Willmar's track and field teams have ruled the True Team state meet this decade and they're looking to cap it with another dominant performance this Saturday.
The boys have won three straight Class AA True Team championships with their eyes set on a fourth in Saturday's True Team State meet at Stillwater High School.
The girls will try to win the meet for the first time during their 10-year run of true team state appearances. The Card girls are the owners of three-straight runner-up finishes.
The Class AA meet starts at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.
Minnewaska's girls team and Morris/Chokio-Alberta's boys team will also compete in the Class A meet, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Saturday's forecast appears to be fraught with rain but Willmar head coach Jerry Popp won't worry about that.
"This is what we shoot for all year," Popp said. "The weather, you can't control that, but you can control your attitude. This is the meet we've been looking forward to all year. Anybody can run when it's beautiful outside, but we can buckle down in adverse conditions."
On the boys side, Willmar is in a very different situation than in year's past. Despite being three-time reigning champions, the Cardinals won't be the favorites after graduating roughly 70 percent of their roster, Popp said. That title of favorites this year goes to Jordan, which had a higher section score than the Cardinals by 90 points.
Jordan took second last year and is looking to end the Cardinals' run with a strong group of returners.
"This is a really young boys team experience-wise," Popp said. "And yet they're coming on stronger than the girls team even. They've been auxiliary guys in the past and now they have to step up and be the guys. It took them awhile to realize that but they've started to figure that out and are looking really good right now."
Fairmont took fourth place last year and also returns this year after earning one of the four wild card spots.
Mankato East is the last boys team to win the Class AA aside from Willmar, and they also earned a wild card spot. Mankato West and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton also earned wild card spots. Pine Island, St. Croix Lutheran, Academy of Holy Angels, Big Lake, Grand Rapids and Detroit Lakes round out the field by winning their respective sections.
On the girls side, Willmar's main target will be Rocori, who has won the Class AA meet three of the last four years, including the last two years.
"Second place at state is pretty darn good and the girls have really done a great job in making a tradition of excellence," Popp said. "But of course they want to take first. We're about 40 points back of Rocori and we need to not make any mistakes, but it's doable."
Rocori topped Willmar by 40 points last year with a 588 to Willmar's 548.
This marks Willmar's 10th trip to the state tournament in as many years. The seniors on this year's team were in first grade the last time Willmar didn't earn a trip to the state meet.
In the Class A meet, Minnewaska and Morris/CA will each be looking to improve on their third place finishes in last year's meet. Maple Lake won the girls meet with a score of 523, topping Concordia Academy's 497 and Minnewaska's 487.5. Maple Lake will return for the third straight year, but Concordia Academy will not.
The Lakers are especially young this year, with only one senior on the team, but that won't affect their goals.
"We feel like we can compete this year and hopefully push for at least third again, if not better," said Minnewaska head coach Jennifer Johnsrud. "I think this year we've had some young kids who have stepped up for us and we weren't anticipating that. They've filled some big holes."
Minnewaska's 4x400 and 4x800 will be serious contenders yet again this year while Ellie Danielson (high jump) and Emily Kaiser (200 meter and 400 meter dash) could see some podiums as well.
The boys side, meanwhile, is wide open. Morris/CA is the leading returner in a field without Holdingford and Montevideo, last year's top-two teams. The Tigers took third place with a 484, just behind Montevideo's 489 last season. Holdingford won with a 522.
"I feel probably about as good as any other time we've gone," said Morris/Chokio-Alberta head coach Dale Henrich. "We're pretty senior-heavy and that usually translates to good results. They have some idea of what they're walking into."
The Tigers will look once again to Cam Arndt, who won the 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles at the last year's true team meet, as well as their relay teams. The Tigers won the 4x400 and 4x800 last year and should be favorites again this year. Noah Stewart, a 1,600 and 3,200 runner, also could finish strong at the meet.
"Any coach in my spot with older kids, you're going in with two hopes," Henrich said. "First, have fun and enjoy yourself. Also, you're going there to win. Any coach saying they're OK with fourth or fifth is probably lying to you. Go down there and perform to the best of your abilities. If they want to give us a trophy at the end of the day, we'll gladly take it."