WILLMAR — Even if they’re split apart due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Willmar wrestling team is starting to come together.

Limited to practice pods of 25 due to state guidelines, the team has two practices. According to head coach Ed Oehlers, the older athletes are going right after school while the younger, and usually lighter, ones are going at 7 p.m., in part to help ensure that everyone has rides to and from practice.

Through all that, Oehlers is confident about the team’s chemistry as the Cardinals head into the first match of the year Thursday with a road triangular at Annandale/Maple Lake. Kimball also will be at the meet.

“Our practices, I’ll tell you what, the kids have been awesome in there,” Oehlers said. “We’re just happy to be back. It’s been going great in here; there’s good intensity.”

Oehlers added, “Our core wrestlers are back. Everyone seems in good spirits. They have a good chemistry and rapport; there’s no outliers. It feels good to be in the room with them.”

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In that returning core are three of Willmar’s four state entrants from 2019-20 in senior Kaden Streed, junior Jonas Anez and eighth-grader Conlan Carlson. Four Cardinals are in the top 10 in The Guillotine’s latest rankings: Conlan Carlson (sixth, 113 pounds); sophomore Braeden Erickson (10th, 152); Jonas Anez (fifth, 160); and Streed (sixth, 195).

But there’s plenty more besides the marquee names. In total, Willmar has 10 wrestlers back that placed in the top six in last season’s Section 8AAA tournament.

“It’s just a pretty consistent, solid lineup,” Oehlers said. “What you see is what you get; there’s not a lot of flexibility. … We’re really confident in the lineup overall.”

Willmar's Steven Cruze (left) goes for a takedown on Lakeville South's Kaleb Airaudi during their 120-pound match at the Willmar Cardinal Classic on Dec. 6, 2019 at Willmar High School. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
Willmar's Steven Cruze (left) goes for a takedown on Lakeville South's Kaleb Airaudi during their 120-pound match at the Willmar Cardinal Classic on Dec. 6, 2019 at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

The lower weights have some sorting out to do, but will be anchored by grapplers like freshman Ivan Ciriaco-Mares, Conlan Carlson and eighth-grader Sully Anez.

“Those three are really tough,” Oehlers said.

Eighth-grader Steve Cruze will start off the middleweights at 138 and will be followed by a combination of senior Caden Carlson, Erickson and junior Joe Kallevig. In the mix up top will be seniors Streed and Taggert Reynolds along with juniors Mason Swanson and Peter Coverdell.

Top to bottom, it’s a roster with few drops in talent.

“It’s just a really solid lineup with good wrestling experience,” Oehlers said.

A challenge for the Cardinals will be fine-tuning the roster while spending a lot of time on the bus. Willmar’s first home triangular will be on Jan. 22. The Cardinals will not host another meet at the Big Red Gym until Feb. 23 as the team’s final three meets will be in town. In that month-long gap, the Cardinals will have five meets.

“It’ll be a lot of travel this year, but we’re kind of used to that,” Oehlers said. “We’ll roll with the punches as they come.”

With no individual tournaments in the regular season, there is extra emphasis on the team success this season. The Cardinals have won seven straight Central Lakes Conference championships and have won 55 straight CLC duals. The last loss was on Jan. 22, 2013 against St. Cloud Tech (37-35).

“All we have is duals and tris, so we’ll focus on winning those and gaining experience so we can set ourselves up for any potential team section or state tournament,” Oehlers said.

Finishing as runners-up to Bemidji in the 8AAA tournament the last two seasons, Willmar has two matchups with the Lumberjacks in the regular season: on Jan. 22 at Willmar’s home tri; and Feb. 9 at the Alexandria tri.

The Cardinals, who enter the year on Class AAA’s Lean and Mean, have matches with five teams in the rankings: Annandale/Maple Lake (Lean and Mean, AA); Kimball (ninth, A); Bemidji (eighth, AAA); Perham (Lean and Mean, AA); and Waconia (seventh, AAA).

“We definitely got a rivalry going with (Bemidji). We’re definitely gearing up for that,” Oehlers said. “We can’t overlook Annandale and Kimball in our first competition, though. … We have a really balanced and pretty strong schedule.”



Willmar Cardinals

Coach: Ed Oehlers

Section: 8AAA

2019-20 Record: 14-7, section runner-up

Conference Record: 7-0 Central Lakes

At State: Four state entrants

Key Graduates: Ethan Roux (24-8, state entrant at 170 pounds, section runner-up, all-conference); Josh Miley (23-7, all-conference at 138 pounds); Jack Roehl (16-13, fifth at sections at 132 pounds)

Key Returners: Kaden Streed, sr. (28-9, state entrant at 195 pounds, section champion, all-conference); Caden Carlson, sr. (26-11, third at sections at 126 pounds, all-conference); Conlan Carlson, eight grade (24-9, state entrant at 106 pounds, section runner-up, all-conference); Jonas Anez, jr. (23-10, state entrant at 152 pounds, section champion, all-conference); Steve Cruze, eight grade (21-10, third at sections at 120 pounds); Braeden Erickson, so. (18-14, fourth at sections at 145 pounds, all-conference); Ivan Ciriaco-Mares, fr. (18-16, sixth at sections at 113 pounds, all-conference); Taggert Reynolds, sr. (12-3, fourth at sections at 285 pounds); Joe Kallevig, jr. (10-17, sixth at sections at 160 pounds); Peter Coverdell, jr. (5-12, sixth at sections at 220 pounds)

Preseason Rankings:

Team: Lean and Mean (Class AAA)

Individuals: Conlan Carlson (sixth, 113 pounds); Braeden Erickson (10th, 152 pounds); Jonas Anez (fifth, 160); Kaden Streed (sixth, 195)