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Track and field: Willmar Cardinals have plenty of top experience

Apr. 9—WILLMAR — The Willmar track and field team has plenty of proven commodities back in the mix this spring.

All eight of the Cardinals' state-qualifying girls are back this season. And five of the eight boys who competed at state are in the mix once again.

"Especially since I've coached these kids now for several years, from where they start, I have good ideas about where they can be at the end," said Willmar head coach Connor Haugen, who's entering his third season at the helm. "It's just great to know we will have some really good runners at the end of the year."

The Cardinals opened the season with the Central Lakes Conference indoor championships Saturday at St. John's University. The girls finished third and the boys were eighth.

"The indoor meet is always just shaking the rust off," Haugen said. "This was our first meet and there was definitely some track rush. But there were a lot of glimpses of what our team could be."

"We have the bones of a very good team but it will take a lot of effort and hard work over the next couple of weeks."

Junior Lauren Eilers is the team's returning Class AA state medalist after placing fourth in the 3,200-meter run. She's also coming off a fifth-place finish in the Class AA state cross-country championship meet in the fall. Eilers took the top spot in the 1,600 at the CLC indoor meet with a time of 5 minutes, 20.64 seconds.

"All of the girls that were on our varsity cross-country team this past season, I have high hopes for them," Haugen said.

Senior Lyndi Koosman is back after making state in both the pole vault and triple jump in 2023. She won both events on Saturday with a triple jump of 33 feet, 8 inches and a vault of 10-0.

Other state qualifiers back for the Willmar girls are Hannah Quinn, Mallory Beier, Erin Eilers, Sophia Negen and Gabby Martinez. The 4x400 relay team of Quinn, Beier, Koosman and Erin Eilers placed third at state. The 4x800 team of Negen, Quinn, Martinez and Erin Eilers placed eighth. The CLC indoor meet saw the 4x800 team of Negen, Martinez, Alivia Fladeboe and Erin Eilers win at 10:43.62.

Haugen is also expecting high points in the throwing events with Makenna Larson and Maddison Molacek in the shot put and Avery Quinn in discus.

"Having Makenna back is huge, and Maddison surprised a lot of people last year as well," Haugen said. "Avery is always one of the best discus throwers in the section."

The boys team also has key cogs in the distance running events in junior Sully Anez and senior Fathi Dubet. Anez finished 10th in last season's 3,200 run and was sixth in the Class AA state cross-country meet this fall. Dubet was 26th in the state cross-country meet.

The Cardinal boys also have a surplus of talent in the pole vault. Seniors Tyler Evans and Koda Helfinstine are back after both qualified for state last spring. Evans placed 11th and Helfinstine 16th. Then at last weekend's conference indoor meet, Cavin Carlson finished third at 11-0, Evans fifth at 10-6, Helfinstine eighth at 10-0 and Isaac Cayler 10th at 9-6.

"The pole vault is fantastic," Haugen said.

Will Sportel for his senior campaign after placing 12th at state in the 300 hurdles.

Jonathan Ritz will be the team's number one shot putter for the third straight season while Hayden Venenga will also be a factor in the throws. Ramero Trevino is expected to be one of the boys team's top sprinters.

Haugen is also encouraged by some of the newcomers like Jackson Schnichels, Carter Dirkes, Mario Serrano and Ethan Riemersma.

"Those four older boys that are just trying out for the first time, if they adapt quick enough, they can be very good," Haugen said.

The Cardinals are also benefitting from getting outside early. They'll have their first outdoor meet on Tuesday, April 16 at Rocori. Willmar has its lone home meet on Tuesday, April 23 at Kennedy Elementary School.

"It definitely helps quite a bit running on a track as opposed to measuring out a distance in the hallway," Haugen said with a laugh. "It'll make a huge impact on the throwers being out so soon because they have four extra weeks of actual throwing practice whereas in the past two years, we haven't really been able to get out until the end of April."