Upsala-Swanville Area football season preview

2012 record: 9-2

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Mitch Lange anchored an Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) team that reached an unprecedented level of success last fall.

As one of only three returning starters this year, Lange, who rushed for 1,448 yards in 2012, will have his role emphasized even more. Not that head coach Jay Loven is expecting him to mind.

“He’ll let us know if he needs a blow or to get a carry off, but I know Mitch pretty well and I don’t anticipate many times him saying, ‘Hey, give someone else the ball.’

“We’ll take him as far as he can lead us,” he said. “This year we’re a little bit thinner so everyone’s going to have to step up and carry a little bit bigger load.” Alongside Mitch Lange, only senior Andrew Vodak (offensive guard) and sophomore Kyle Lange (outside linebacker) return as starters from last year’s 9-2 roster that reached the Section 6AA championship game at the Fargodome.

Even though almost all of them have little varsity experience, simply watching and learning from last year’s contingent of 15 seniors has helped shape this year’s squad.

“Yeah, there’s no question,” Loven said. “We’ve seen that from the first day of practice. The work ethic from last year’s seniors has really rubbed off. These kids are really working hard for us. They’re doing every conditioning drill hard. They really matured over the year.”

Expected to compete for the host of open starting positions are seniors Shawn Pohlmann (offensive guard) and Shawn Urbanski (offensive/defensive tackle), juniors Tyler Evans (quarterback/safety), Jordan Sales (wide receiver/corner), Aaron Ripplinger (offensive tackle/inside linebacker), Chris George (defensive tackle) and Aidan Guthrie (defensive end) and sophomores Dunkin Westrich (fullback), Carter Loven (wide receiver/corner), Garrett Karnes (outside linebacker) and Justin Cichon (center).

With all of the new faces, Loven expects it to take a few games before the team is able to sort out its ideal style of play.

“At this point, I don’t know what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Loven said. “We feel we have some very talented kids filling in, but we could be really good or we could be really poor. We just don’t know right now.”

Barnesville will again be USA’s top competition in the Prairie Conference North, but the Patriots will have a different set of foes in postseason play following section realignment.

After competing as one of the smallest schools in Class AA, USA will move down to Class A in Section 6 with New York Mills, Pillager, Pine River-Backus, Royalton, West Central Area, Browerville and Prairie Valley.

“We take it as it comes,” Loven said. “We weren’t exactly excited about being in AA, but we said, ‘That’s where we are, let’s make the best of it,’ and we’ll say that now in A.

“We play the schedule they give us,” he said. “We’ve just got to put the kids together and play the game.”

USA kicks off the season at home against Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Thursday.