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Track and field: Willmar Cardinals aim for a state title

Willmar's boys head to the Class AA State True Team Championships as a top contender with the girls aiming for a top-three finish

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Willmar's Tyler Evans leaps up before landing his long jump during the Willmar Boys and Girls Track and Field Invitational on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at Hodapp Field.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

STILLWATER โ€” For Willmar track and field, this is the big one.

The Cardinals have goals for conference, section and the Minnesota State High School League state meets, but this one upstages them all.

When the Cardinals take to the track at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at Stillwater High School, the goal is clear.

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"Our goal is to be on the podium and our stretch goal is to win," Willmar head coach Connor Haugen said about the Cardinal boys. "We believe we have the ability to win this meet."

Willmar's girls also compete in the Class AA State True Team Championships in Stillwater. The girls made it as a wild card team. The 12 teams competing include eight section true-team champions in each class and gender and the top four wild card entrants based on their section finish.

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That's how the Paynesville girls and Montevideo boys earned spots in the Class A State True Team Championships, which get underway at 10 a.m. Saturday in Stillwater. Both are wild cards. Minnewaska's girls won the Section 5A championship to get back to state.

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Willmar junior Sophia Quinn runs during the Willmar Boys and Girls Track and Field Invitational on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at Hodapp Field.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune

For Willmar, doing well in this non-MSHSL state meet has become a habit. The boys have qualified for state 10 times since 2010, noting that there was no state meet in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. In that time, the Cards have won state championships in 2016, '17, '18, '19 and '21. They've taken third in '14 and finished fourth in '12 and '22.

Haugen said the 2022 finish was a disappointment. He also thinks that achieving a boys' title in '23 will be no easy task.

"It's a slug-fest on the boys side," he said. "With the adjustments we're making and from a points perspective, it'll come down to the last few events."

Haugen sees Mankato East, the defending state champion, as well as St. Thomas Academy, Stewartville and Pine Island as serious contenders.

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Willmar's girls, meanwhile, are making their 13th straight state true team appearance, discounting the 2020 season when there was no meet. The Cards captured a state title in 2019 and took second in '16, '17 and '18. They were third in 2010 and fourth in in 2021. They earned fifth-place finishes in 2012 and '22 and were sixth in '15.

Haugen said the girls chose as a team to roll the dice and go for a top-three finish. They'll alter the lineup quite a bit and go for as many personal-record times and distances as possible in an effort to reach the podium. Haugen said he admired that in the girls' team because they could have chosen to play it safe.

"For our women, they like the risky option to get into the top three," Haugen said. "It's exciting for me and our staff to be around athletes like that. It makes it a really fun chess piece for me as a coach."

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Class A

The Minnewaska girls advance to state true team as the Section 5A champions. The Lakers have made five straight girls state true team meets, missing 2020 when there wasn't a meet. Minnewska won a state championship in 2019, took second in 2021 and finished third in 2018 and '22.

The Paynesville girls are back at true team state for the third straight season and the 10th time in program history dating back to a sixth-place finish in 1996. The Bulldogs also advanced in 2004, '05, '06, '08, '09 and '10. they placed fifth last year and in '06 and '08. They were sixth in '09 and '10.

Grand Meadow/LOKS won the girls' Class A title in 2022, but did not advance this season.

In Class A boys, Montevideo returns to the field for the first time since 2018. The Thunder Hawks make their eighth state true team appearance dating back to 1990, when they took fourth in Class AA. Montevideo won a state title in 2016 and took second in 2002, '03, '12 and '18. The Thunder Hawks were fourth in '15.

Defending state champion Lanesboro/Fillmore Central/Mabel-Canton is back in the boys' meet as a wild card.

True team notes

* Class AAA competition took place Friday night in Stillwater.

* True team track is different from the high school league meet in that it measures team depth and not just outstanding performances in the point totals. Every entrant in every event scores points. It means that finishing, for instance, 10th or 11th in a race is much better than finishing 15th or 16th because your team accrues more points.

* The meet is sponsored by the Minnesota state Track & Field Coaches Association.

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* The first state true team meet was held in 1987 at St. Cloud Apollo.

State True Team qualifiers

Class AA Girls

Section 1 โ€” Byron
Section 2 โ€” Mankato East
Section 3 โ€” Simley
Section 4 โ€” Holy Angels
Section 5 โ€” Rocori
Section 6 โ€” Mound-Westonka
Section 7 โ€” Chisago Lakes
Section 8 โ€” Detroit Lakes
Wild card โ€” Belle Plaine
Wild card โ€” Eden Valley-Watkins/Kimball
Wild card โ€” Winona
Wild card โ€”Willmar

Class AA Boys

Section 1 โ€” Stewartville
Section 2 โ€” Mankato East

Section 3 โ€”St. Thomas Academy

Section 4 โ€” Totino-Grace

Section 5 โ€” Rocori

Section 6 โ€” Willmar

Section 7 โ€” Cloquet

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Section 8 โ€” Detroit Lakes

Wild card โ€” Pine Island

Wild card โ€” Faribault

Wild card โ€” Worthington

Wild card โ€” Byron

Class A Girls

Section 1 โ€” Grand Meadow
Section 2 โ€” Jackson County Central

Section 3 โ€” Luverne

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Section 4 โ€” Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted

Section 5 โ€” Minnewaska Area

Section 6 โ€” Barnesville

Section 7 โ€” Pierz

Section 8 โ€” West Marshall Fusion

Wild card โ€” Paynesville

Wild card โ€” Chatfield

Wild card โ€” Holdingford

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Wild card โ€” Lanesboro/FC/MC

Class A Boys

Section 1 โ€” Saint Charles
Section 2 โ€” Maple River

Section 3 โ€” Luverne

Section 4 โ€” Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted

Section 5 โ€” Sauk Centre

Section 6 โ€” Pelican Rapids

Section 7 โ€” Pierz

Section 8 โ€” Fertile-Beltrami

Wild card โ€” Grand Meadow

Wild card โ€” Holdingford

Wild card โ€” Montevideo

Wild card โ€” Lanesboro/FC/MC

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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