U Thought Wrong

Elyse Schoenig, Reporter

As the Pioneers attack their first season in the Central State Eight conference (CS8), they have confronted doubters, learning where the tough competition awaits and where it doesn’t.   

“Everyone (each school) thinks they are our biggest rival,” Athletic Director Wendy Smith said. “To us, they are all ‘just another school’.”

This first season raised more questions for the football team than any other sport. U-High is the smallest school in this conference with competitors ranging in size from the 643 of Sacred Heart Griffin to the 1509 of Springfield High School. What this new competition would mean for the season was an uncertainty, at best.

“Going into this conference, we didn’t really know anyone,” first-year head football coach John Johnson said. “At our first CS8 meeting, we were told we would go 0-9. Our theme this year became ‘Let’s shock the world’.”

And the Pioneers did shock, ending the season with a 4-5 record.

“We blew the expectations of everyone else out of the water,” senior quarterback Doug Holmes said.  “We definitely overachieved compared to the public’s view. It was cool to prove people wrong like we did this season.”

The new conference is positively affecting boys soccer so far. Springfield High School, who is “one of the more competitive teams in the CS8,” according to senior defender Matt Mier, has a current conference record of 26-1 over the last three years.

We are that 1. “Added competition gives us a reason to play harder,” Mier said. “There is more purpose in each game.” (During the writing of this story the soccer team concluded their season with a sectionals loss, 3-1, to Peoria Notre Dame.)

Girls tennis took first place in sectionals and seventh place in state.  The new conference, while providing a refreshing change, did not offer much else.

“There wasn’t much competition,” senior Grace Matheis, part of the three-time state qualifying doubles team, said. “We didn’t struggle in many matches, and there were not many challenges.”

Basketball and wrestling have already faced some of the schools from the CS8 in previous postseason games, giving a good indicator of what to expect-or perhaps, what other teams should expect.

“U-High is accustomed to playing bigger schools,” boys head basketball coach Andrew McDowell said. “We are known as big school athletes. Other teams should expect a tough game every night played in a classy manner, whether we win or lose.”

Similarly, the girls basketball team having already faced schools such as Rochester High School and Springfield High School in big games foreshadows a potential rivalry. They present solid competition.

“I think our team will learn to become more aggressive on the basketball court,” senior forward Cheyenne Petersen said. “The teams we will be playing will be a lot bigger, so in terms of rebounding we will have to do a lot better.”

Girls head basketball coach Laura Sellers hopes to make use of both a competitive and historic program.

“Regardless of what team we have out on the court, you’re going to have to work to beat us.” Sellers said.

Wrestling, unlike football and basketball, is a very individualized sport. Wrestlers compete against those of their own size and weight. The smaller weight athletes of the Corn Belt Conference were the same age as U-High’s own smaller weight athletes. In the bigger conference, the smaller weight wrestlers could potentially be juniors or seniors with more experience on the mat.

“We’ve wrestled a lot of these other schools already, so they kind of know our style,” head wrestling coach Mike Troll said. “We are a take down type of mentality. We’re pretty aggressive and they know that, so they will do things to counter that.”

As the various athletic seasons take off, the Pioneers have made it very clear that joining a new conference will not prevent U-High athletes from “shocking the world.”

“Every game matters,” senior goalie Christian Lopez said. “Playing the best helps you to beat the best.”