Poynette Pumas - Capitol North
Coach: Greg Kallungi, 3rd year; 9-9 Overall
2016 Result: 4-5 (1-4), 5th in the Capitol North
Three-Year Record: 18-11
2016 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 5 Second-Team, 2 Honorable Mention (10 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 11 First-Team, 17 Second-Team, 8 Honorable Mention (36 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): G/DL Christian Barnharst, Jr. (First Team-DL); OT/DL Nick Koss, Sr. (Second Team-DL); WR/DB Jack Moll, Sr. (Honorable Mention-ST)
Other Players To Watch: QB/DB Taylor Elsing, Sr.; WR/OLB Aaron Freimuth, Sr.; RB/OLB Maverick Wheeler, Sr.; FB/LB Max Ripp, Sr.
BIG Games: at Adams/Friendship August 25 (non-conference), at Columbus September 22, at Lodi October 13
Poynette's rich football history is not lost on third-year coach Greg Kallungi, with four WFCA Hall of Fame coaches in the program's past.
"We've had a strong tradition of football in Poynette," said Coach Kallungi.
The Capitol North has been very loaded for a few years now for sure. There haven't been any easy weeks in the Capitol North lately, and I wouldn't expect there to be this season either." Head Coach Greg Kallungi
That history includes 22 WIAA Tournament appearances, four trips to the state semifinals, and two trips to state. The recent history includes a Level 2 appearance in 2014. Kallungi knows that the banners in the gym won't get them back into the playoffs.
"We're [going to] do everything we can to put our best game together each and every Friday night," said Coach Kallungi. "If we can do that, we'll definitely be able to compete with the best teams in the conference and give ourselves a chance to compete for a playoff spot."
20 seniors graduated from last year's Pumas team, including seven players who received all-conference honors. A trio of all-conference players return, however, in seniors Jack Moll (wide receiver, defensive back, and kick returner) and Nick Koss (offensive tackle, defensive lineman) and junior Christian Barnharst (first-team defensive lineman and offensive tackle). "We're definitely looking to Koss, Moll & Barnharst to turn in solid years again for us this year," said Kallungi.
Another strong senior class for Poynette includes quarterback/defensive back Taylor Elsing, receiver/linebacker Aaron Freimuth, and running back/linebacker Maverick Wheeler, who Kallungi calls 'very good senior leaders.'
"All three of those players saw a lot of very valuable playing time last season," said Coach Kallungi.
In addition to those six players, Poynette will also bring back 16 letterwinners from 2016. "Even though most of them didn't start, they received valuable playing time," says Coach Kallungi of his returning players. "I also think that the great leadership provided by last year's seniors wore off on the younger players that we have returning."
For Poynette to end its two-season playoff drought, which, outside of a stretch from 1990-1995, matches the longest the team has missed the WIAA Tournament since 1980, they will have to win at least three games in the difficult Capitol North, since the conference only has six teams. Even in years when the WIAA has to pull sub-.500 teams into the playoffs, a 2-3 team in conference play has virtually no chance of being selected, when 4-5 and 3-4 teams rank ahead of that team in the pecking order.
Lodi was the best team in the conference two years ago, and Columbus took over that mantle last year, with each team returning enough starters to be a conference title contender yet again in 2017. Lake Mills made a run to Level 3 last season, and returns one of the best athletes in the state in Ben Dunkleberger. Lakeside Lutheran, who Poynette defeated in the final game of 2016 to keep the Warriors out of the playoffs, and Watertown Luther Prep also turned over some talented seniors, but figure to be tough outs again in 2017.
"The Capitol North has been very loaded for a few years now for sure. There haven't been any easy weeks in the Capitol North lately, and I wouldn't expect there to be this season either," said Coach Kallungi. Kallungi highlighted the returning Capitol North offensive player of the year in Lake Mills' standout athlete Ben Dunkleberger, as well as Lodi and Columbus bringing back key players.
On the schedule, Poynette will face a difficult road schedule. The Pumas will play their first three games on the road, including a week two date with Adams/Friendship, who went undefeated in the regular season before losing in Level 1. Their conference road games are the past two Capitol North champions, Columbus on September 22 and Lodi to wrap up the season on October 13.
In terms of a conference outlook, there may not be an undefeated conference champion in 2017, since every team will be re-loading for the 2017 season. The conference title favorites figure to be Lodi, Columbus, and Lake Mills, but the remaining three teams, including Poynette, all will have their chances to make a run as well... and will need to win at least one of the games against that favored trio in order to make the playoffs.