of the past two campaigns by the Trojans.

This time Willmar would not be denied. They were the greater aggressor all night. The Cardinals took the lead for good at 9-8 on a pair of Alex Lippert free throws and would enjoy a 37-24 halftime advantage.


The shorter Trojans put up a battle worthy of their strong program and got within 64-61 in the second half. But Willmar stayed calm, sinking 12 consecutive free throws at one point.

"The free throws were huge," said coach Brad Atchison, who takes his third Willmar team to state in this century. "Even when they closed in (on the lead), the girls never lost their focus. They didn't panic."

Willmar will play on Wednesday at Williams Arena. Four teams will get seeded and four will go into a random draw.

The Cardinals made 30-of-41 free throws. Hannah Smith led all scorers with 21 points. She made her first eight free throws, five in the second half, before a late miss that came with the lead secured.

Mariel Aamot, one of five senior starters, added 14 points. Leading just 12-11, the 5-foot-4 guard hit a three-pointer off a cross-court pass from Thompson and followed up a minute later with a baseline drive showing no fear of the Trojans' 6-foot-2 Martha Alwal for a 19-13 Willmar lead.

The Cardinals depth showed early. Kayli Gimse scored nine of her 13 points off the bench in the first half and Sara Kallhoff, another junior, got all but one of her 14 points following intermission. She hit eight free throws in the second half before a miss.

"I was nervous at the beginning," said the 5-foot-6 guard, "but once I got in there I was confident.

Her three-point play early in the half put Willmar up 46-36.


"I wanted that basket and I went for it," she said of her drive through the Trojans' zone.

Worthington went up 6-0 to start and Alwal drew a quick foul on Lippert.

But Willmar stayed clear of foul trouble the entire game. Lippert finished with just six points, but her eight blocks did a lot to defuse the Worthington attack.

Worthington pulled within three, 64-61, on steal and layup by four-year starter Kaitlin Gerber, who finished with 19 points. Willmar spread the floor, but still attacked, though Gimse's wide-open 10-footer was the only Cardinal field goal over the last six minutes.

"They were taller than us," said Alwal, who finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds. "When they were driving, we didn't move our feet and we were picking up fouls."

Atchison said he could tell throughout the week that his team was ready.

"We were so aggressive on offense," he said. "We broke down a little there in the second half, but credit Worthington. They are a very good team and they battled to the end."

Willmar 77, Worthington 68


Worthington (19-6).........24 44 -- 68

Willmar (23-4).................37 40 -- 77

WORTHINGTON - 26-73 FG (4-16 3-pt); 12-17 FT; 29 rebounds; 27 fouls ... Scoring: Kaitlin Gerber 19, Cassie Landgaard 5, Martha Alwal 17, Kayla Vander Veen 4, Kayla Schroeder 15, Kristen Anderson 4, MacKenzie Gerber 4 ... 3-point shots: Landgaard 1, K. Gerber 1, Schroeder 2 ... Rebound leaders: Alwal 14 ... Assist leaders: K. Gerber 5 ... Steal leaders: K. Gerber 4

WILLMAR - 22-47 FG (3-4 3-pt); 30-41 FT; 42 rebounds; 15 fouls ... Scoring: Mariel Aamot 14, Hannah Smith 21, Sara Kallhoff 14, Kayli Gimse 13, Alex Lippert 6, Jena Thompson 9 ... 3-point shots: Aamot 1, Smith 1, Kallhoff 1 ... Rebound leaders: Smith 12, Gimse 7, Thompson 7 ... Assist leaders: Thompson 4 ... Steal leaders: Thompson 4 ... Blocks: Lippert 8

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