Slimmer Watseka squad not backing down

Slimmer Watseka squad not backing down

WATSEKA — Changes to the Watseka football program since the end of last season are easiest to notice on the surface.

For starters, Watseka players are no longer waiting 30 minutes after school lets out to begin practice. The bus carrying their St. Anne teammates won’t be coming for the first time since 2016.

Scheduling and other logistical details are now part of a one-school operation after the Watseka/St. Anne co-op was dissolved during the offseason, ending a two-year run.

“I’m going to miss the kids,” third-year coach Aaron Hilgendorf said, “but some things just don’t work out.”

Otherwise, Hilgendorf said his Warriors are shaping up as expected for a squad that is lighter on numbers in 2018.

The Warriors won the first six games of the 2017 season before losing three of their last four, including a 55-6 loss to IC Catholic in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

Hilgendorf won’t need to prepare for a possible rematch, though, when the postseason rolls around.

With the subtraction of St. Anne also comes a smaller classification  for the IHSA playoffs, one Hilgendorf anticipates will put Watseka low in Class 2A.

Maybe high in Class 1A.

Too small either way to be pitted against IC Catholic, which went on to win the Class 3A crown last year.

If there is a lesson to be learned, though, from that playoff drubbing?

“Sometimes adversity can be when things are going good,” said Hilgendorf, who also spent seven seasons as a Warriors assistant prior to 2015. “You feel good about yourselves when you shouldn’t and get complacent.”

Hilgendorf doesn’t worry about his kids getting the message. In Year 3, the Warriors coach trusts in the culture he and his assistants have built at Watseka along with the adaptable offensive and defensive systems they have in place.

Good thing, too, as the Warriors will need to adapt to fill the production hole two-way starter Brendan Fletcher left behind.

Fletcher, an all-conference quarterback and safety, led the offense for both of Hilgendorf’s first two seasons in charge. Those duties now fall to Anthony Quinn, who backed up Fletcher last year.

While the quarterback is changing, the weapons largely won’t be with running back Justin McTaggart and wide receiver Blake Castonuay, both all-conference seniors, back for 2018.

The Warriors will also draw upon the leadership of senior linemen Dakota Schroeder and Tim Wright to get them ready for their season opener at Oakwood on Aug. 24.

“We just kind of start over and the kids put in their work,” Hilgendorf said. “Where that takes us, what we get good at, is what we go to battle with.”

2018 schedule

DATE    OPPONENT    TIME

Aug. 24    at Oakwood    7 p.m.

Aug. 31    at Salt Fork    7 p.m.

Sept. 7    vs. Momence    7 p.m.

Sept. 14    vs. Oblong/Hutsonville/Palestine    7 p.m.

Sept. 21    at Dwight/Gardner-South Wilmington    7 p.m.

Sept. 28    vs. Clifton Central    7 p.m.

Oct. 5    at. Seneca    7 p.m.

Oct. 12    vs. Paxton-Buckley-Loda    7 p.m.

Oct. 19    at Iroquois West    7 p.m.

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