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Track and field: Another True Team title in the Cards?

Willmar boys look to win sixth straight Class AA championship; girls aim for place on the podium

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Willmar senior Michael Price, right, hands the baton off to junior Jacob Flannigan during the boys' 4x200-meter relay at the Cardinal Invitational on Thursday, April 28 at Hodapp Field in Willmar.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
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STILLWATER — Connor Haugen has looked at the numbers and knows how close the Class AA boys True Team state championship is shaping up to be.

Willmar's new track and field head coach knows he’ll be pacing nervously on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a very close meet; I’m going to be shaking the whole meet trying to keep track of everything,” Haugen said.

“The boys are ready to go.”

The Class AA True Team state meet gets underway at 3:45 p.m. at Stillwater High School. The Minnewaska and Paynesville girls and Morris/Chokio-Alberta boys compete in the Class A competition at 10 a.m.

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The Cardinal boys have won the Class AA True Team championship five times in a row: 2021, ‘19, ‘18, ‘17 and ‘16. There was no True Team meet in ‘20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And, Saturday’s state meet will be in person since ‘19. The ‘21 championship was done by virtual meet.

“The morale’s really up,” said senior sprinter/jumper Michael Price. “All the guys are locked in right now. I feel good about it.”

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Willmar eighth-grader Telilie Lange leaps over the final hurdles in the 100-meter hurdles at the Cardinal Invitational on Thursday, April 28 at Hodapp Field in Willmar.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

The Willmar girls will also compete at True Team for the 12th straight year after qualifying as one of four wild card teams.

While the Cardinal girls had to wait a little longer to find out if they made state — wild card teams are decided by virtual meet after all the section meets — the team was confident they’d get in.

“Even with our early projections that night with the six section winners, we were ranked fourth based on our times,” Haugen said.

Senior mid-distance runner Nina Dawson added, “It was really good to see that we came back on top. Just to know we’re going to the meet as the first wild card, I think there’s a lot of teams we can go out there and beat.”

The boys will face a tight-knit field. In the team’s projections, Haugen said the top eight teams — St. Thomas Academy, Mankato East, Pine Island, Willmar, Jordan, Rockford, Big Lake and Worthington — are within 50 points of each other. Add in Faribault and Esko, and the top 10 are within 80 points of each other.

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“Our boys are going to be scratching and clawing for every point,” Haugen said.

At the Section 6AA championship, Price was one of the Cardinals that was locked in. He won the long jump (21 feet, 8.5 inches), was second in the 200-meter dash (22.73 seconds) and third in the 100 (11.26). Willmar also got runner-up finishes from Colin O’Farrell in the 400 and 800 and Jackson Sportel in the high jump.

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Willmar freshman Sully Anez, right, and sophomore Hassennadif Hassen finished 1-2 in the boys 1,600 run during the Willmar Invitational on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at Hodapp Field in Willmar.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

“All the guys knew we performed well and it boosted their spirits,” Price said. We’re all excited for (Saturday) and we have confidence for this meet.”

“(The boys) had a good meet at True Team sections but we have a lot more to give,” Haugen said. In particular, Haugen is looking at the 4x800 relay, the 800, the 3,200 and the discus to be the events that can set the Cardinals apart from the competition.

With the girls coming in as a wild card, Haugen is looking back to the ‘19 girls team for inspiration. That season, Willmar won the state title by two points over Central Lakes Conference rival Rocori. The Spartan girls are again one of the top contenders according to Haugen’s projections.

“With the girls, we’re just going to put our best lineup together and we’re going to hope for the 2019 thing,” Haugen said.

Said Dawson, “It’s really fun to see all the events doing well and cheering everyone on. The team’s a big family so we all take from whatever success everyone gets.”

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Willmar senior Ella Shinn begins her spin in the discus during the Willmar Invitational on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at Hodapp Field in Willmar.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Haugen is keenly aware of Willmar’s True Team success. He is an alumnus. But, he is more focused on helping his athletes improve over leaving his stamp in that success.

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“I love coaching these kids so much,” Haugen said. “The work I put into it, I know things will work out in the end. I can only control the effort I put into things, so that’s what I’m going to do.

“I know there’s a legacy of success behind me, but I trust these kids and I know they’ll rise to the challenge and things will be great.”

The athletes on the squad, they’re expecting big things on Saturday.

“To put it in the most humble way,” Price said, “I think we’re going to win. We all have the same goal and we want to achieve the same thing. We’re going to do what we need to do to win this meet.”

On the girls’ end, Dawson said, “If everyone has the best race we can, I think we’ll be up there. If everything goes right, I think there’s a good chance we'll get on the podium.”

True Team State Championships

When: Class AAA-Friday; Class A-10 a.m. Saturday; Class AA-3:45 p.m. Saturday

Where: Stillwater High School

The Field

Class AA boys

Pine Island; Mankato East; St. Thomas Academy; Totino-Grace; Big Lake; Willmar; Esko; Fergus Falls; Jordan; Rockford; Worthington; Faribault

Class AA girls

Byron; Mankato East; Simley; Blake; Rocori; Rockford; North Branch; Detroit Lakes; Willmar; Fairmont; Eden Valley-Watkins/Kimball; Belle Plaine

Class A boys

Lanesboro/Fillmore Central/Mabel-Canton; Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial; Luverne; Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted; Morris/Chokio-Alberta; Pelican Rapids; Greenway/Hashwauk-Keewatin; Ada-Borup; St. Charles; Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Kingsland/Southland; Maple River; Sauk Centre

Class A girls

Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Kingsland/Southland; Jackson County Central; Luverne; Concordia Academy; Minnewaska; Osakis; Pierz; West Marshall Fusion; Lanesboro/Fillmore Central/Mabel-Canton; Canby/Minneota; Lake City; Paynesville

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