'Cats resurrect winning ways as playoffs beckon
‘Friday Night Lights’ are something that the student body looks forward to every week, no matter what. For the past two years, players and fans persevered despite not ready for prime time results as victories were few and far between. With three wins in the book already, more than the past two years combined, players and fans rabidly await the remainder of the season. Senior Bryce Koch, one of the team’s receivers, believes success is founded in self assurance.
“I am feeling a lot more confident than last year. We’re winning more than we have the past few years, adding a better vibe in practice, allowing us to feel more confident with what we can do,” he said.
Junior linebacker Blake Framke sees the team building better connections through friendships with one another than before.
“We definitely have better team chemistry this year,” he said. “We have really kept our goal to make it to the playoffs in the front of our minds, both encouraging hard work and wins.”
For the first time in his high school career, the playoffs aren’t just a dream for Derek Kroll, senior tight end.
“If we keep on focusing on winning the next game, I think we can be very successful,” he said. “Winning games gives us more confidence and makes us work harder.”
Behind the Cats’ wins stands the mixture of new and veteran coaching staff. Christopher Kujawa, former head coach of Oshkosh North, was added to the coaching staff at West this season and is very proud of their accomplishments.
“I have got a chance to get to know these young men,” he said. “Each day they are learning to expect more than they thought they could give, and that is extremely satisfying for any coach new or old.”
The transition to a new coaching staff has gone as well for the team as it has for Kujawa.
“Coach Kujawa and Coach Zangl bring great energy to practice and game days. They know what they are talking about and push us to do better,” Framke said.
While the new additions have helped, the foundation was already in place with returning coaches.. Ken Levine, head coach, admires the team’s accomplishments this season.
“We have pushed the team to change their personnel,” he said. “It’s many of the same players as last year, but they are a year bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced than a year ago.”
With this new mind set comes new changes for the team. Koch sees the changes in practice.
“We are trying to save our legs more in practice and aren’t actually tackling this year,” he said. “We hit pads, not each other, and we just wrap up. We don’t tackle to the ground, which was not always the case last year.”
Kroll enjoys this new system for practicing, as it seems to be improving the team’s performance on Friday nights.
“Avoiding tackling in practice makes us want to hit harder at games because we can’t during the week,” Kroll said.
Avoiding injuries has been a major drawback in the past for the team, which they have managed to avoid this season with superior health.
“A big key in our success is that our team as a whole has stayed much healthier than the last few years,” Levine said.
The coaches strategically planned the summer training schedule as well, prepping the team for the season.
“I really think that much of our success this season can be attributed to the team’s hard work within the strength and conditioning program all summer,” Levine said.
The squad has already benefitted from the new weight room. While such physical training and mental outlook provide a base for success, the support by the student body is essential to a positive vibe on Friday nights.
Senior Payton Alford recognizes the importance of attending games not only because the games prove to be more enjoyable, but also to help the boys’ outlook.
“Everyone in the fans section gets excited when the team wins,” she said. “That excitement gets bottled up and carries on into the next week, making each week more exciting than the last.”
Morgan Staerkel, junior FANS leader, believes that fans are essential.
“The cheering becomes vibrant and exciting when the team is winning; you can tell the energy is rising within the team as the fans cheer,” she said. “You can tell how appreciative they are of the cheering, especially after the game.”
With a new atmosphere, coaching staff, and practice agenda, the team has risen through the ranks as everything is finally coming together.
“We believe in the game plan and are starting to execute what we are being coached on in practice,” Framke said.
With the season almost halfway over, fans and players have a lot to look forward to and with high hopes of making the playoffs. Players are both motivated and anxious to see how the season plays out.
“It’s kind of how you feel on a first date, nervous, but excited for the end results,” Kroll explained.