St. Paul Pioneer Press sports columnist Charlie Walters thinks the Vikings training camp will remain in Mankato. Duluth and Sioux Falls, S.D., have also submitted bids to host the camp starting next fall.

"The only place money-grubbing Red McCombs would consider moving it would be to South Dakota because of extra cash, but politically he can't afford to do that because then the state Legislature wouldn't approve a new stadium for him," Walters e-mailed Tuesday. "It's clear McCombs wants the new stadium so he can increase his sale price by some $200 million, then dump the team to whomever is willing to pay $550 million to $600 million. McCombs is not a good guy."

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  • Both the Bulldogs men's and women's basketball teams will have to "turn up their recruiting" as they prepare for North Central Conference play starting in 2004-05, local college basketball analyst Fred Friedman said.

In the meantime, Friedman looks for the Bulldogs to advance to the championship game of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference playoffs. But, unfortunately, "the Bulldogs will struggle to defend the post," Friedman said.

The Bulldog women will defend their NSIC title, said Friedman.

The Gopher men will finish eighth in the Big Ten, "won't make the NCAA and will barely squeeze into the NIT," Friedman said. "(Kris) Humphries will turn pro after the season, and next year will be Dan Monson's last at Minnesota."

  • The Bulldogs men's hockey team, 1-4 in their last two Western Collegiate Hockey Association series, is poised for a major meltdown in 2004. UMD (9-8-2, 7-5 WCHA) has league series remaining at Denver, Minnesota State-Mankato, Colorado College and Wisconsin, and home series against Colorado College, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and North Dakota. The Bulldogs finish the regular schedule against Minnesota, Colorado College, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Echoing a prediction made here a month ago: the Bulldogs won't gain home ice for the first round of the playoffs (How much loss in revenue will this mean to UMD and downtown Duluth?), will crumble in the first round of the playoffs and finish the season with an overall losing record.

My close, personal friend Jim Lipovetz won't jump on the Bulldogs' predicted train wreck.

"A 'Big Sandy' (Bulldogs' coach Scott Sandelin) locker room blowup would prevent any major derailment from happening," Lipovetz said.

  • Duluth East is better than its 3-4 record, Greyhounds girl's basketball coach Carole Zanardi said. East concludes its torrid 2003 schedule on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday at the Hill-Murray tournament.

"We've played some tough teams early, but we're improving every game," said Zanardi, who guided the Greyhounds to a 28-4 record in her rookie season a year ago. "We don't have a lot of height, so we've been establishing our outside game."

East's top perimeter players are senior forward Katy Freeman, a Missouri-Kansas City recruit, and junior point guard Jenna Reinemann.

"We ask a lot of Katy and Jenna, at both ends of the floor, but they both understand that they're our go-to players," Zanardi said.

East is getting strong play from front court players Kari Stellmaker and Michaela Leider, Zanardi said. Guards Tara Wegehaupt, Alysha Kneeland and Meghan Freeman, Katy's younger sister, have also stepped up their play recently.

Zanardi believes the Greyhounds' tough early-season schedule will prepare them for the Section 7AAAA tournament, a step up in class for the defending Section 7AAA champions.

"Blaine could be the best team in our section," Zanardi said. "But we have a club that has the talent to make a run at a state tournament berth. Basketball is anybody's game, and it depends on who shows up that night. Our girls have that determination."

The Greyhounds' schedule softens somewhat in 2004. East begins the year with home games against Duluth Denfeld and Duluth Central, but the Greyhounds do have a difficult game at Grand Rapids on Feb. 12 and will play seven of their final nine games on the road.

"We're looking forward to playing the best teams in our area," Zanardi said.

  • The best indoor recreational volleyball in Duluth in the winter months is played at the National Guard Armory.

Competing in the Duluth Parks and Rec League are 64 men's and women's co-rec teams who compete four nights a week on two floors in a 13-week season.

Advanced and intermediate co-rec leagues have been operating since November, and regular season play will end in mid-March. An eight-team co-ed recreational league will begin play Jan. 14. All games are refereed.

As of Dec. 11 (most-recent standings), league leaders were Holden Insurance and Big Lumber (both 11-4) in Monday Co-Rec Advanced, Hammerlund (13-5) and UMD (12-0) in Monday Women's Advanced, Club North Men (13-2) and Holden Insurance (11-4) in Tuesday Men's Advanced, Leinenkugel/Old Men (14-1) in Tuesday Men's Intermediate, Grizzley's (12-0) and Holman Contracting (11-1) in Wednesday Co-Rec Intermediate, and SENA/StoraEnso (9-3) in Thursday Women's Intermediate.

A few Duluth teams will compete in the Minnesota Parks and Recreation state tournament later this winter, said league director Missey Hayko.

"Our co-ed advanced team finished second at state last year," she said.

Howie Hanson writes a regular sports column for the Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached by e-mail at Duluth@aol.com