UW-Whitewater Warhawks hitting reset after missing playoffs
WHITEWATER—The target on the backs of the UW-Whitewater football players had grown.
Making seven consecutive trips to the Stagg Bowl—Division III's national championship game—and winning the game on four occasions will do that to a team.
In 2012, the Warhawks fell prey to those trying to track them down.
They fell hard, even though they finished with what would be a respectable record to many, at 7-3. The three-time defending national champs missed out on the playoffs altogether.
With 2013 preseason camp kicking off, the Warhawks now find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
“Since I've been here and we've been in the national championship for so long, we've always been the hunted,” UW-W senior linebacker Cole Klotz said Monday during the team's picture day. “Teams have always came up to us; they wanted to beat us.
“It'll be an interesting kind of change of mentality to finally being the ones who are hunting instead of being hunted.”
UW-W opens its season by hosting Washington University-St. Louis on Sept. 7.
Between now and then, the team will work to get its inexperienced offensive line up to speed and its offense clicking under new coordinator Andy Kotelnicki.
“It all starts with tomorrow's practice and the day after that,” senior defensive lineman Lou Minett said. “It starts right there. It's all D-III teams' dreams to hoist that trophy up, but it has to start somewhere. We're really indulging in the process; we love the process.”
The Warhawks will also preach finishing, particularly in key moments of games.
Head coach Lance Leipold pointed out two or three plays in each 2012 loss—to Buffalo State, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stevens Point—that potentially could have changed the outcome.
In the end, however, he wasn't surprised that his team's impressive national run came to a swift end.
“It wasn't going to be a quarterfinal or a semifinal, it was going to be we end up sitting at home,” Leipold said. “I think, for many of us, the expectations were so high. Quite honestly, I don't think they were very realistic and fair for our players all the time.”
With their storied recent history, expectations for the Warhawks will not wane.
For Leipold, however, the goals begin with getting back to the top of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“We've got to earn what we get, and it kind of brings it back into a more realistic state for us, to compete for conference championships and not worry about what hotel we might stay at in Salem, Va., or Roanoke or something,” he said. “And let's earn our way there and just hope to be a playoff team again.”
7—Washington University-St. Louis, noon; 21—At Buffalo State College, 11 a.m.; 28—Waldorf College, 1 p.m.
5—At UW-La Crosse, 1 p.m.; 12—UW-Stout, 2 p.m.; 18—UW-Eau Claire, 7 p.m.; 26—At UW-Oshkosh, 1 p.m.
2—UW-Platteville, 1 p.m.; 9—At UW-Stevens Point, 1 p.m.; 16—UW-River Falls, 2 p.m.