It will be an upset if the Peshtigo boys basketball team doesn’t win the Marinette & Oconto Conference this season.
The Bulldogs have gone 16-0 each of the past three seasons in conference play and have won 53 straight M&O games.
Peshtigo returns nine letterwinners and four senior starters, including Zack Neumann and Jordan Berth, both four-year varsity players and first-team all-conference choices.
Frankly, it’s not a matter of if the Bulldogs will win the M&O for a fourth straight time, but how will they handle the pressure with those expectations.
“I think it’s good pressure,” Peshtigo coach Ryan Spaulding said. “If we do feel it, we’re not showing it because of our experience. We have a big senior class and they’re embracing that it’s our time to have our best year yet.”
The Bulldogs are hoping that will result in their first WIAA regional title since 2001.
After taking over a program that went 0-21 in 2007-08, Spaulding has gone 86-31 in six years, including 63-8 over the past three seasons.
Peshtigo hasn’t had much trouble in the M&O since sustaining its last conference loss at Suring in overtime on Feb. 4, 2010.
But the Eagles have been the toughest challenger in a conference featuring all Division 5 and 4 teams except for the Bulldogs, who are in D3 for the playoffs.
Suring lost by one point in both of its games against Peshtigo last season. The Bulldogs won their 14 other M&O games by at least 15 points and an average of 33.9 points per game.
The latter number could go up this season considering Suring graduated its top four scorers, including a first-team all-conference player in Cody Christensen and three second-team choices.
“While we don’t have a team that was at the level of Suring a year ago, we do have three or four teams that are going to create some good competition in the conference,” Spaulding said.
Wausaukee, Crivitz and Marinette St. Thomas all have experienced teams.
Niagara, which advanced to the D5 sectional finals last year, also has a solid nucleus returning.
But Peshtigo is on a different level. That showed Tuesday when it won 57-6 at Niagara.
The Bulldogs have also won 45-20 against Marinette, a D2 team from the Bay Conference.
Peshtigo will also see other Bay teams at the end of the month when it faces Luxemburg-Casco (D3) and Hortonville (D2) at the Kress Center.
“We are working to get our team to understand what it’s going to take from a mental standpoint to compete at the level we want to throughout the season, but especially when we get to the end of the season,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding hopes keeping the intensity level up throughout the season will help the Bulldogs avoid an early playoff exit like last season They shot 29 percent from the floor and fell 43-40 in the regional semifinals against Winneconne.
“We have to do a better job of being more efficient on the offensive end, regardless of who we are playing,” Spaulding said. “It’s not necessarily about a higher point total, but being more efficient with our offensive possessions.”