INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
Independence nearly matc ... »
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MOUNT VERNON — Tristan Wirfs poked his head in the gymnasium Monday morning as the Mount Vernon High School volleyball team began its first official practice of the season.
Excellence, meet excellence.
The 2016-17 high-school athletics season opened throughout the state Monday. At Mount Vernon, there’s more than enough optimism to go around.
* The football team went 11-3 last season, reaching the Class 2A state championship game before falling to Spirit Lake, 70-56. Wirfs (6-5, 305) is arguably the state’s top lineman. Most likely, the Mustangs will be ranked No. 1 when the first polls come out.
* The volleyball team has reached the state tournament seven of the last eight years, advancing to the Class 3A semifinals last season. Three all-staters return. It, too, could be top-rated when the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union releases its first list.
“We have a genuine opportunity to win a state title in November,” Coach Maggie Willems said.
* The boys’ cross country squad — shared with Lisbon — is the defending 3A state champion, and five of the top seven runners are back, led by seniors Chase McLaughlin and Jack Young. It’s the team to beat again.
“Our fall sports are going to be great,” Wirfs said. “Mount Vernon is a close-knit community. The people here want us to be successful.”
“This school district is a special place to be,” said Willems, a lifelong Mount Vernonite. “There are high expectations and a mutual support for each other.”
Willems was up at 4:30 Monday morning. She worked out at 5, then welcomed her veteran team for a 6:30 practice. About 45 girls showed up, including eight seniors.
Each of the seniors huddled with a group of four or five underclassmen. The goal of the first day, Willems said, is to help the youngsters “understand our expectations and our gym culture.”
That culture is this, according to four-sport standout Libby Ryan: “It’s important to put the team before ourselves and keep each other accountable. What’s the end goal here?”
The volleyball team met three times Monday. After the opening practice (in which everyone was together), the players split into positions for specialty camp (8:15-9:45 a.m.), then the varsity and JV held a two-hour practice after supper (6:30-8:30 p.m.).
A football gathering of 70-plus got started around 4:30 p.m., with Coach Lance Pedersen toting a sound system. There was work to be done, music to be enjoyed.
“We’re hungry because we didn’t get the ultimate goal last year,” Pedersen said. “We still have a mission, something we want to accomplish.”
Wirfs has committed to the University of Iowa. Quarterback Drew Adams is back after a 3,391-yard, 38-touchdown sophomore season. He’ll be throwing largely to a new receiving corps.
“They’re doing well,” Adams said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting. There’s some opportunities for some new guys.”
There’s a big opportunity at the end, for multiple teams from this town.
“All of us have played together for so long,” volleyball player Wynne Vandersall said. “The sky’s the limit.”
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