PITTSBURG — With football season around the corner, coaches from around southeast Kansas gathered inside the Robert W. Plaster Center at Pittsburg State for the annual release of the coaches’ poll on Thursday.
The Frontenac Raiders led the way in the CNC rankings among local schools, as they were voted third overall behind No. 1 Columbus and No. 2 Galena, while St. Mary’s-Colgan and Girard finished close behind in fourth and fifth respectively.
Southeast rounded out the list of CNC schools at No. 8, while Northeast was voted fifth in the TRL among the 11-man teams.
Although Pittsburg is no longer among SEK schools, head coach Tom Nickelson was in attendance and spoke highly of his team.
“We had a great summer and we’re really happy with the kids,” he said. “We ask a lot from our kids and they really did work their tails off. We probably worked the kids harder and got a lot more out of them this year than we have the past five or six years. We had 25 kids get a new weight club in this summer session, so we were very happy with them and it just shows how hard they were working.”
As for the CNC, the Raiders are excited to prove why the No. 3 ranking is underestimating them.
“I think you can use it as motivation and I think our kids will do that when they see it,” FHS head coach Mark Smith said. “I think our success in all sports at Frontenac gives the kids an extra advantage. They have some confidence and want to keep winning.”
Representing the Panthers and the Trojans in the middle of the poll was a pair of new head coaches — Shawn Seematter with SMC and Neal Philpot with GHS.
“The CNC is obviously a very tough and competitive league,” Seematter said. “Do we want to be fourth? No, but it’s all about where you finish. I think our kids will see this as motivation and want to end up on top. That’s just the high expectations of playing football at Colgan.”
A fifth-place finish wasn’t what the defending district champs were hoping for, but Philpot said the team won’t let it define them.
“I hope to instill some high expectations for our guys,” he said. “What we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go may not happen overnight, but I’m pretty optimistic based on the guys we had train over the summer. They’ve been very open to taking on new challenges and doing some things differently, so it’s a good sign that they’re eager to learn and try something new.”
The Lancers have had their share of underwhelming seasons, but hope to get some more wins under their belt with a tweaked schedule and a fresh outlook.
Although the Lancers are still considered to be in the CNC, they will not be officially competing for a league championship due to more non-CNC games on the schedule.
“We’re just looking to get better as we moved forward,” SHS head coach Jerrad Hansen said. “The kids understand that we’re not where we need to be in order to compete in the CNC, so we just have to keep improving every single week."
Rounding out the list of 11-man teams in the TRL was the Northeast Vikings, who are leaving last year’s winless season in the past and focusing on a brighter future.
“We weren’t happy after going 0-9 last season,” NHS head coach Phil Hobbs said. “After making the playoffs three years ago, we dropped off a bit and went 3-6 after that, which was two years ago. We hoped that was the low point, but last season we had some players who might have been more concerned about themselves and personal stats instead of worrying about the team.”
“The motto going into this summer has been putting the team first and setting aside your ego and your personality issues to do what’s best for the team,” Hobbs said. “I think we accomplished that and the kids who we have playing don’t represent anything we saw from last year’s team, so we’re pleased with that.”
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.