Now in his fifth season of leading the Minnewaska football team as head coach, Jeremy Christensen has established a program that competes every night in the district and section fields.
The Lakers are coming off three straight winning seasons where they have gone a combined 22-9. That includes a 7-3 mark a year ago playing in the same district as a dominant BOLD team and a Section 6AAA field in 2019 that included powers in Pierz and Albany. The Lakers won their program’s first-ever Class AAA playoff game when they beat Montevideo 28-19 on Oct. 22.
“We go into every season focused on improving every day and competing for district and section championships,” Christensen said heading into the Lakers’ Oct. 9 season opener at Morris Area. “This season will be no different in that regard. We feel we have a good group of experienced student athletes that are ready to compete at a high level.”
The Lakers did lose key letter winners from 2019 in Grant Jensen, Dylan Jergenson, Luke Barkeim, Tyler VanLuik, Christian Bartz, Isaiah Miller, Adam Larson, Dan Stienhoffer, Drew Nelson, Aiden Tank and Mason Blair, but injuries throughout the year forced young players into varsity roles. Minnewaska hopes that pays dividends this fall now with those guys leading the way as experienced athletes.
“We have a lot of kids who have played a lot of football over the last few years, so experience will be our biggest strength,” Christensen said. “We also feel we have a very good group of athletes in general. These kids have worked very hard in the offseasons in order to put themselves in a position to compete at a high level on every down.”
Christensen said the Lakers will be led by a group of seniors that includes Peyton Johnsrud (WR/CB), Aaron VerSteeg (RB/WR/DB), Tyson Meyer (RB/LB), Max Reichmann (RB/LB), Darion Alexander (QB/OLB), Jackson Stadsvold (WR/OLB), Mitch Gruber (QB/DB), David Lilienthal (WR/DB), Jakob Swalla (OL/DL), Dylan Koubsky (OL/DL), Ryan VanLuik (DL), Ty Walsh (OL/DL), Cole Harste (OL/DL), Jesse Hansen (WR/DB), Jack Anderson (OL/DL), and Damian Douvier (OL/DL). Damon Uhde (WR/DB), Keygan Cruz (RB/LB) and Nate Rankin (OL/DL) are a few of the juniors who will also be counted on to fill important roles.
Meyer returns as one of the best running backs in the region after averaging 8.4 yards-per carry last year on his way to 1,152 yards and 12 touchdowns. Alexander also ran for 535 yards and five touchdowns on 106 carries last year.
The Lakers have graduated a lot of talented offensive and defensive linemen in recent years, and those two position groups will feature a little more inexperience than others on this team.
“But we are confident in our kids that have been waiting in the wings for their opportunity to play on Friday nights,” Christensen said. “Gelling as a unit in the trenches will be a priority for us this season.”
BOLD won Minnewaska’s Mid State (Sub 2) District last year, but the field has been reorganized some for this six-game regular season this fall. Pierz won the Section 6AAA title a year ago, and the Pioneers are a part of the Lakers’ district field as well in 2020.
“Our new pod consists of some perennial powers and some teams we haven’t seen before,” Christensen said. “Pierz seems to be the team that everyone will be looking at knocking off in our pod.”
The modified 2020 football season during the COVID-19 pandemic features a format where a two-week postseason is built into the planned season starting the week of Nov. 16. Should those playoffs feature a similar Section 6AAA field, Christensen said perennial contenders Pierz, Albany and Melrose all feature good teams returning.
MINNEWASKA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Oct. 9 at Morris Area, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Rockford Area, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Montevideo, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 at Pierz, 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 vs. Sauk Centre, 7 p.m.
Nov. 12 vs. Melrose, 7 p.m.