The late Whitefish Bay football coach Jim Tietjen may be gone, but his influence still permeates every aspect of the Blue Dukes football program.
Coach Jake Wolter, who took over as an interim coach after Tietjen's diagnosis late last summer, was formally made the head coach after the 7-3 North Shore Conference co-championship season of 2015 and Tietjen's passing late last November. Wolter will seek to use Tietjen's influence to the Blue Dukes advantage as they work with a younger and smaller squad this fall.
"That's always in the back of your mind," Wolter said. "He set the tempo. We won games because of his grit and toughness, and we must keep that going."
It helps that the vast majority of the coaching staff, including Tietjen's son, Joey, as defensive coordinator, returns to keep the tradition alive. They will be working in a far different landscape this fall as the high-powered and influential class of 2016 heads off to college and a smaller senior group (approximately 10 or so) looks to fill the breach.
"We actually return only two or three guys who saw a lot of action on Friday nights last year," Wolter said. 'We're just looking at a roster that's just so very young. The senior class is struggling with leadership right now. We're actually looking at some juniors to be leaders right now."
Some of that inexperience showed in Bay's scrimmage against Milwaukee Custer and Shorewood/Messmer on Aug. 12.
"I was a little disappointed," Wolter said. "I thought we sort of played down to our competition. We were hoping to be a little more crisp, a little more fundamentally sound with a little better tackling."
The Blue Dukes will look to senior leaders like second-team All-North Shore Conference selections Brady Weas (offensive line) and Michael Kirkendoll (defensive back). Chris Caspari is another senior lineman who will be looked upon for good things, as will be junior returning lineman Carson Kimple.
Wolter also noted that this senior group has taken some great strides upward since the nadir moment of their sophomore year when only four of them were out for football.
Overall, there are 62 in the entire program as Bay's freshman group is not very large either (11). In fact, only Cedarburg, Germantown and Homestead are featuring full freshman squads in the North Shore.
On offense, the Blue Dukes will build around junior quarterback Cade Garcia, who had strong basketball and baseball seasons last school year and has looked good in camp, said Wolter. Garcia will replace graduated Now All-Suburban selection Jake Fisher.
"I think he's going to surprise a lot of people," said Wolter. "Just a great athlete who really knows how to compete. He really learned a lot as Jake's backup last year."
Junior Bo Bassindale will be the primary running back once he gets over a hamstring issue. Wolter said the team could use a little more depth in the backfield.
Wolter said that Kirkendoll is off to a good start too and will be looked upon to make plays out of the backfield and out of the receiver's slot.
Defensively, Wolter likes the team speed the Blue Dukes are displaying, especially in the secondary, but he said there are issues that need to be solved.
"I am concerned about our tackling and our physicality," he said. "We've had some good, physical kids in the past and we hope to develop them again."
Junior free safety Case Fleck has been a real standout, Wolter said.
The Blue Dukes will have a formidable task early on when they host defending Greater Metro Conference champion Brookfield Central at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18. Bay beat the Lancers, 35-14, last season, but Central has a lot more pieces in place heading into this season.
Wolter takes over: After serving as Tietjen's interim last fall, the head coaching job is now Wolter's full-time. He'll work to keep the same blue collar, hard-working mentality that has served Bay well over the last decade. That he has almost the entire staff in place that has been working together for years will be a big plus in the transition.
Juniors to the fore: With a small senior class, the juniors, primarily individuals like quarterback Cade Garcia, lineman Carson Kimple, running back Bo Bassindale, and free safety Case Fleck, will look to share some of the leadership load. They'll work with established seniors like Brady Weas, Michael Kirkendoll and Chris Caspari to get the team pointed in the right direction,
We say: This is definitely going to be a transition year for Wolter and company. The class of 2016 was influential and was an emotional catalyst as the team dealt with Tietjen's illness and subsequent death. But there is still potential here. There is some team speed and skill and if the Blue Dukes can keep key people healthy, a run back to the state playoffs is not out of reach.
First team: None
Second team: Brady Weas (OL), Michael Kirkendoll (DB)
Honorable mention: Michael Kirkendoll (RB), Brady Weas (DE)
First-team losses: Teddy Weber (OL), Jake Fisher (QB), Macklin Kortebein (RB, OLB)
Coach: Jake Wolter
Outcome: Lost in Level 1 to Brookfield East, 41-27
Last year (home in bold)
Brookfield Central W 35-14
Slinger L 12-6
Cedarburg W 34-14
Port Washington W 48-14
Nicolet W 44-14
Germantown W 24-21
Milwaukee Lutheran W 21-0
Homestead L 35-13
Grafton W 42-21
Brookfield East L 41-27
Aug. 18 Brookfield Central
Aug. 26 at Slinger
Sept. 2 Cedarburg
Sept. 9 at Port Washington
Sept. 16 Nicolet
Sept. 23 at Germantown
Sept. 30 Milwaukee Lutheran
Oct. 7 at Homestead
Oct. 14 Grafton