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Track and Field: Willmar Cardinals aim for the top

Willmar has a huge team that aims for conference, section, true-team state titles

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Willmar 's Colin O'Farrell runs in a pack going into the second lap of the boys 800-meter run during the Class AA state track and field championship meet on Saturday, June 19, 2021 at St. Michael. O'Farrell finished in seventh place.
Joe Brown/West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — The weather has been rough this spring and that has just made the wait to get outdoors that much harder for the Willmar track and field team.
The Cardinals are loaded and have a huge roster that includes 22 seniors and 109 athletes overall.
They're excited about the possibility of building on their five straight boys' state true-team titles and getting another one for the girls, who took fourth last year. And, they have the ability to make some noise in the new three-class Minnesota State High School League meet June 10-11 in St. Michael. Willmar will be in Class AA, the middle class, after having to compete in the top class against schools sometimes three and four times larger than the Cardinals. The largest schools are now in Class AAA.
"I think our team is looking very strong," new head coach Connor Haugen said. "We've been working as hard as possible the past six weeks, given the conditions and because of the indoor scenario we're dealing with."
The Cards have competed once outside so far. Willmar swept the boys' and girls' divisions Monday in the Otter Invitational in Fergus Falls. The Cardinals' next scheduled meet is now April 21 at the Ed Babcock Invitational at Rocori High School in Cold Spring.
Haugen expects Willmar to be serious contenders for Central Lakes Conference and Section 8AA titles as well.
Haugen took the head coaching duties this season from Mike Bobbe, who filled in last year for Jerry Popp, the legendary long-time cross-country and track and field coach who has retired.
"I actually ran for Coach Popp," said Haugen, a 2013 Willmar graduate.

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Willmar's Ava Brogren clears the bar during an attempt in the girls high jump during the Class AA state track and field championship meet on Saturday, June 19, 2021 at St. Michael.<br/>
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Haugen never thought he'd be coaching back in his hometown after running track at Bethel University. He became a minister at a non-denominational church in Champlin. But his wife became a doctor and now works at Carris Health-Rice Memorial Hospital. Haugen was asked to be an assistant coach last year "out of the blue," he said.
"I never thought I'd be in the sport," Haugen said. "But coaching has turned into a passion. It's a blessing to be in this sport."
Haugen's team is loaded with senior talent.
On the boys side among seniors, sprinters include Michael Price, Luke Trochlil, Tanner Flemming and LaBlue Moo. Colin O'Farrell is an elite distance runner and Isaac Eichhorst and Ryan Kuhlman will be top scorers in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. O'Farrell plans to continue his running career at Minnesota State-Moorhead. He finished seventh in the 800 last year at state, coming in at 1 minute, 57.41 seconds.
Price and Moo also are jumpers and Aidan O'Meara, the excellent swimmer, is a hurdler. Max Gatewood and Luke Lammers are top throwers.
Trochlil, Price and Fleming all were all-conference members last year.

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Willmar's Sammy Christoffer (left) overtakes Bemidji's Lauren Berg at the finish line of the girls 4x400 relay during the Class AA state track and field championship meet on Saturday, June 19, 2021 at St. Michael. <br/>
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

On the girls side among seniors, Sammy Christoffer, Grace Haugen and Ellary Lange are top sprinters. Haugen is a pole vaulter. Ava Brogren participated in the high jump at state. Jaida Reiman is an excellent hurdler. Nina Dawson is a top distance runner.
Dawson, Christoffer, Brogren and Reiman were all-conference members last year. Christoffer placed 12th in the state in the 100 with a time of 12.42 seconds. She was 11th in the 200 with a time of 25.97. Her best individual finish at state was in the long jump. She took fourth with a leap of 17 feet, 7.25 inches.
Christopher and Dawson were part of a 4x400 relay team that finished eighth in state. Ninth-grader Lauren Eilers and sophomore Lyndi Koosman were part of the relay that finished in 4:04.11.
Dawson, Lauren Eilers, Erin Eilers and sophomore Hannah Quinn took 15th in state in the 4x800 relay with a time of 10:10.77.
Brogren was ninth in the high jump at state with a leap of 5 feet, 2 inches.
Assistant coaches are Michael Heitzman (sprints); Kari Hedman (distance); David Knutson (horizontal jumps); Barb Eilers (hurdles); Emily Hunt (throws); Jay Laporte (throws); Charles Farhat (throws); Ben Villnow (pole vault); and Cory Dingles (high jump).
"I'm excited," Haugen said. "We should have a very good season."

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