Mill Valley is team to beat in KVL; just don’t tell Jaguars
More balance expected, but league coaches say favorites unchanged
A two-headed monster dominated the Kaw Valley League landscape during the 2008 football season — one part Jaguar and the other part Lion.
The Mill Valley Jaguars and Lansing Lions were the cream of the crop in football last year. Both squads rolled through the league slate undefeated before meeting in a championship showdown in the regular-season finale so highly anticipated that Metro Sports made it the televised game of the week.
Both squads are expected to be among the KVL title contenders again this season despite losing talented senior classes, but most league coaches agree the league race should be much more wide open this season.
Mill Valley coach George Radell’s squad is shooting for a repeat performance as league champion, but the 10th-year Jaguar coach gives an “are you kidding me?” look when asked if winning a 2009 title might be easier than in 2008.
“I think a bunch of those teams we played last year are more on the upside this year,” Radell said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of teams improved this year. Sometimes your success does come down to schedule, but yeah, I think all of those teams, so many of them are going to be better.”
With that, Radell begins naming off almost every team in the league that for various reasons he expects to be improved in 2009.
Lansing graduated a good senior class, but a talented group of sophomores last year made a major impact and will fill more roles on the field this fall.
Turner should be improved after making a trip to the 5A state quarterfinals last year. Piper returns an athletic and speedy squad, led by senior quarterback Jasper Sanders. Most of the Pirates’ starting lineup is intact from a year ago.
Tonganoxie coach Mark Elston thinks Basehor-Linwood should be improved. The Bobcats return starting quarterback Brandon Leppke and a solid receiving corps, and they also have the experience of back-to-back 4A playoff appearances.
“We’ve got to believe Basehor’s going to be very good,” Elston said. “Last count I’ve heard, they’ve got 24 seniors out there. Their quarterback is very smart, they’ve got some big, tall receivers to throw to, and their quarterback will be a four-year starter along with their center.”
Elston fields a club that also hopes to count itself among the league’s most improved teams. The bulk of the Chieftains’ starters are back, and veteran quarterback Jeremy Carlisle should have numerous weapons to throw to this fall.
From a league-standings standpoint, the Chieftains also have the benefit of avoiding Mill Valley and Lansing on the schedule this year.
“It’s a positive and a negative,” Elston said. “You’d like to play all the teams in your conference, but the way our conference shakes out with the 5A and the 4A and us being on the small side of the conference, that allows us to play some different people outside the conference.”
Always a scary opponent with a roster full of solid athletes, Elston sees Bishop Ward as another team that could shake up the KVL standings this season. While the Cyclones have been more known for their potent offense in recent years, Elston points to the defensive side of the ball as Ward’s strength this fall.
“(Outside linebacker Dallas Shalz) might be the best linebacker in the conference that I saw last year,” Elston said.
Ward has an intriguing season-opener on Friday against another of the league’s most athletic teams, Bonner Springs. The Braves tied for the league title in 2007 and then slumped in the standings in 2008. Radell said he expects the Braves to be improved in 2009, even with the loss of a strong senior class.
“Our expectations are always high, and our kids expect us to be at the top,” BSHS coach Lew Kasselman said. “And we practice that way everyday. We work at being our best everyday.”
While Kasselman will, like all other league coaches, try to groom his team to be at the top of the KVL standings at the end of the year, the BSHS coach points to the defending champions as the team to beat again this year.
“The KVL, like always, will be a battle,” Kasselman said. “I think Mill Valley is probably the top team in the league.”
Basehor-Linwood coach Steve Hopkins agreed.
“Mill Valley is the returning league champ and was a junior-dominated team last season, so they are the prohibitive favorite in my mind,” Hopkins said.
If those coaches are right about the Jaguars, then Radell knows the line between finishing first or in the middle of the pack will be very slim this season.
“All of those teams are going to be better, so if we slip we’re going to have our hands full,” he said. “We hope that we’re better, because we know that they’re going to be better. So to repeat the success (of last year), we’re going to have to strive to be a better football team than we were a year ago.”
— Benton Smith, Nick Bates and Nick Bratkovic contributed to this report.