Like the Dallas Cowboys are designated America's team, last year the Pillager Huskies were the Brainerd lakes area's team.
Nearly everyone, whether from Pillager or not, was excited for the Pillager Huskies football team and its first state appearance.
Could this year be even better?
Pillager head coach Pete Bothun is excited about the up-coming season, even more so than last year.
Football coach -- Pete Bothun, 3rd year
Career record -- 9-12
2000 record -- 4-2 in Prairie North Conference, 8-4 overall
Assistant coaches -- James Bentson, Jerry Fornshell, Randy Karpenin, Chris Berent, Rob Freelove
Volleyball coach -- Penny Dobson, 3rd year
Career record -- 22-47
2000 record -- 1-8 in Park Region, 6-17 overall
Assistant coaches -- Sarah Lorenzen
Cross Country coach -- Todd Manninen, 1st year
"We are deeper than we've ever been in my three years here," said Bothun. "We should contend for the conference and section titles.
"Our schedule is very tough, Browerville, Bertha-Hewitt, Ottertail Central and Parkers Prairie will be important games for us."
Last year Pillager finished with a 4-2 Prairie North Conference record and was 8-4 overall. The Huskies cruised through the Section 6A tournament, beating Bertha-Hewitt 19-15 in the final on their way to their first state appearance.
In the state tournament, Pillager ran into a force in Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, losing 28-8.
With 11 starters, 15 returning letterwinners and many key components of last year's team back, there is reason to believe Bothun's optimism.
The entire backfield returns. Quarterback Lee Roberts, running backs Adam Brown, Jeff Pace and Steve Szczodroski and powerful fullback Steve Bethel all return to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
The offensive line also returns all five starters in Nate Ackerson, Eric Fornshell, Mark Gaalswyk, Tony Szczodroski and Ben Broberg. Also returning is linebacker Justin Clark.
Along with the starters are returning letterwinners Tyron Farber, John Shamp and Eric Shamp on the line and receiver Mitch Steffen.
Last year the Huskies had a dominant defense, directed by assistant coach Jim Bentson, and this year they'll look for more of the same.
Additional varsity candidates:
Seniors -- Kylie Skeesick (OL), Ken LaPorte (WR).
Juniors -- Jason Diukel (WR), Anthony Badger (OL), Travis Buckingham, (FB) Tony Mason (FB).
Sophomores -- Jason Borgstrom (C), Jason Eastman (QB), Dan Walkowiak (TE), Kaleb Kouba (RB), Zach Kouba (TE), Thomas Buckingham (RB).
Kayla Bell was a bright spot in a difficult season for the Pillager Huskies volleyball team.
Bell was an All-Park Region Conference selection thanks to 146 set assists, 45 aces and 81.3 serving per centage. The senior setter is not alone as Jackie Stoll (middle hitter), Katie Rasinski (setter, utility) and Jessica VanVickle (outside hitter, middle hitter) also return from a team that was 1-8 in the conference and 6-17 overall.
Head coach Penny Dobson returns for her fourth year and will look to mix different components to produce a winning team.
The Huskies do have experience with Bell, Stoll, Heather McCulley (outside hitter), Tanya Lauer (middle hitter), Anna Sebasky (outside hitter) and Amorette Borst (outside hitter), all of whom are seniors. VanVickle and Samantha Sullivan (back row specialist) are juniors while Rasinski is a sophomore.
VanVickle and Stoll were the leading blockers from last year and also led the team in kills with 31 and 57, respectively.
Todd Manninen is a new name in Pillager High School athletics and he brings with him a new sport to the school.
Manninen will be head coach of the Huskies' first boys' and girls' cross country teams.
Previously a head coach at Eveleth-Gilbert, Manninen will have his hands full of young, inexperienced distance runners.
Leading a young boys' team are sophomores Eric Disterhaupt, Robert Pace, Luke Kavanaugh and Matt Rhett. Eighth-grader Even Martin fills out the roster.
On the girls' side, Ellie Ostendorf is the elder statesperson as a sophomore. She'll team with freshmen Jenna Niggler and Laura Pace and eighth-grader Brianna Hoheisel.
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