WATERFORD — By now, it’s been established that any Waterford High School football team coached by Adam Bakken is going to succeed.
Entering his eighth season at the school, Bakken has 60 victories in 79 games, has won the outright Southern Lakes Conference championship once, tied for first four times, was second once and third once. In SLC play, his teams have a winning percentage of .836 (41-8) and he has taken Waterford to the only WIAA Division 2 state championship game in the program’s history (2011).
But there’s something that Bakken finds unacceptable and he drove that point home with his returning players a great deal during the offseason: The Wolverines were not competitive in their three losses last season and Bakken intends to do something about that.
It started with a 55-0 loss in the season opener to Franklin, the Division 1 state runnerup in 2016. In Week Three, Waterford lost to eventual SLC champion Lake Geneva Badger 38-21. And the Wolverines’ season ended with a 40-14 loss to Monona Grove in a second-round playoff game.
The Wolverines lost by an average score of 44-12 in those three games. Since Waterford has rematches against Franklin and Badger within the first three weeks — unlike last season, both games will be at Waterford — how much Bakken connected with his players will soon to revealed.
“Franklin was obviously fantastic, Badger was fantastic and Monona Grove was fantastic, but it’s still not an excuse to end up getting beat by the scores at the end of those games,” Bakken said. “I thought at times we didn’t play as hard or as physical as required against teams like that, so that’s one thing I tried to address during the offseason.”
How well did Bakken make his point? Plenty, based on how senior linemen Boyd Biggs and Mittelstaedt answered that question.
“We’ve been getting after it in the mornings with lifting throughout the summer and working a little harder at the beginning of practices with a lot of running and conditioning to get ready for those games,” Biggs said.
Added Mittelstaedt, “At Waterford, there’s huge expectations, not only as a team, but as a community. We’ve been putting in a lot of work and lot of the younger guys have been stepping up.”
It could be suggested that after graduating six players who were either first- or second-team All-Racine County last season, the Wolverines may still struggle against that elite competition. On the contrary, Bakken feels this could be one of the finest teams he has coached at the school.
While Zach Stiewe, the leader of Waterford’s offensive line last season, has graduated, five starters return on that unit. They are Jacob Francisco at left tackle, Trevor Pye at left guard, Adam Goessl at center, Biggs at right guard and Tony Mastrocola at tight end. The new starter is Alex Ochs at right guard.
“This line has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than those teams in 2011 and 2012,” Bakken said.
That much experience should help Bakken accomplish another goal — narrowing the ratio between rushing and passing yardage. Last year, 2,766 of Waterford’s 3,450 offensive yards came via the running game — a ratio of 80 percent.
Part of the reason for that is Tanner Keller was a sensation as a sophomore running back, ranking fourth in the county with 1,235 yards. He scored 19 touchdowns.
“Tanner was a first-team All-Conference player as a sophomore running back, which, in our league, is very rare,” Bakken said. “He has done what it takes during the offseason (to improve).
“We don’t actually have a senior running back, so it’s going to be between Tanner, and then Dominic (Miller) looks really good, Ryan Michalik looks really good and Wes Pittelkow. I think it’s if not the fastest, it’s the second-fastest overall backfield that I’ve had.
Miller, who rushed for 390 yards on 64 carries, has the most yards after Keller among the returnees.
But Bakken believes more can be gotten out of Waterford’s passing attack with the return of quarterback Joe Schauer, who threw for 652 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. Aaron Chapman, the second leading receiver in the county last season, has graduated, but Bakken likes Josh Szeklinski, Willie Ketterhagen and Cole Weinkauf.
“Joe’s thrown the ball noticeably better than last year,” Bakken said. “He’s got a little more zip on the ball and that was pretty clear once we started.”
With Ketterhagen, an All-SLC free safety, returning along with Mittelstaedt and Mastrocola in the defensive line, Joe Covelli at linebacker and Szeklinski in the secondary, Waterford has promise on defense, as well.
“We’ve got a longer ways to go on defense than we do on offense just because we don’t have as many returning players,” Bakken said. “We’re going to be a little more junior heavy, especially in the linebacker position.”