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That time of year

With the sounds of whistles blowing, coaching shouting, and feet hitting the turf or gym floor, it can only mean one thing: fall sports season.

Last weekend saw some of the area high school volleyball teams take the court for preseason tournaments. Credit goes out to both Calumet and Lake Linden-Hubbell for strong showings as both took second in their respective invites.

Thursday marks the opening of the high school football season. Calumet, L’Anse, Hancock, Houghton and Ontonagon all hit the turf that night with the Lakes joining the fray on Saturday.

Calumet, of course, is coming off one of the best seasons in school history. A 9-0 regular season saw the Copper Kings’ defense drive opponents crazy as they went through a very memorable streak keeping opponents from scoring for three straight games. Calumet then went on to defeat Westwood for a second time in their playoff opener before running into Traverse City-St. Francis.

After opening the season 0-3 with a 42-0 losses to Westwood and Iron Mountain sandwiching a 15-14 loss to L’Anse, it appeared that the Houghton Gremlins were headed for a winless season under new head coach Kurt Huffmaster. However, a late come-from-behind win over the Lakes sprung a 4-2 close to the season for the Gremlins, who closed out their season with an 18-7 victory over Hancock during Copper Bowl, showing off their new field in style.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hancock looked poised to build off a deep playoff run in 2017 as they opened 2018 with wins over L’Anse and Gogebic to start the year 2-0. However, that was all they would get, losing four times by seven points or less.

L’Anse also had a promising start to their season, losing by one point to Hancock before winning three times (Houghton, Gogebic, Munising). Reality set in after that, however, as a desperate Lakes squad blasted them 38-8 and the Purple Hornets never recovered, dropping the remaining four games on their schedule.

For the Lakes, the win over L’Anse was their first win of 2018. Lake Linden nearly defeated Munising two weeks later, but came up just short, 20-16. They did follow that up with a win over Bark River-Harris before falling to Gladstone in their season finale.

L’Anse comes into 2019 with the largest roster they have had since beginning their co-op with Baraga. Hancock should be improved. Houghton has to retool after losing a large and impactful senior class. Calumet does as well.

Lake Linden comes back with a deep, experienced group, so it is reasonable to assume, barring injury, that the Lakes will improve upon their 2-7 record from 2018.

Finlandia, under head coach Travis Wiltzius, is finally going to into a season with a veteran group. It takes awhile to build up a program from scratch, but it will be interesting to see how local kids like Peyton Anderson (Hancock), Blake Williams (Hancock) and Reese Waara (L’Anse) fit as they navigate their freshman years.

It will also be interesting to see how Year Two of Dan Mettlach’s offense looks at Michigan Tech. Junior quarterback Will Ark has had a year to get used to the former Huskies’ quarterback’s style, so I, for one, am excited to see what the second year starter shows after averaging 165.4 yards per game through the air. He should improve on his 10 touchdown tosses from a year ago as well.

Having Ben Hartley back will help. Ark and Hartley hooked up 44 times last season at a clip of 13.6 yards per catch. Oh, and they connected four times for touchdowns as well.

However, Michigan Tech’s offense will only go as far as sophomore Jared Smith can carry it. As a freshman, he averaged 5.5 yards per run and 57.7 yards per game. Mettlach and head coach Steve Olson, no doubt, want those numbers to improve in his second full season in the backfield.

All in all, it should be a very interesting year for local football at the high school and college levels.