Let’s get it out of the way right away - the first week of football season was rough for Antelope County fans. For the first time in recent memory, the county went winless in a big way on opening weekend. No one is used to that. However, it will get better.
Lets start on Thursday with Elkhorn Valley. I expected them to come home from Winside with the win. Everything seemed to set up for it, and for the most part, it was starting to look that way midway through the third quarter. However, turnovers were a killer in the end. This team is still young. They have lots of talent and the running game showed well. However, it will be a rocky year as they continue to grow. Coach Dittmer and staff can correct the errors. They will have more chances at a win, so be patient.
Elgin Public/Pope John struggled to get anything going against Burwell, getting blanked. A reminder, though, that this is Burwell - the defending state champs and one of the favorites to make it back their again. For the second-straight year, the Wolfpack’s schedule is brutal. They are young again as well, with just a few experienced seniors. Coach Eisenhauer knows what he’s doing. They will have more chances at a win, so be patient.
Now, Neligh-Oakdale. They experienced their first 50-point or more loss since 2013 - a 52-point loss to Creighton after losing to the Bulldogs by 78 in 2012. The run defense struggled mightily and Creighton continued to pound the rock all night. That didn’t sit well with many, and I understand that. Again, these guys are young, with two-thirds of the roster being freshmen and sophomores. They’ll bounce back this week and Coach Beacom knows how to come back. They are talented and, you guessed it, they will have more chances at a win, so be patient.
Ladies and gentlemen, with each passing week we get even closer to another new fall sports season. Therefore, this week I’ll be knocking out two school for my candid look at the teams. Again, I’ll have more formal previews coming your way soon.
First, Clearwater-Orchard. On the football field, this could be a very good team. Coach Jeff Shabram has had plenty of experience with strong years and the talent is definitely there to do it again. Lots of young kids saw the field last year. Creston Bertschinger is a natural leader and Blake Hoke, Chris Kester, Clay Thiele and Ryan Wilhelm will be leaned on as leaders now as well. They could surprise this year.
The volleyballers are a team of potential. They lost some big talent to graduation, but have plenty of gifted youngsters. JoCee Johnston is as good of a player as any and will lead the team all year.
Now, Elgin Public/Pope John. The Wolfpack, too, had lots of young guys on the football field last year. Injuries were a struggle, but it could bode well for this year. There may not be a better lineman than Liam Heithoff in the area and Hunter Reestman will explode statistically if he can get a full season on the field.
The volleyball team only has to live up to last season - the best season in school history. Coach Tina Thiele-Blecher doesn’t struggle to keep her team motivated and focused and when she has the talent that EPPJ provides, it means special things. They lost a few very good players last year, but Paige Meis and Grace Henn will take the lead while Allyson Wemhoff will be tasked with controlling the pace of the game.
Guess what is back?
If you didn’t guess fall sports, well, that was the answer I was looking for. Sorry Game of Thrones fans.
I’ve had a chance to see a couple teams in preseason action and thought I’d share some of my thoughts, starting with Neligh-Oakdale.
On the football field, the Warriors have some holes to fill after losing an incredibly talented senior class last year. However, they’ve put in tons of work and it shows. The young kids are ready. Hunter Charf will fill in nicely at quarterback and Austin Rice, Andrew Herley and Nate Buck will bring good leadership to the young team.
On the volleyball court, don’t sleep on the young Warriors. They, too, graduated a lot of seniors, but the youngsters are very, very talented. The likes of Kristen Snodgrass, Bailey Frey, Haley Kerkman and Jaclynn Hixson will provide coach Hoefer and crew with a strong base to build on.
For the cross country kids, they return some good experience, led by Cole Belitz and Emma Bixler. No Warrior made their way to state last year, but they weren’t far off from sending multiple runners. Expect that to change this year.
Overall, N-O’s teams are young, but talented. They will have plenty of success in between a few speed bumps.
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