Waupaca team prepares for Bay Conference
By Greg Seubert
John Koronkiewicz has been through a number of conference realignments in his nearly 30 years as coach of Waupaca High School’s football team.
The East Central Conference gave way to the Valley 8 Conference, which gave way to the Eastern Valley Conference.
The latest realignment, which takes effect this season, places the Comets in the Bay Conference with Green Bay East, Green Bay West, Menasha, New London, Seymour, Shawano, West De Pere and Xavier.
“We’ve gone through a lot of conference realignments, but that’s just the way it is in Wisconsin,” Koronkiewicz said after a recent morning practice. “You can call it the Bay, but it’s not the Bay because it’s a conglomeration of three different leagues. They took some pretty good teams from three leagues plus the two Green Bay schools and put them into one league.
“That makes it extremely tough,” he said. “You’ve got Menasha as a defending (Division 2) state champ. You have West De Pere, a perennial power. You have Xavier and us coming in. You have Shawano on the rise. It’s a tough league from top to bottom. There aren’t any weak teams. You’re going to have to show up and compete on a weekly basis.”
Showing up and competing on a weekly basis is nothing new for Koronkiewicz’s teams, as the Comets won Division 3 state titles in 2006 and 2008 and finished second in 1994, 2002 and 2012.
Although the Comets will lose long-standing rivals with teams such as Ripon, Berlin and Winneconne, they will still face Xavier each year.
“The rivalry now is with Xavier and we’ve had a pretty good go with West De Pere,” Koronkiewicz said. “New London is a close neighbor, Seymour’s down the road and Shawano isn’t that far away. We’ll develop other types of rivalries. It’ll be exciting to play a Green Bay school and see what we can do against bigger competition. That’s what we’re going to have to do, compete at a high level week in and week out.”
Fans won’t have to travel far for the Comets’ first two games, as Waupaca hosts Green Bay East Friday, Aug. 21, and Green Bay West the following Friday at Haberkorn Field.
“It’s always nice being at home,” Koronkiewicz said. “The disappointment here is school isn’t in session yet and a lot of people aren’t into that school setting. The band typically doesn’t play, so we’ll miss out on that. Hopefully, the fans will still show up and find out that we’re playing.”
Waupaca finished fourth in the Eastern Valley last year behind Freedom, Xavier and Little Chute with a 5-3 record and ended up with a 5-5 overall mark after a 56-14 loss to West De Pere in the first round of the WIAA playoffs.
The Comets tuned up for the season Aug. 14 with a scrimmage with Hortonville, Ashwaubenon and Wrightstown, programs that have made the playoffs on a regular basis in recent years.
“I’ve seen great attitude, a willingness to work, the beginning of the development of team chemistry,” Koronkiewicz said. “We’re trying to figure out who can play or might play from a starting and top reserves standpoint. There are a lot of questions that we have to try to ask and answer. We have a couple of guys back on the offensive front, but we’re pretty green. We have guys that have switched from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball.”
Walker Smith, a second-team all-conference running back last year as a junior, is penciled in at quarterback.
“Right now, it looks like we have some people that have certain skills,” Koronkiewicz said. “We have a couple of guys who are baseball players that will help us on the perimeter. That’s good to see.”
Holes that the Comets need to fill include all-conference players Noah Martin and Brady Deuman on offense; and Caleb Hobson, Drew Schuler, Travis Blank and Travis Heschke on defense.
“Defensively, we’re very, very inexperienced,” Koronkiewicz said. “In essence, our entire secondary is new, all of our linebackers are new, all of our people up front are new, but they’re working at it and trying to learn as much as possible.
“We have always tried to throw as much at them as we can so that when the season comes, we’re not really surprised by anything,” he added. “We still have to become more physical, which is typical at this point of the year because your contact is obviously limited. The WIAA said in the first week there can be no physical contact, so we’re just starting to get used to that and that’s always an adjustment.”
The Comets currently hold the state’s second-longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances. Waupaca has qualified for the playoffs each year since 1991, while Menomonie has made it each season since 1990.
Making the playoffs is always one of the team’s goals, according to Koronkiewicz.
“Our goals are always the same: enjoy the season, enjoy ourselves as teammates, get better, reach our potential, make the playoffs, compete for a conference championship,” he said. “We’re not going to take any of those things out of the deck. We want to do all of those things.”
• Greg Seubert covers Waupaca, Iola-Scandinavia, Weyauwega-Fremont and Manawa sports for The Waupaca County Post. He can be reached at email@example.com or 715-258-4346.