One more win. That’s all the Manawa Wolves needed last year to qualify for the WIAA football playoffs.
It didn’t happen, as the Wolves fell to Bonduel in the final game of the regular season. Coach Bob Sell would like nothing more than a return trip to the post season, but it’s going to have to happen this year with fewer players than most teams.
“We do have a number of starters coming back, so I’d like to consider ourselves a little better at eight out of the 11 positions,” Sell said. “I’d like to be one game better this year. If we can accomplish that, that would get us into the playoffs and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Manawa is coming off a 4-5 season that included a 3-4 mark in the Central Wisconsin 8 Conference, a league that included a Division 6 state champion in Shiocton; a Division 5 state semifinalist in Amherst; and Iola-Scandinavia, which made it to Level 3 of the playoffs in Division 6.
Sell expects other teams to make some noise in the CWC-8 this year as well.
“Bonduel’s going to be really tough to beat this year,” he said. “Wittenberg-Birnamwood’s going to be better, so we have to be better every week. I think it’s an excellent conference and I think we can compete, but our numbers are down this year. We have 31 kids on the team right now and 26 eligible. That’s tough, but I like what we do have. It’s a good group of kids, a pretty quiet group, but we have a couple kids that are really hard workers and I hope that carries over and the rest of the kids pick up on that.”
Returning players include senior center Jake Kaczorowski.
“Jake Kaczorowski has made huge improvement from last year,” Sell said. “He was a good ballplayer last year and has really changed physically, strength-wise and mentally. I hope to see him as first-team all-conference on both sides of the ball. Adam Langman is a running back and his older brother, Ryan, just completed his college career in Ripon. He will be our featured back and also play some quarterback. Luke Wilz is only a junior, but he’s a horse of a running back at 185 or 190 pounds.”
Kaczorowski will join Dusty Beyer and Cole Thompson on the line.
“We’re averaging about 270 (pounds) with those three big guys,” Sell said. “If we can stay healthy, our line will be OK.”
Fans will probably notice a change in defensive strategy, according to Sell.
“We’re going to make a few changes to be more aggressive,” he said. “We’re going to go after people more this year. We’ll give up some big plays this year, but hopefully, we can create more turnovers. We did not create enough turnovers last year.”
The Wolves should also be faster.
“I had three kids show up that ran sub-4.8s, the first time ever I’ve had a kid run a 4.8,” Sell said. “We’re going to try to go vertical so our opponents will have to keep us as a two-dimensional team. Last year, they knew that we couldn’t throw. We were stuck with the run game. This year, we have a couple of good basketball players that can streak down the field and go up and get it.”
The Wolves will open the season at 7 tonight (Thursday, Aug. 21) with a nonconference game with the CWC-10’s Marion/Tigerton in Marion.
Manawa tuned up for the season Aug. 15 at a scrimmage Aug. 15 at Roncalli High School in Manitowoc against Roncalli, Two Rivers, Denmark and Cedar Grove/Belgium.
“What we’re looking for here is to stay healthy, play hard and definitely learn something,” Sell said. “They know we’re not here to win this scrimmage. We’re here to learn and figure out what we have to improve on to prepare ourselves to win enough games in conference to get to the playoffs.”
“It’s really going to be the simple fundamental things,” he added. “Can we hold our blocks? Do we run the right routes? Is our quarterback hitting the receiver and making the right read? Defensively, are the guys where they need to be? If not, we need to get there.”
Coaches always get some questions answered at a scrimmage, Sell said.
“Some people say, ‘We’ll, we scored five touchdowns, they scored two, we beat them,’” he said. “Well, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, you have to put a strategy together in a scrimmage to try to set up a big play. You’re trying different things to see how they look and how they work with your team. That’s really how we’re going to approach it today. We’re going to see if we know the fundamentals well enough so we can compete.”