While Poynette finished out of the playoff running for the third straight season, a proud tradition and a willingness to play difficult schedules seems to be paying off as the Pumas head into 2018 with plenty of momentum (and experience) from a season ago.
"We played a very, very difficult schedule last year," said head coach Greg Kallungi. "We played a lot of schools larger than us, and it was a down-year record wise."
The Capitol North didn't get any easier. In fact, the conference produced a state champion last season in Lodi, and because of the playoff setup, only the three teams that could win three conference games got into the postseason field. Lake Mills and Lakeside Lutheran, the other playoff teams, appear to be poised for solid seasons again, and Luther Prep and Columbus appear to be ready to challenge yet again in the upcoming season after missing the playoffs last year. Columbus is only a season removed from an 11-1 record, and Luther Prep lost a win-or-go-home Week 9 game to miss the playoffs.
So, it's not surprising that Poynette couldn't find a win on last year's schedule. However, Kallungi says the record is a bit misleading. "We were right there in a lot of those games," said Kallungi. "There were three games that came down to the final minutes. I liked our resiliency last year."
This year, some of the lumps from 2017 should pay off in experience for 2018. "We were pretty young a season ago," said coach Kallungi. "Playing the teams we do, it absolutely helps your team to play the opponents we have, to improve."
On the field, Poynette has a clear area of strength, and that's along the defensive line, where three all-conference picks reside: Christian Barnharst, who missed part of last season with a leg injury but made first-team all-Capitol North in 2016; Skyler See, a first-team defensive tackle; and Colby Savich, who made second-team coming off the edge. There's another all-conference honoree at linebacker in Caleb Reddeman, and other major defensive contributors are back, such as Brayden O'Connor and Sawyer Moll, in the defensive backfield as well.
Offensively, again the lines will be packed solid, but it'll be the skill positions and on the edges that will see opportunity for younger players. Reddeman is the team's leading returning rusher, second on the team in touchdowns, at fullback. His 17 carries last year are almost more than the combined returning rushing attempts by the rest of the returning Pumas combined (25), so there will be new runners leading the way in Poynette. Jackson Elsing and Kevin Gorman both took snaps at quarterback last year, but combined for only 11 pass attempts. And, at receiver, seven players return that caught a pass last season, but Poynette loses their top four passing targets from a year ago.
Special teams might be another area of strength. Brayden O'Connor returned two kicks for scores last season, and averaged just under ten yards per punt return. Christian Bault was 17 of 23 on extra-point tries as a sophomore, and Colby Savich placed 12 of his 42 punts inside the 20 for a 32.6 yard average.
Poynette's non-conference schedule takes them through the South Central and Capitol South conferences, two leagues the Pumas know well. They'll open up against Waterloo at home before hosting Adams/Friendship the following week. Week 3 is a road date against Nekoosa, another South Central team (and the only non-conference opponent that made the playoffs last year), and then Poynette wraps up the non-conference part of the schedule against Marshall.
In Capitol North play, the Pumas have to play three games on the road this year against only two home games, and begin with the two teams in the league to make the deepest playoff runs last year. First up is a road game against Lake Mills, who advanced to the state quarterfinals. Then, Poynette hosts defending D4 state champion Lodi on September 21.
Back-to-back road games take the Pumas to Luther Prep and Lakeside Lutheran, before wrapping up the season against Columbus on October 12. That final game is also Homecoming for Poynette.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Poynette Pumas head coach Greg Kallungi:
Poynette Pumas - Capitol North
Head Coach: Greg Kallungi (4th Season), 11-16 Overall
2017 Result: 2-7 (0-5), 6th in the Capitol North
Three-Year Record: 11-16
2017 All-Conference Honors: 2 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 4 Honorable Mention (9 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 6 First-Team, 14 Second-Team, 10 Honorable Mention (30 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (5): G/DT Christian Barnharst, Sr. (1st Team-DL in 2016); G/DT Skyler See (1st Team-DL), Sr.; FB/LB Caleb Reddeman (HM-LB), Sr.; TE/DE/LB/P Colby Savich (2nd Team-DE), Jr.; RB/WR/DB/ST Brayden O'Connor (HM-ST), Jr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/LB Sawyer Moll, Sr.; QB/DB/K Kevin Gorman, Sr.; T/DL Mason Kelly, Sr.; TE/DE Justin Taylor, Sr.; T/DT Billy DuFresne, Jr.; QB/DB Jackson Elsing, Jr.; RB/LB Haden Ripp, Jr.; WR/LB Austin Gray, Jr.; TE/LB Jake Buss, Jr.; K/WR/DB Christian Bault, Jr.
BIG Games: vs Adams/Friendship, August 24; vs Lodi, September 21; vs Columbus, October 12 (Homecoming)