Football season finally underway for all Tri-County area teams this season
The wait is over for the Augusta High School football team. Barring any last minute cancellation, the Beavers will play their first game this Saturday at Thorp at 1 p.m.
The COVID-19 virus pandemic has altered the prep sports landscape significantly this fall. Outbreaks at various schools, like Augusta despite all the protocols and precautions taken have cancelled contests and setback team's season even further on the calendar. It's also affected teams' rosters as well.
"We have had some kids not come out due to COVID and the late timing of football." Eleva-Strum head coach Jacob Lerum said.
So just to playing at all, as the Cardinals have opened their regular season last week and Fall Creek and Osseo-Fairchild have two games in already, is a blessing for the Tri-County team just to have the opportunity to be together and play at all.
"Our players have shown an enthusiasm and commitment level I've never seen at the high school level," new Fall Creek head coach Tyler Mickelson said. "There is this... sense of urgency... and gratefulness... for the chance to play. They waited, and waited, and waited for the opportunity to get on the field, and now that they've made it, they don't want to waste their time. Coaches are always excited for the start of the season. It's like Christmas."
Such enthusiasm will have to carry team's through until they can earn victories which non have done so far. Augusta has a tough assignment out of the gate against the defending Dairyland Conference champions B-T. But putting COVID-19 aside, Eleva-Strum, Osseo--Fairchild and Augusta all come into this season off playoff berths in 2019, some after long absences. They hope the momentum sticks with them going forward to at least have solid campaigns for this season. Augusta in particular as the Beavers return 10 letter winners, particularly up front, to offset the loss of skill players such as Traven Fabian, Nate Sobota and Cole Stenson. Top returning lettermen include Brennan King at quarterback and Chase Stensen-Veenendall and Ben Dickensen in the backfield as well along with Tyler Dixsen, Isaiah Hurst, Hunter Breaker, Isaiah Waggoner, Devin Madison, Jordan Moyle and Mike Randall
"You normally have two-a-day practices to start the season but that hasn't been an option for us given the late start," Augusta head coach Derek Boldt said. "Hopefully the wait we've been on has given us time to get in shape and prepare, It's been difficult and we need a lot of players from last year's JV team to step up for us. But we have good leaders with this team and they helped the team do a lot of work in the weight room in the offseason. The realize now the hard work they've put in has paid off and its changed the mindset."
COVID-19 is still a problem. Augusta had to reschedule its contest at Blair-Taylor becuase of the virus and was just able to schedule the contest at Thorp on Tuesday of this week just to get a game, any game in. E-S struggled in its first game, shutout 22-0 by an Independence/Gilmanton squad which went 0-9 last season. The Cardinals graduated nine seniors last season and return lettermen Nick Higley, Wyatt Miland,
Brady Monson, Riley Cegielski, Quinton Schiefelbein, Gabe Monson, Sawyer Deetz, Diego Gutierrez.
"Health is always a factor, and being careful with the football and trying to limit turnovers," E-S head coach Lerum said.
And if not for the virus another big story involving the prep season is the new football conference for the Cloverbelt. Three Dunn-St. Croix team have moved in for better enrollment balance and they are some of the traditional powers from that league: Durand, Elk Mound and Mondovi. Both O-F and FC have felt the brunt of those teams already in early season losses. They join an already strong Cloverbelt Conference leading teams in Stanley-Boyd and Eau Claire Regis.
The Thunder will get a chance to notch its first win of the season Friday at home vs. Neillsville/Granton. The Thunder have been led so far by new quarterback Bryce Shimon to with their top returning skill players, running back Dayne Vojtik and wide received Garrett Koxlien. If OFHS can cut down on turnovers (they had six against Durand) and tighten up the run defense, they should obtain that win and possibly make it back-to back wins when they play Fall Creek on Oct. 16. But will be looking for an opportunity to snap a long losing streak when they play Fall Creek as well. The Crickets are starting over under new head coach Tyler Mickelson and have returning lettermen: Sr. Riley Wathke (RB/LB) , Sr. Brock Laube (QB), So. Ben Kelly (QB/DB), Sr. Teigen Ploeckelman (WR), Sr. Caleb VanDong (DB), Sr. Jack Monnier (RB/LB), So. Ryan Whittlinger (RB/LB), Sr. Trey White (OL/DL), Sr. Logan Gilles (OL/LB), Sr. Chase Kiesow (OL/DL), Sr. Logan Martzke (OL/DL), Sr. Luke Olson (TE/DL).
"Playing fast and erasing last season from our memory. Fall Creek has a new scheme, mindset and personality," Mickelson said. "Our players recognize that. Whatever happened in 2019, has no impact on us. As long as our players play fast and focus on the next play, and always look to get better, we'll be in a good position."