Football preview: Raiders hope to take another step this year
For years, Hastings football coach Dana Strain has stressed that his team needs to be competitive. He wants his team to have a chance to win games in the fourth quarter.
Last year, Hastings accomplished that goal.
This year, Strain wants his team to take the next step - he wants the team to start to win some of those close games.
"My goal is to be a competitive team that has a chance to win in the fourth quarter - that's what we did in every game we played in last year," he said. "We'll start to win some of those games. That's our next step. We still have to continue to put ourselves in that position, first of all. Last year, we just never found ways to get over the hump in the end."
Hastings lost its first three games last season by a combined total of 16 points. Hastings later lost to Cretin-Derham Hall by 14 and to White Bear Lake by just four.
The team finished with a 2-6 record in the conference and a 2-7 overall record after losing to East Ridge in the section playoffs.
"You have to make plays when you get opportunities," Strain said. "Last year we were snake-bit a little bit. It seemed like we just couldn't make the big play. We're hoping we can find some kids that will step up and make those extra plays late in the game that will make the difference in the game. It's a process - you have to be in that environment a few times before you figure it out."
Captains for Hastings are Alex Wiese, Zach Anderson and Zach Mellick.
Wiese is the team's starting quarterback. He is a senior.
"He's been waiting for his turn here," Strain said. "He's a very passionate young man. He's earned it here -- he had to wait until his senior year to play. He's an extremely hard worker. He's a football junky. He always wants to talk football and learn more. That's No. 1 with him.
"Beyond that, he's worked so hard in the weight room. He has developed into a pretty strong kid. He throws a nice football, he makes good decisions and he has a lot of intangibles you like."
Anderson came on to varsity as a sophomore as a runningback, but on the first play from scrimmage that season he broke his collarbone. As a junior he started at linebacker and in his senior year he figures to play primarily linebacker again. He will get some carries, too.
"He's a high-character kid," Strain said. "He's good in the classroom. Football-wise, he's a big, physical kid who will be a good linebacker for us."
Mellick, too, came up as a sophomore.
"He's really got a nose for the football," Strain said. "When people show up on Friday nights, they're going to notice him a lot. He'll be around the ball and making plays for us."
Expect to see Mellick on offense some, too.
In addition to the three senior captains, there are several more seniors returning with experience.
Sam Westre is one of them. He is a guard on the offensive line.
"He's had a nice camp so far," Strain said.
Jayson Bauer started last year as a tight end and will be the team's No. 1 tight end this fall. He will also play defensive end and defensive tackle.
"I don't see him coming off the field much, defensively," Strain said.
Tory Behny is a defensive lineman. He started the second half of last season as a tackle.
"He'll be one of our top defensive linemen," Strain said.
"Josh Kickbush started on the defensive line last year, too, and he returns for his senior season.
Jesse Green should provide a solid threat at the wide receiver position. He'll also be one of the team's main defensive backs.
A fair number of juniors will be looked at to contribute this season. Last year on the sophomore team they went 7-1.
"We'll have some juniors who will be playing for us," Strain said. "They're pretty talented kids. We need some of them to grow up in a hurry here. They've got zero varsity experience, but they bring some talent to the table."
Cretin-Derham Hall, Mounds View, Woodbury and East Ridge should be among the top teams in the Suburban East Conference this season.
Cretin won the conference title last year with an 8-0 record. Mounds View was second at 7-1 and White Bear Lake and Stillwater tied for third at 6-2.
When it comes to the section tournament, Hastings will be in an altogether different alignment.
The Raiders are in a six-team section in Class 5A.
The state's largest 32 schools are in Class 6A. Hastings comes in about 12 schools under that cut.
Teams in the section include Hastings, East Ridge, Tartan, Henry Sibley, Simley and St. Thomas Academy. When it comes tournament time, in other words, Hastings will be facing teams with similar levels of enrollment.
"Your initial reaction to it is, you're not playing some of those schools that are so much bigger than you," Strain said. "Now you feel like, by adding that new class, it puts you in a group where you are little more comparable in size to the teams you are playing."
Strain figures that the grueling SEC schedule will give Hastings a leg up when it comes to tournament time.
"It's a very challenging conference, but it will be great preparation for the playoffs," he said. "We're not going to face anyone in the playoffs that's any better than the teams we face earlier in the year. We should be well prepared for the playoffs."
Hastings will be taking part in a special Tackle Cancer fundraiser to benefit the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund.
On Friday, Sept. 21, fans in attendance will be asked to make a donation. The money raised will be sent to the foundation to fight cancer.