Westby-Grenora was dominant last season en route to the 6-Man state championship. The Thunder had a running clock in all four playoff games and won the championship game against Bridger, 68-36.
Jeremiah Paine and Brian Field have moved on to the next level, leaving voids in the Thunder roster. But losing a record-breaking quarterback is familiar territory for head coach Troy Walters and the Thunder.
“We’ve got a pretty good little quarterback coming up, Darian Holocek,” Walters said. “We’re excited about having (Holocek) being our quarterback. Obviously you hate to lose a Jeremiah Paine, but you’ve got to move on. We’ll have (Holocek) for the next three years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a Cooper Olson for three years, a Jeremiah Paine for three years and (Holocek) is just going to step right up into the next quarterback role for us.”
The Thunder lost five seniors from last year’s state title team, but are returning four starters on the defensive side of the ball, as well as others who received playing time.
Ridge Sargent and Brandon Ledahl lead the core of returners for the Thunder. Sargent, a junior, is a two-way starter who garnered all-state honors last season. Ledahl, a senior, is an all-state middle linebacker.
“We’re excited about our squad. We are the defending state champs, we’re going to defend it as hard as we can,” Walters said. “We’re excited for the season, see what happens, and hopefully we’re playing in late November.”
Westby-Grenora will have their work cut out for them. Not only will Wibaux once again be a contender in the East, perennial power Geraldine-Highwood brings back a load of talent.
Leading the Rivals is two-time all-state running back J.R. Spencer, but coach Brandon Gondeiro sees Spencer as just one piece to the puzzle. Geraldine-Highwood features 11 upperclassmen, a rarity in 6-Man football.
“What makes our team unique, especially for 6-Man I think, is with the upperclassmen we have, we’re not reliant, necessarily, on one individual to be the main stud athlete that a lot of small-town teams have,” Gondeiro said. “We really have a lot of good kids where we can spread the load out.”
Geraldine-Highwood will be tested right away, as they travel to Wibaux to open the season. Spencer, who is finishing boot camp, will be unavailable to play the first two weeks of the season, leaving Gondeiro relying on the depth and experience of the rest of his juniors and seniors.
“To have 11 upperclassmen is a luxury that very few small-town teams have,” Gondeiro said. “We’re going to use it, it’s going to get tested right away. … We’ve got the depth to fill to be able to get by and get through things.”
In their first year of 6-Man football since dropping down from 8-Man, Wibaux made a run to the quarterfinals before losing to White Sulphur Springs. The Longhorns return all-state players Tel Lunde and Cade Dschaack.
“Their top four kids are as good as any four kids in the state,” Gondeiro said. “It starts with Lunde at quarterback. He can do anything. He’s that athlete you can lean on in small-school football and be able to do everything. … They have the ability to be good at many different levels.”