Girls hockey: Willmar Cardinals bank on their resilience
Second-seeded Willmar heads into Section 6A playoffs knowing it can bounce back from adversity
Over the course of the girls hockey season, Eric Setrum believes he has a resilient bunch on the Willmar bench.
In the team’s final regular-season game Monday, the Cardinals lost 1-0 to Central Lakes Conference and Section 6A foe River Lakes.
But there isn’t much time to dwell on that loss. The section tournament begins Thursday and Willmar is the No. 2 seed. The Cardinals play host to No. 7 seed Prairie Centre at 7 p.m. at the Willmar Civic Center Arena.
“We’ve done a good job of recognizing each other and playing together,” Setrum said. “We’ve had, in the last couple weeks, some games that we weren’t quite ready to play for. We’ve been a pretty decent bounce-back team, even in stretches where we haven’t played well.”
Leading Willmar into the postseason are Makenna Larson, Chloe Lownsbury and Gretchen Volk. Larson, a junior, leads the team with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists). Lownsbury, another junior, is the team’s leading goal-scorer with 14 goals along with seven assists. A sophomore, Volk has 20 points (9G, 11A). Juniors Avery (3G, 14A) and Sophia Quinn (7G, 10A) both have 17 points.
At goaltender, the Cardinals can’t go wrong with either senior Halle Mortensen (6-4-1, 2.06 goals allowed, .902 save percentage, 3 shutouts) or sophomore Erin Eilers (7-7-0, 2.00 GA, .932%, 3 SO).
“We’ve liked our chances all year,” Setrum said. “We’ve had our ups and downs; we have a couple injured players now (Lauren Eilers and Hannah Bredesen) and that hurts us.
“Overall, I like our group; we work hard. If we stay focused and stay together and do all the little things a little bit better, I like our chances.”
And Willmar has had plenty of success against Prairie Centre this season. In two matchups, both wins, the Cardinals have outscored the Blue Devils 23-0.
Prairie Centre’s top producer is Natasha Ludwig with 18 goals and seven assists. In net, Kennedy Lemke (6-12-1, 4.64 GA, .912%, 2 SO) has made the bulk of the starts.
“If we come out and play the way we’re supposed to, Thursday should be good for us,” Setrum said. “And then, three hard days of practice again for what I assume will be a rematch (with River Lakes).”
The Stars are the defending section champions. They are the No. 3 seed in 6A and begin the postseason against No. 6 Morris/Benson Area at the Koronis Civic Arena in Paynesville.
The two teams did not meet during the regular season.
“We don’t have a ton of knowledge on them,” said River Lakes first-year head coach Andrew Marod. “We’re going to focus on our game and do what we can to sharpen our systems and go from there.”
Sporting a squad with just one senior, the Stars’ offense is led by a sophomore. Sophia Hess has 31 points (17G, 14A), including six goals on the power play. Behind her is junior Aubree McDonagh with 16 points (8G, 8A).
Another sophomore, Kaydence Roeske (7-12-1, 2.65 GA, .937%, 3 SO) has been a pillar in net. She made 41 saves in the Stars’ win over Willmar on Monday.
“In terms of the locker room I think they’re starting to buy into each other,” Marod said, “and we’ve talked about as soon as you step onto the ice for the first time, you’re a vet now. … We’ve had our leaders step up and support those younger kids, helping them feel more welcome and more comfortable.
“It’s been a positive atmosphere here lately and that’s what we want, especially going into the most crucial part of the year.”
To beat the Storm on Thursday, stopping Karlie Bruns will be key for River Lakes. The junior forward is fourth in the state with 42 goals, according to the MN Girls Hockey Hub. Kortney Sanasack is also a threat with 31 points (14 G, 17 A). Ava Breuer (7-13-1, 6.74 GA, .820%) is the top netminder.
Should both Willmar and River Lakes win, they’ll play in the semifinal on Tuesday, Feb. 14 in Willmar.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 5 Breckenridge/Wahpeton heads to Breezy Point to face No. 4 Northern Lakes. The winner takes heads to top-seeded Fergus Falls on Feb. 14. The Section 6A championship takes place on Thursday, Feb. 16 at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria.
Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato earned a first-round bye by getting the No. 2 seed in Section 2A.
The Dragons await the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 6 Mankato West and No. 3 Hutchinson. The semifinal matchup is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Litchfield Civic Arena.
Krista Tormanen (12G, 10A) and Camryn Iverson (10G, 8A) are the top scorers for Litchfield/D-C. Between the pipes is Kira Kuechle (7-8-3, 2.33 GA, .906%, 3 SO).
Mankato East is the defending section champion and the top seed in the bracket. It also has a first-round bye and plays the winner of No. 5 Waconia and No. 4 Minnesota River on Saturday.
The Cougars and Dragons met in the section championship last season. The Cougars advanced to state with a 3-2 win.
This season, Litchfield/D-C got the better of the regular season matchup, winning 3-1 on Dec. 6 in Mankato.
The Class A state girls hockey tournament is Feb. 22-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
(7 p.m. Thursday)
7-Prairie Centre (6-13-1) at 2-Willmar (13-11-1)
6-Morris/Benson Area (8-13-1) at 3-River Lakes (8-16-1)
5-Breckenridge/Wahpeton (7-9-1) at 4-Northern Lakes (9-15-0)
(7 p.m. Feb. 14 at high seed)
Willmar/PC winner vs. RL/MBA winner
BW/NL winner vs. 1-Fergus Falls (20-4-1)
(7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Alexandria)
(7 p.m. Thursday)
6-Mankato West (2-19-2) at 3-Hutchinson (10-14-1)
5-Waconia (4-20-1) at 4-Minnesota River (12-10-3)
MR/Waconia winner at 1-Mankato East (17-6-0), 2 p.m.
Hutchinson/MW winner at 2-Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (11-11-3), 7 p.m.
(7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter)