By Nathan Randall
Fall is getting close, if it’s not already here, and with it comes another batch of young men and women who take to the tracks, fields, and gymnasiums to get ready for another exciting year of high school sports.
Football practice for many area schools has been underway for about three weeks now, and teams are starting to shape up. The Coulee Conference like most in the WIAA has great players, coaches, and fans. So with the season just getting underway I caught up with coaches from around the conference to see where their teams were after a couple weeks of practice.
Starting alphabetically with Arcadia, coach Updike said that they are “young and athletic.” Last years conference runners up finished with a 7-3 record, and were led by the conferences leading rusher, senior Paul Mines, who had 1,055 total rushing yards according to wissports.net. The Raiders were also well represented with all conference teams, first-team running back Mines, and offensive lineman of the year Dalton Jeske, second-team offense QB Sam Ferguson, WR Abe Ferguson, and OL Chris Weltzien. Arcadia also had several members on the defensive side of the ball including first-team defensive lineman Dalton Jeske, and defensive back Sam Ferguson, who also was the first team punter. Second-team defense was represented by lineman John Quinn, and linebacker Bryan Wozney, and receiving honorable mention was Spencer Bisek. All on the list were seniors, except for Abe Ferguson, and John Quinn who were both juniors.
“We return first-team receiver Abe Ferguson and John Quinn, but feel we have a good nucleus of players who will compete for all-conference this year,” Updike said. “We should have a fairly balanced team which hopefully makes us more difficult to defend.”
In terms of how the team would weather against the rest of the conference Updike was positive.
“In terms of my thoughts on the Coulee, I once again think balance is the word,” Updike said. “Perhaps Black River Falls is considered preseason favorites and look on paper to be the class of the field, but I see West Salem, GET, & Westby all giving them a run at the conference title. We at Arcadia are hoping to improve each week and our goal is to scrap out enough wins to be in playoff contention near the end.”
Next on the list is Black River Falls, coming off of a perfect conference season at 6-0, the Tigers, lead by head coach Jim Bible, saw their run at a gold ball come to an end in early November of last year. The Coulee Conference champs were knocked out of the tournament by Somerset, who went on to win the division four state title. They provided many for the all-conference players including first-team offense QB Ethan Young. WR Jordan Millis, who was also the conference player of the year, and led the Coulee with 1132 yards. There were also two offensive lineman Christian Stiehl, and Dylan Brude, and one offensive player on the second-team offense, Matt LaFaunge. Defensively the team was represented well with first-team players Christian Stiehl as a lineman, and Brandon Stoker at linebacker. There were also three players on second-team defense with Grant Stittleburg, DB Jordan Millis and representing special teams Ryan Millis.
Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau, under the direction of Jon Steffenhagen last season went 3-3, and were also knocked out of the playoffs by Somerset. Last season, while earning a trip to the playoffs after a 4-5 year, the Red Hawks on and off the field were represented by first-team running back Eric Van Vleet, who had just under 1000 rushing yards on the season, tight end Brad Walski, and offensive lineman Chandler Lamke. Second-team offense was represented by lineman Matt Scherr, and on the defensive side of the ball there were five players, including lineman Mitch Scherr, and Brad Walski, linebacker Cole Piddington, and back Eric Van Vleet. All of the previous were first-team, and there was also second team linebacker Dan Parrish. Receiving honorable mention for G-E-T were Cole Piddington, and George Yang.
Viroqua, now under head coach Rob Heller, had a down season last year. The Blackhawks finished the season 0-8, and look to be in a building mode. I had a chance to catch up with coach Heller and asked him what we will see in his first year as head coach.
“One thing people will notice is we are gonna open up the offense a little more, we won’t be running out of double tight as much,” Heller said. “Another thing, we should be more sound as far as assignments on offense and defense. We had a lot of young kids last year, and they all have a year of experience under their belts.”
Heller said the players have a positive outlook at practices have been going well.
“So far it’s been going great, the kids are working really hard, we had a really good off-season,” said Heller “The kids are buying into our program, we got some young kids a lot of reps, and their looking good and stepping up into some roles. Our guys coming back a year of experience are looking good as well.”
“I’ve got a chance to really watch them grow…they’ve gotten a lot stronger.” Heller said “This is the fastest our team has ever been. That group of seniors, they’ve come a long ways as far as student athletes go, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Many small towns have a hard time fielding a team, with other fall sports taking some athletes away, and some kids having to work these days to get by, it can be hard to find a good group of players in the same town. We do have some numbers issues, we’re a smaller team, but I couldn’t be happier for the group of guys I have. They’re ready to work everyday, they’ve put in a good off-season… Even though we have some number issues, these kids work hard and I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Westby last year, finished with a 5-4 record, 3-3 in conference, lead by head coach Dan Nelson. They reached the first round of the WIAA state playoffs, and were defeated by Durand. The Norsemen were well represented in the all-conference teams with nine nominations for both first and second team offense and defense, as well as five honorable mentions. The most decorated was senior Alex Midtlien with four nominations, second-team tight end, first-team linebacker, and special teams, as well as receiving an honorable mention. Other seniors were Jacob Hanson second-team running back, second-team linebacker, also seniors Mike Neely at linebacker, and Nick Schroeder at defensive back both second-team. The Norsemen return one underclassmen who was awarded a spot on both sides of the line on the second-team all-conference selection in Chase Nottestad.
West Salem finished third in last years Coulee Conference with a conference record of 4 and 2, and an overall record of 5 and 4.
All stats courtesy of wissports.net
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