HORTONVILLE — Last season Hortonville experienced one of its best football seasons in school history when it won its first 12 games and captured its first conference title since 1984.
The Polar Bears, however, won’t get a chance to defend their Bay Conference title, because Hortonville is changing conferences this season.
The Polar Bears are switching conferences, moving to the Valley Football Association’s South Division, replacing Menasha, which is moving to the Bay.
Hortonville now plays in a conference that includes Division 1 and 2 schools instead of the Bay, which has Division 3 and 4 schools.
"This is a big step for us and it's definitely going to be a big adjustment from the Bay Conference,” co-head coach Tom Kolosso said. “The week-in and week-out teams that we're going to be going against; when you go from being the biggest school significantly to now being the smallest school, that's going to change. Football is a numbers game."
"There are good teams and we're going to have a competitive game each week so we're just doing the best we can to prepare for them," quarterback Jake Sommers said.
Last season Hortonville surprised some by winning the Bay Conference, which had been owned by West De Pere for years. The Polar Bears then reached Level 4 of the Division 2 playoffs, but fell to, ironically, Menasha.
The Polar Bears had quality players in quarterback Andrew Thompson, running back Alex Lasinski (1,456 yards, 25 TDs) and wide receiver Mitch Lillge (602 yards, 9 TDs), but they and other key players have graduated.
Nonetheless, Kolosso believes he has the replacements to keep Hortonville competitive as he said the goal is the postseason.
"There are a lot of players who are seniors this year, and last year as juniors they were talented players but were behind a really good senior player,” he said. “Coming into the season nobody knows anything about them, they haven’t done it yet on Friday night, but there's some kids that we're excited about that could've easily been a returning all-conference player had the circumstances been different last year."
Sommers has big shoes to fill as last year Thompson threw for 2,128 yards with 28 TDs and 2 INTs. But he feels he learned from watching Thompson and Co. win a lot of games.
"The seniors taught us about winning and just competing and what it takes to win,” Sommers said. “We are going to do the best we can and take what we learned and apply it to the football field."
Notes: Hortonville allowed just two points over its first six games last season. … Hortonville’s first South Division game is Week 3 at Stevens Point. … Hortonville’s first home division game is against Oshkosh North in Week 4.
Hortonville 2014 Schedule
Aug. 22 Appleton East
Aug. 29 at Kimberly
Sept. 5 at Stevens Point
Sept. 12 Oshkosh North
Sept. 19 at Wisconsin Rapids
Sept. 26 at Oshkosh West
Oct. 3 Marshfield
Oct. 10 at Fond du Lac
Oct. 17 Neenah
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay