With the 2013 fall high school sports season officially kicking off with the start of football practice earlier this week, now is the perfect time to look ahead at some of the Chippewa County teams that could shine over the next few months.
There are a variety of teams that return significant talent from 2012 squads, while others are more interesting simply for their novelty.
Without further ado, here are 10 teams, in alphabetical order, to keep an eye on this fall.
Bloomer football — There’s no question that the Bloomer football team has had one of the most consistent programs in all of northwestern Wisconsin over the years.
That trend should continue in 2013.
Coming off a 6-4 campaign in 2012 that featured a trip to Level 2 of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs, the Blackhawks should once again compete for a Heart O’North Conference title with a chance at a deep run in the postseason.
Now, Bloomer does lose some key players — specifically Wisconsin Football Coaches Association first team All-Region defensive lineman Brandt Bruxvoort as well as first team All-Chippewa County defensive back Coby Zwiefelhofer and second team all-county performers Travis Mullen (quarterback) and Dustin Clark (running back).
But there are a bunch of standouts returning, including first team all-county selections Colten Seibel (running back) and Cory Zwiefelhofer (defensive back) and second team performers Owen Zwiefelhofer (defensive line) and Matt Salm — who played tight end last year, but will transition to quarterback in 2013.
There’s no reason to think the ‘Hawks won’t boast another winning season in 2013.
Chi-Hi boys soccer — After a trip to the state tournament in 2011, the Chi-Hi boys soccer team regressed a bit in 2012 — finishing 13-9-2 and falling to Eau Claire Memorial in the playoffs.
But that was a squad dealing with massive turnover from 2011’s state team. That won’t be the case in 2013.
This year the Cardinals will feature a team that is full of battle-tested players such as second team All-Big Rivers Conference performers Devin Bathke and Jared Ewings as well as other standouts like Jon Carli, Brian Crocker and Dan Oliver.
This is a team that should contend for the BRC crown as well as make a run at state.
Chi-Hi girls golf — There’s not a lot to be said about the Chi-Hi girls golf team...because this is its first year in existence.
While not much can be deduced about how this squad will actually fare on the course in 2013, this new flock of Cardinals should still be worth keeping an eye on.
Chi-Hi volleyball — As the defending BRC champs as well as a regional final qualifier, the Chi-Hi volleyball team comes into the 2013 season with high expectations.
Returning two first team all-county performers in reigning Chippewa County Player of the Year Mercedes Antolak and middle hitter Courtney Passint, the Cardinals seem to be the favorite to repeat as conference champs as well as make a deep run in the postseason.
While Chi-Hi does lose first team all-county setter Lisa Tzanakis and honorable mention defensive specialist Kayla Rubenzer, it returns a bunch of other standouts besides Antolak and Passint, including second team all-county performers Maddie Grinnell (outside hitter) and Deanie Schaller (libero). Players like Brenna Roshell and Abby Smits should also see extended playing time this season as well.
Lake Holcombe/Cornell girls cross country — Youth is definitely on the Lake Holcombe/Cornell girls cross country team’s side.
The Knights return a pair of sophomores — Lexi Moussette and Kayla Vavra — who ran exceptionally well as freshmen a season ago.
Moussette qualified for the state meet, while Vavra was just outside the group that qualified.
This team could make some noise in the Lakeland Conference.
Lake Holcombe/Cornell football — While it remains to be seen how good the Lake Holcombe/Cornell football team will be in 2013, it should certainly be interesting to find out.
In the first year of a co-op, the Knights will compete in the reconfigured South Lakeland Conference and could make a run at the playoffs.
From Lake Holcombe’s side, second team all-county running back Preston Strzok should see a bunch of carries while the rest of the team is a bit more of a question mark.
McDonell boys cross country — If there was one team to pick to advance to state this fall, it would be the McDonell boys cross country team.
After all, this is a squad that finished fourth at the WIAA Division 3 state meet last year and returns basically everyone.
Leading the pack is senior Nick Zander — who finished eighth individually at state last year and won three different events at the state track and field meet in June.
Senior Grant Pulver, another runner who finished highly at state, is back as are juniors Sam Bleskachek and Kendall Dorn. Senior Tyler Baier also returns.
With all five of the aforementioned athletes participating at the state meet last season, there’s little reason to believe the Macks won’t be as good, if not better in 2013.
McDonell/Regis boys soccer — One game was all that separated the McDonell/Regis boys soccer team from a trip to the WIAA state tournament in 2012.
With many starters returning from last year’s 15-5-4 squad, it seems possible that state could be in order for 2013.
While McRegis does lose players like Sam Nelson and Andrew Klimek, it returns contributers such as Grant Pulver, Sam Vandehaar and Braxton Collins.
Finishing second in the Mid-State Conference last year, McDonell/Regis should compete for the conference title and seems poised to make a run at state.
Stanley-Boyd football — In the always-tough Cloverbelt Conference, having a good defense is essential.
The 2012 Stanley-Boyd football team fit that bill. En route to a 7-2 record last year, the Orioles posted an incredible six shutouts and gave up just six points per game. While the team’s season ending in a disappointing loss to Colby in the first round of the WIAA Division 5 playoffs, Stanley-Boyd figures to once again be near the top of the Cloverbelt.
With the return of first-team all-county quarterback Tyler Sorensen as well as WFCA All-Region wide receiver Dusty Spaeth, the Orioles figure to have the offensive firepower to overcome some key losses defensively.
Among the departures is WFCA first team All-Region defensive lineman David Kmieciak as well as all-county honorees Adriac Bethel (DL), Josh Nichols (DL), Danny Halterman (DL) and Riley Westaby (linebacker).
That said, Stanley-Boyd does return first team all-county performers Craig Mason (LB) and Dalton Lewallen (defensive back) as well as second-teamers Ronny Ponick (LB) and Zach Turner (all-purpose).
Don’t expect another six shutouts, but the Orioles should fly high again in 2013.
Stanley-Boyd volleyball — Despite being a young squad in 2012, the Stanley-Boyd volleyball team still managed to finish third in the Western Cloverbelt Conference and end the year with a 26-11 record.
With a year of experience under their belts, the Orioles seem poised to be even better in 2013.
Led by sophomore outside hitter Jamie Reit, who earned second team all-county honors as a freshman, the Orioles could push for the conference title and a deep run in the playoffs.
While the team does lose star libero Halie Milas, it returns players like Jenna Hoffstatter and Peyton McCauley, among others.