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Softball preview 2023: More experienced Willmar Cardinals are ready to take a step up

Willmar returns six starters and its head coach, Christian Brown, for a second season

Willmar High School freshman shortstop Hannah Magnuson tags out a Fergus Falls runner at second base while playing host to the Otters in Willmar on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Willmar High School freshman shortstop Hannah Magnuson tags out a Fergus Falls runner at second base while playing host to the Otters in Willmar on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR —The Willmar Cardinals got their feet wet under a new head coach in 2022. And while the results were a 2-9 Central Lakes Conference and 4-15 overall record, Christian Brown said he felt like a lot of progress was made.

“I am proud of the way we played last season,” said Brown, who returns for his second season as softball head coach. “We had a lot of hard-fought games, but many of those hard-fought games didn’t go our way.

“As a result, our record didn’t reflect the success we had last season.”

Willmar junior pitcher Grace Bjur, center, is consoled by seniorLily Reed (2) and her teammates during a game against visiting Fergus Falls on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Willmar junior pitcher Grace Bjur, center, is consoled by senior Lily Reed (2) and her teammates during a game against visiting Fergus Falls on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Brown believes that teams may overlook the Cardinals a bit in 2023, but that’s fine.

“Instead of running away from that, I want us to lean into it,” Brown said. “I really want the girls to embrace the underdog role and have fun with it.”

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Eight starters return, including seniors Grace Bjur at pitcher, Cadence Parker at catcher, Zoe Schroeder at first base and Hailie Smith at third. Schroeder and Smith are captains. Also a captain is Zadina Butcher, who’ll enter the lineup this season.

Also back are juniors Katelyn Garberding in right field and Lexi Owens in center. Sophomores Hannah Magnuson at shortstop and Madi Norsten at left field and second base also return.

“We have a lot of players that either started for us last year or saw significant varsity time,” Brown said.

Willmar freshman Madison Norsten, at left, gives a high five to junior Cadence Parker during a Section 8AAA playoff game against Sauk Rapids in Willmar on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Willmar freshman Madison Norsten, at left, gives a high five to junior Cadence Parker during a Section 8AAA playoff game against Sauk Rapids in Willmar on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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Brown believes the conference will be tough. Brainerd (8-0 CLC) is defending CLC champion and Sartell (12-2) was right behind. Both are Class AAAA programs that will be hard to beat. Rocori (9-4) wound up winning Willamr’s section and the St. Cloud Crush (9-4) also has a strong program.

Alexandria (4-9), Fergus Falls (4-8) and Sauk Rapids (0-12) will compete.

“I really think we are going to surprise a lot of teams this year,” Brown said. “Ultimately, we are looking to compete with more teams in the CLC and give ourselves a good chance at making a run in the section, which with what I have been seeing so far this season, is completely in the realm of possibilities.”

Willmar Cardinals 2023 Schedule

April 13 at Alexandria, 4 p.m. (DH)

April 18 vs. Rocori, 4 p.m. (DH)

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April 20 at St. Cloud Crush, 4 p.m. (DH)

April 25 vs. Sauk Rapids, 4 p.m. (DH)

April 27 vs. Brainerd, 5 p.m. 

May 4 vs. Sartell, 4:30 p.m. (DH)

May 9 at Fergus Falls, 4:30 p.m. (DH)

May 13 at Mound-Westonka Invitational, 9 a.m.

Tom Elliott has been the sports editor at the West Central Tribune since September 2019.
Contact him at telliott@wctrib.com or leave a message at 320-235-1150.
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