NICK THOMPSON, TRUMPET SPORTS WRITER
Fall sports at Wartburg College are back.
For the first time since 2019, sports are happening during the fall due to COVID-19. The Knights wasted no time getting things off to a great start.
The football team opened their season with a 44-3 win over Monmouth College of Monmouth, Illinois. The Knights are currently 2-1 after playing Gustavus Adolphus College Sept. 11. The team has not played since the 2019 fall season as their spring season was marred by positive COVID tests on the team.
On top of coming off a year without a game, the football team has a new coach.
Chris Winter is in his first year as the head coach after spending 16 years as an assistant coach. The transition didn’t come without its struggles. Winter is replacing long-time head coach, Rick Willis, who took a position as the vice-president for student recruitment.
“A lot of the struggles that I have had transitioning to the head coach is on the administrative side. As the defensive coach, I never had to worry about getting team meals ready. We are traveling for the first time to go to Gustavus and organizing all the travel and making sure the defensive backs and the team is all ready to go,” Winter said.
Winter felt positive after the Monmouth victory on Sept. 4.
“There are two ways that you can look at it. We won 44-3 and we are excited about that and we can build off of what we did and that can be a momentum type of thing that can get us rolling. On the flip side of that, we don’t want it to turn into a thought process of, ‘we won by such a large margin, we’ve got it all figured out.’ There were a lot of things that we liked and a lot of things that we can improve on,” Winter said.
Wartburg football has one of the biggest senior classes that helped get the team ready after the long layoff. The Knights’ last game was the Nov. 30, 2019, NCAA playoff loss against Wisconsin-Whitewater. The 2021 senior list includes returning starters and all-conference players that are looking to help the team return to the top of the American Rivers Conference.
“We have 34 total seniors on the team, both fourth- and fifth-year seniors, which is as big of a senior class in the last four years, if not more, that have been together. That is a big part of this team, their leadership, bringing chemistry, and trying to build a family for two classes of guys, freshman and sophomore, that really haven’t experienced a college football season before,” Winter said.
Volleyball has also returned for the fall season. The team is currently sitting at their best program start at 8–0 after the Augsburg Invitational. The team is coming off a 7-2 record in the 2020 season in which they were co-conference champions with Coe College. Because of this, and an experienced team, expectations are high.
“This is a hard-working, athletic team that wants to get back to the post-season NCAA national tournament again. Yes, we want to win another conference title but we absolutely want to win the conference tournament that would give us the automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament. So, these are goals that we keep out in front of us throughout the season, but day to day, we stay in the moment and focus on whatever goal each of us has for that day in practice or in a game,” Jennifer Walker, Wartburg’s head volleyball coach, said.
The team is bringing back a lot of core pieces, including fifth-year senior Katie Foster, who was the 2019 American Rivers Conference MVP. The Knights are also returning a five-year starter in Kylie Bildstein, who has been an All-Conference player since 2018.
Women’s soccer is coming off an undefeated spring season in which they finished with a 7-0 record. The team has started the season with three wins, including a double overtime thriller against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to open the season. The players are excited to get back to playing in the spring and are hungry for another conference championship.
“This season is like any other season, we must prove to everyone else and ourselves that we can get back-to-back titles and make it to the NCAA. After doing well, in 2019 and in the spring, we have created a target on our back for other teams. Other teams do the best they can for the one game they have against, but we have to be on our ‘A’ game every game we play,” Kelsey Ryan, a third-year forward, said.