When Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah switched from the Central Lakeshore to the Great 8 Conference a few years ago, it knew it had a chance to finally compete and win some games.
The Resorters have done just that, winning the South conference last year with a 6-0 record —outscoring opponents 364-54 — while making it to the 8-man Jamboree game. The Resorters lost that game by a large margin to Luck. Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah finished third two years ago in the Great 8 North behind 8-man powerhouses Green Bay NEW Lutheran and Gibraltar.
As their third season in the 8-man gets underway, the Resorters have high expectations once again, despite losing quite a bit of pieces from last year’s team.
“This year we have a little adversity right away, we have a lot of young guys and our best player is out with injury,” Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah coach Josh Bardon said. “We only have three seniors so we are counting on them to have a lot of leadership. (Winning the conference title again) is definitely our goal. I think we have the raw talent and I think we have a good group that is working really hard.”
Jared Shaw, who played running back last year for the Resorters, broke his elbow in the offseason. He would have been the quarterback this season.
Filling in those spots offensively is Dylan Winkle — a converted lineman — at quarterback and Dylan Koenen at running back. Bardon also expects big things from Owen Kalbacken at tight end.
Bardon said Izaiah Annis will be the leader defensively. The Resorters gave up nine points a game last season and scored 61 per game.
Oakfield will turn to first-year head coach Corey Rickert, after its 2-4 finish (3-6 overall) last year.
Rickert has been involved in the program the last six years, serving the last three as the varsity assistant. He said Oakfield has the most numbers out he’s ever seen since he’s been there and promises that his squad will be more competitive.
“Last year was a down year, I thought we were in a lot of games but we tailed off,” Rickert said. “This year we didn’t lose too much, we are still young but pretty experienced.”
Tyler Burbach will be a player to watch as he is ready to start his fourth season as the starting quarterback.
“He’s looking stronger than ever, he’s been working out in the weight room and has been hitting them hard,” Rickert said. “I don’t expect his fourth season to go bad for him. He’s prepared for what we have.”
Senior running back Ross Ellison should also have a big year for the Oaks.
“He’s short but he’s big in heart,” Rickert said. “He’s turned it on as a running back. Last couple of years we had some good running backs and he’s learned from them and he’s made a big step.”
Another big offensive leader for the Oaks is junior lineman Jason Culvert. He is a three year starter.
“Looking for big things from him,” Rickert said. “He’s oldest of all lineman. Couple other juniors but he’s had two full years already. He’s made gains both on the field and leadership.”
Defense will be the biggest question for Oakfield. Rickert said they lost a lot of leadership from last year’s team that gave up 32.6 points per game last season.
“I think we’ll have a strong defense, we’ll be solid and I’m hoping to be aggressive, banking on takeaways,” Rickert said. “So far our offense, the first week of offense seems to have clicked so that’s our next step on defense, to coach them and we’ll be focusing on turnovers.”
Abundant Life, which also made it to the Jamboree last season, will have a lot to replace its team that finished second (5-1) in the conference. Abundant Life fell 58-40 to Siren in the Jamboree game.
Offensively, it loses its top quarterback in Clint Keaveny and its top two leading running backs in Zach Galvin and Derek Ruck. Keaveny passed for over 1,000 yards and threw 17 touchdowns while the two running backs combined for over 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Another team that could battle toward the top of the conference is Maranatha Baptist, who finished third with a 4-2 mark last year.
Maranatha will be led by junior quarterback Seth Hudson, who threw for over 1,300 yards last season along with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Hudson also rushed for 358 yards with six scores.
Maranatha’s offense was balanced last season, thanks to Luke Fell who rushed for over 1,200 yards last season and Tim Warren, who added almost 500 yards on the ground. But the run game will have holes to fill this season as both graduated last year.
Valley Christian will be in the mix once again after finishing 3-3 last year and a 5-4 overall record. It was quite the turnaround for the Warriors, who went 0-4 in the conference in 2013 and 0-8 overall, while winning just one game in 2012.
The biggest piece is gone for the Warriors in quarterback Ryan Van Maanen — the conference’s player of the year last year. He passed for 1,442 yards and rushed for 1,265, and was also a first-team linebacker.
Schiek said the offense will be a tad different than last year, so expect the Warriors to pass the ball more often.
Richard Wang is back for Valley Christian after rushing for 310 yards and four touchdowns last year. Kiefer will also make an impact offensively as he rushed for 100 yards last year and was the team’s leading receiver with 38 catches for 802 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Kiefer is also the team’s leading defender after recording 47 tackles last year — 13 for loss. He also had three fumble recoveries and an interception and a touchdown.
Ben Peterson will anchor the line once again for the Warriors after earning first-team all-conference a season ago. Other playmakers for Valley Christian this season includes Wesley Schiek and Caleb Cooley.
It could be another tough season for Wayland Academy, which won no games last year.
Stockbridge gave up around 60 points a game last year and it loses its top offensive pieces.
North Shore Country Day (Ill.) will be making its debut in the Great 8 South.
Alex Wolf writes for Oshkosh Northwestern Media and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
•Head Coach: Corey Rickert, first season
•Last year’s record: 3-6 overall, 2-4 in Great 8 South Conference (5th place)
•Returning all-conference players: None
•2015 Schedule: Aug. 21: vs. Gibraltar, 7 p.m.; Aug. 28: at Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah, 7 p.m.; Sept. 5: at Abundant Life Christian, 1 p.m.; Sept. 11: vs. North Shore Country Day, 7 p.m.; Sept. 18: vs. Maranatha Baptist Academy, 7 p.m.; Sept. 25: vs. Valley Christian, 7 p.m.; Oct. 3: at Menominee Indian, 1 p.m.; Oct. 10: at Wayland Academy, 1 p.m.; Oct. 16: TBA.