Coach: Dean Aurich
Assistant coaches: Fred Pawelk, Gary Loontjer, Dan Hoernemann, Tim Zupke, Mike Orth, and Jeremy Hegle
Captains: Joel Burfeind, Cole Buttenhoff, and Nathan Weber
Conference: Minnesota River
Section: 4A – Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Kimball, Minneapolis North Community, and Lester Prairie
2012 finish: A 10-2 record gave the Crusaders the most successful season in 12 years, complimented by a conference title, section title, and state tournament entry. The Crusaders finished the regular schedule 7-1, with their only a 16-13 overtime loss to Tri-City United to blemish the record. The Crusaders shared the MRC title with Sibley East, who was also 7-1.
Mayer Lutheran breezed through the first two games of the Section 4AA tournament by defeating Brooklyn Center and St. Agnes by over 30 points. A 23-13 victory over longtime section rival Maple Lake sent the Crusaders to the state tournament for only the second time since the late 1980s.
At state, LHS fell in the first round to Jackson County Central.
Key losses: Absent from this year’s lineup are All-Conference players Jeremiah Grimsley, Phil Burfeind, and Tanner Luebke. Grimsley threw over 1,500 yards at quarterback last season, while Burfeind led the rushers, and Luebke snagged seven interceptions.
Key returnees: Experience will be a key in the success of this year’s team as 13 seniors will lead the Crusaders in their quest for another MRC title and state tournament entry, including 2012 All-Conference players Joel Burfeind, Weber, and Mason Diedrick (also MRC’s Most Valuable D-Line player), Chad Anenson (MRC’s Most Valuable Special Teams player), and All-Conference Honorable Mention players Anthony Gruenhagen and Taylor Otterstatter.
“We have a lot of returning players,” Aurich said.
Buttenhoff will take over as quarterback in the wake of Grimsley, while Burfeind will lead the running backs, after logging 745 yards last season. Weber and Buttenhoff will also be among the top rushers for LHS.
Gruenhagen returns are the team’s leading receiver in 2012, along with Burfeind and Otterstatter.
Weber led the team in tackles last season and is back once again for LHS on defense, along with Buttenhoff, Burfeind, Otterstatter, Diedrick, Gruenhagen, and Matt Huinker, who all tallied over 30 tackles.
Key newcomers: Only four freshmen are out for the team this season, so look for new faces Dylan Fischer, Brandon Jilek, Mitch Johnson, and McHayl Diedrick on the field. The newest underclassmen are supported by a cast of 11 sophomores, including Sam Schlueter and Rhett Kovar, who both saw varsity minutes last year.
Teams to beat: Every team on the schedule is a team to beat for Mayer Lutheran, if the Crusaders hope to defend their conference crown and return to the state tournament. After losing to Sibley East last year, the Wolverines are sure to be challenged by Mayer Lutheran this year.
Changes for 2013: The biggest change of this season comes with Mayer Lutheran’s move from Class AA to Class A for postseason play. A move determined by the MSHSL and the size of the school, Aurich said the move is beneficial to Mayer Lutheran, as the Crusaders will be playing against equally-sized opponents.
“I think in the big picture, at the state level, it’s a good thing,” he said.
Goals: Of course, returning to state is the season-long goal for this year’s team, but in Class A, it might be even tougher. ACGC is favored to win the section and return to state, while Aurich said BBE and Lester Prairie are both formidable opponents in the postseason for LHS. He said all three teams are similar to Mayer Lutheran, with strong traditions and senior-heavy squads.
“We earn the right to play one game at a time in a very tough Class A section,” he said.
In the regular season, the Crusaders will be looking to defend their share of the MRC title, after tying for it with Sibley East in 2012. The Crusaders are the only Class A school in a predominately Class AAA Minnesota River Conference. LeSueur-Henderson and NYA Central compete at the AA level, but Sibley East, Watertown-Mayer, Jordan, Belle Plaine, and Tri-City United are all AAA schools.
Perhaps the most necessary goal to meet this season is much like last year: health. With the smallest team Aurich has seen in his 35 years on the coaching staff (33 players), the team just doesn’t have the depth to compensate for serious injuries to key players.
“If we stay healthy, we can be very competitive,” he said.
First game: LHS opens the season at home on Aug. 29 against Eden Valley-Watkins.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]