WILLMAR — Willmar’s volleyball team ranked fifth in the state in Class AAA in the Coaches Association’s preseason poll.
And while the Cardinals have lost a host of talent from the 2021 season, at least one coach in the region expects Willmar to be very good. It’s based on last week’s Alexandria scrimmage.
“Willmar was really good,” said Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg head coach Joquel Molenar. “They looked good.”
Willmar finds out where he is early on. The Cardinals host the best Marshall at 7 p.m. Thursday at Big Red Gym.
Marshall is the defending Class AAA champion in the state. The Tigers defeated Willmar in the 2AAA Section Championship to advance to statehood. Last year, Willmar went to Marshall and lost to the mighty Tigers. They ended up being the No. 1 and 2 seeds in the section. Thursday’s season opener could have similar implications.
Molenar’s team, one of the smallest in terms of school enrollment at Alexandria’s scrimmage, held their ground.
“We hung on,” Molenar said. “It was definitely a challenge with all the height and depth we saw there.”
Brainerd, Fergus Falls and Sartell all competed, along with Alex and Willmar. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Benson also participated in the scrum.
KMS opens the season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Brandon-Evansville.
The Dawson-Boyd Gymnasium is getting a makeover, with a new bulletin board, refinished floors and a new logo. The gymnasium will also have a new logo and video board that will be installed by mid-September.
This is good news for the community. But it gave the volleyball program a short-term challenge.
Blackjacks trained in elementary school. It’s a much smaller space with a low ceiling, which forces DB to split his program into two sessions and have weird bounces during workouts.
“It’s been a struggle,” Blackjacks head coach Hailey Gritmacker said. “We have a good number of kids (45 in middle school and high school) and we’re trying to get all of them going.”
DB opens the season with a home game against Ortonville at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Litchfield veteran women’s tennis coach Matt Draeger says there are three very good teams in Section 6A. He hopes that the Dragons can be included in this group by the end of the season.
Osakis, New London-Spicer and Minnewaska all look like tough opponents in 6A, Draeger said.
The Section 6A tag team tournament will take place October 6-11 at Rogers.
Litchfield is the defending 6A champion. The Dragons finished second in the state last October, losing 7-0 to Breck in Minneapolis.
Draeger said teams to watch in the Wright County Conference West Division include Annandale, Hutchinson and NLS.
“They’re all pretty much the same,” Draeger said.
Litchfield is hosting a quadrangle at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Minnewaska, one of the teams to watch in 6A, is competing, as are Elk River and Rock Ridge.
The only West Central Tribune area team with a week zero game on Friday is Renville County West. All other teams in the region open on September 1 or 2.
The Jaguars take on Kingsland at 7 p.m. Friday in Spring Valley.
“We don’t know anything about them,” RCW head coach Ryan Hebrink said last week before seeing the Knights video. “We’ve never played them before.”
Kingsland is coached by Matt Kolling. The Knights were 3-6 last year, recording wins over Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart (16-0), Houston (42-14) and Lyle-Pacelli (54-6). They lost to Fillmore Central (18-0) in the first round of the Section 1, Nine-Man playoffs.
This is a 3.5 hour trip to Spring Valley from RCW.
The Jaguars needed a Week Zero game because BLHS is playing a JV-only schedule this year, leaving a bye on RCW’s schedule on Sept. 23.
The Jaguars finished 8-4 last year, advancing to the state playoffs.
Former wrestler Willmar Jonas Anez is one of 11 new recruits to the Minnesota State-Moorhead wrestling team. Jonas has three state qualifiers, including a fifth-place finish, for the Cardinals. He finished with 125 career wins and was selected four times in the All-Central Lakes Conference. He won six letters and served as team captain twice.
MSU-Moorhead is coached by Kris Nelson, whose team was 0-9 in doubles last season.
The Willmar women’s tennis season kicks off with a Central Lakes Conference game at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Alexandria. Willmar is coached this season by Cayle Hovland, a Willmar graduate. She succeeds Amy Morrell, who retired after last season.
Meanwhile, the Willmar boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams are hosting their first meet of the season at 9 a.m. Saturday at the St. Cloud Apollo Early Bird Invitational. Willmar has a new head coach. Athletics head coach Connor Haugen succeeds Eric Hjelden.
Haugen was a distance runner at Bethel University before taking charge of the track and field program last spring.