Small colleges: Mavericks, Warriors teams to beat
Minnesota State, Mankato is expected to do what it’s done frequently of late — win and win big.
The Mavericks, who finished 13-1 last season and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Division II Tournament, are the top-ranked team in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Just behind them is Winona State, which ended 10-2 a season ago.
Mankato is ranked as high as No. 3 in national polls.
The Mavericks return nine All-NSIC players. That includes juniors Nate Gunn and Shane Zylstra. Gunn was NSIC Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2017, setting a school single-season record with 1,550 rushing yards. Zylstra was NSIC Offensive Player of the Year. He led Mavericks receivers with 861 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Mankato also returns Chatfield graduate Jayme LaPlante. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior defensive end had 42 tackles last season, including three sacks.
Sophomore Brady Tuckner (Rochester John Marshall) and junior Zach Robertson (Rochester Mayo) are two linebackers competing for starting spots.
Winona State went 10-1 against NSIC foes a year ago. The Warriors seem stacked again, though there is one key question with them. It’s who will start at quarterback.
Last year that starter was Darren Beenken and he was terrific, throwing for 1,782 yards and 10 touchdowns. Beenken has graduated, leaving the door open at the position.
Whoever throws the ball will benefit from senior Isaiah Frandsen lining up at wide receiver.
Frandsen was a top red-zone target last season and led WSU in receiving yards with 620 as well as seven touchdowns.
Winona State also has a strong stable of running backs in Winona graduate Eric Birth, Javian Roebuck and Grand Meadow graduate Landon Jacobson.
Sioux Falls and Duluth are two more NSIC teams cracking the top 25 in national polls.
Sioux Falls (9-3 last year) returns an impressive 11 starters, six on offense, five on defense. Duluth (9-3 last year) has the NSIC North Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, receiver Jason Balts.
St. Thomas is looking to defend its Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
The Tommies, who finished 11-2 and ranked fourth in the country, look in good shape to dominate again. St. Thomas is ranked third in Division III, tops among MIAC teams. St. John’s is next at No. 11.
St. Thomas beat St. John’s 20-17 last year, getting it done in front of 37,355 fans at Target Field in Minneapolis.
St. Thomas returns starting quarterback Jacques Perra, as well as center Matt Beck, running back Tucker Trettle and offensive lineman Elijah Rice. All were All-MIAC last year. On defense, All-MIAC selections Matt Mitchell (defensive line) and Adam Brant (linebacker) return.
St. John’s returns a pair of preseason All-American lineman, senior defensive player Nathan Brinker and junior offensive player Dan Greenheck. St. John’s finished 7-1 in the MIAC and 9-2 overall last season. The Johnnies were second in the country in total defense last regular season.
Included on the Johnnies team is Rochester Lourdes graduate Kyle Borgeson, a sophomore defensive lineman. Fellow Lourdes graduate Carter Greguson is a sophomore linebacker for St. Thomas.
Concordia also received votes in the top-25 preseason poll.
The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has two teams in the top 25 in Division III. Oshkosh (12-1 last year) comes in at No. 4 and Whitewater (7-3) at No. 12.
Oshkosh was 7-0 in the WIAC last year and Whitewater 6-1. Oshkosh didn’t fall until losing to eventual national champion Mount Union 43-40 in the semifinals. It was the third straight year that the Titans had gone deep in the postseason, including reaching the semis the last two years.
Oshkosh may have its work cut out replacing quarterback Brett Kasper. Kasper, who graduated, threw for 3,025 yards last year. His favorite receiver, Sam Mantkowski, also graduated. He led the team with 1,477 receiving yards.
Oshkosh does return running back Mitch Gerhartz (792 yards rushing, 6.9 yards per carry) as well as receiver Dom Todarello (419 yards). Top defensive returner is linebacker Scott Skornicka (5.5 sacks).
Whitewater returns preseason All-Americans Harry Henschler and Famus Hasty. Henschler is a senior defensive lineman and Hasty a senior defensive back.
Platteville is also in the top 25 in the Division III rankings, at No. 16.
The Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has just one team in the top-25 preseason poll. That is Wartburg at No. 13.
The Knights, who finished 12-1 last year, must replace receiver Riley Brockway, the team’s MVP last year. He finished with 1,397 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Matt Sacia returns after being named second-team All-West Region last year. Sacia threw for 3,221 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2017. He threw just three interceptions.