SOUTHWEST WISCONSIN CONFERENCE
2017 standings (conference, overall): Platteville 4-1, 9-2; Lancaster 4-1, 7-3; River Valley 3-2, 5-5; Prairie du Chien 3-2, 8-3; Dodgeville 1-4, 4-5; Richland Center 0-5, 0-9.
WIAA playoff results: Platteville 1-1; Prairie du Chien 1-1; Lancaster 0-1; River Valley 0-1.
Around the league: Last year’s co-champions, Lancaster and Platteville, are again the teams to watch. Lancaster must replace 2,000-yard rusher Evan Gates, and Platteville must replace first-team all-conference quarterback Ethan Bernhardt. Behind them, Prairie du Chien (led by first-team all-conference running back Tyler Smock, returner Gavin Gillitzer and defensive lineman Sam Fernberg) and River Valley are the best bets to round out the top three and lock in a playoff spot.
Watch for: River Valley finished one game behind both Lancaster and Platteville to finish third in the conference, falling just shy of a conference championship three-peat. Regardless, the Blackhawks made the playoff for the 10th year in a row, losing to Racine St. Catherine’s, 53-35, in the first round. With a young team coming into 2018, it’ll be interesting to see if the Blackhawks can keep their playoff string alive.
Coach: Tim Eastlick, 16th year (88-63), 16th overall (88-63).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 18/12.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 6/5.
The lowdown: The Blackhawks will enter 2018 as a young team, returning only half of their starters on either side of the ball. One certainty is that River Valley will look to senior Shane Liegel (6-2, 190) for guidance. Liegel was a first-team all-conference pick at linebacker and a second-team running back (493 yards, 12 TDs). This year, he’s competing for the quarterback job with former wide receiver Josh Maier (5-3, 160, jr., 29 catches, 473 yards, four TDs). Sophomore Will Bailey also is in the quarterback chase. Maier earned all-conference honors last year as a punter (39.9-yard average). … On defense, Liegel will be joined by senior Brock Mahoney (6-2, 210, 33 tackles last year) to make up half of the linebacking corps that figures to be the strength of the 3-4 defense. Mahoney also will play on the offensive line. … Senior defensive lineman Keegan Smith (6-2, 225, 24 tackles) earned all-conference mention last fall.
Coach: Josh Busch, second year (5-4); second year overall (5-4).
The lowdown: Despite a second consecutive season with a 5-4 overall record, Dodgeville finished with a conference record below .500 for the second consecutive year after going 2-3 in 2016. This year, one of the goals is to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. But the Dodgers have no returning players who earned any sort of all-conference mention last year.
SOUTWEST WISCONSIN ACTIVITIES LEAGUE
2017 standings (conference, overall): Mineral Point 5-1, 9-3; Cuba City 5-1, 7-4; Fennimore 4-2, 8-3; Iowa-Grant 3-3, 6-5; Darlington 3-3, 4-6; Boscobel 1-5, 1-8; Southwestern 0-6, 2-7.
WIAA playoff results: Mineral Point 3-1 (lost to Markesan in Division 6 quarterfinal); Cuba City 1-1; Fennimore 1-1; Iowa-Grant 1-1; Darlington 0-1.
Around the league: Co-champion Cuba City returns all-conference first-team running back Mason Reuter, who ran for 677 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. He’ll put Cuba City in a position to challenge for the league crown and overtake Mineral Point. Darlington, which lost its first four games last year after a run of four consecutive appearances in WIAA state championship games, still managed to make the playoffs and hopes to get back in the title chase this year under new head coach Travis Winkers. Fennimore also seeks an upper-division finish in the league.
Watch for: Last season, Cuba City handed Mineral Point its only conference loss of the season, 36-7, in Week 7. But it was Mineral Point that got the last laugh, beating the Cubans in the second round of the playoffs, 14-7. This year, they’ll renew the rivalry when Point travels to Cuba City on Sept. 28. ... Also under the microscope this year will be Travis Winkers, who took over for veteran Scott Zywicki after leading Markesan to a Division 6 semifinal last fall.
Coach: Andy Palzkill, seventh year (37-24); 17th year overall.
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 18/9.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/5.
The lowdown: The Pointers are coming off their first conference championship since 1991 and are returning a lot of their letter winners, putting them in a good position to make a run at a repeat. … While the Pointers are solid on offense and defense, their special teams could be outstanding — led by senior Curtis Cox (5-11, 150), who earned all-conference kicking honors last year after making 49 of 52 extra-point attempts. … On offense, Point will pair quarterback and returning SWAL Offensive Player of the Year Isaac Lindsey (6-foot-3, 155 pounds) with sophomore tailback Will Straka (5-11, 140), who was able to work his way into playing time last season and will take over starting duties this year. … On defense, linebacker Brandon Dolphin (6-3, 180) will look to create havoc in the backfield as he did last season, when he recorded 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Aside from Lindsey, Dolphin and Cox, the Pointers return all-conference performers Danny Pittz (5-6, 140, sr., DB, 51 tackles) and Blaise Watters (5-10, 140, sr., WR, 19 catches for 368 yards and three TDs). ... The Pointers also welcome senior Caden Carey (5-9, 145, RB/DB), who is out for football for the first time. A member of Mineral Point’s wrestling team, he’ll look to transition from the mat to the field and replace one of the five starters on defense lost from a year ago.
SOUTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE
2017 standings (conference, overall): Wautoma 5-0, 8-3; Mauston 4-1, 6-5; Nekoosa 3-2, 4-7; Wisconsin Dells 2-3, 3-6; Adams-Friendship 1-4, 1-9. Note: Westfield did not field a varsity program; its conference games were recorded as forfeits.
WIAA playoff results: Wautoma 1-1; Mauston 1-1; Nekoosa 1-1.
Around the league: Defending champion Wautoma will have new faces at key skill positions after the graduation of first-team picks Ryan Lois at quarterback and Cade Peterson at receiver. The Hornets return unanimous first-team selection Matt Kroll at running back, fresh off of a 762-yard season. He makes Wautoma the preseason favorite to repeat as champ, with the biggest challenge coming from 2017 runner-up Mauston.
Watch for: This will be Scott Flood’s first year as coach at Wisconsin Dells. He spent the last two seasons with Milwaukee Bradley Tech after stops at Kenosha Tremper, Union Grove and Carthage College. An Army veteran who served time in Iraq, he holds a record of 8-11 as a head coach; he hopes to lead the Dells to its first playoff appearance since 2012.
Coach: Scott Flood, first year; third year overall (8-11).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 2/3.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 6/8.
The lowdown: Flood is the latest to take on the difficult tax of improving on the Chiefs’ 3-22 record over the last three seasons. To do so, they’ll depend upon a defense that has eight returning starters, anchored by senior lineman Hunter Stenson (5-10, 165), the team’s only returning first-team all-conference pick; and senior linebacker Kayleb Galloway (5-8, 165), a second-team honoree. … On offense, all eyes are on the quarterback position as Brett Hirst (6-2, jr.) and Dylan Musiedlak (5-10, sr.) battle in fall practices to determine who will be behind center in the spread offense this season. … Giving the quarterback time to make reads and find the open receiver are keys to the offense, making linemen Logan Janke (6-5, 205, sr.) and Kevin Coughlin (6-6, 285, sr.) a benefit for the quarterback. … Ben Koenig is in line to become the top option at receiver. With the graduation of three receivers who earned all-conference honors last fall, Koenig has a chance to make a big splash.
— Erik Helm