The Canadian Wildcats have been well established as both a power in the Texas Panhandle and the state as a whole. Coming off of back-to-back Class 2A state championships in 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats made the jump to Class 3A in 2016. Would they be able to adjust and keep up? Results from this season show that they did.
Canadian finished 12-3, falling just short of making their third straight state title game in the semifinals to eventual state champion Gunter. It was a successful first season in 3A according to head coach Chris Koetting but not necessarily one that he was expecting.
“Last year was a really rewarding season for us,” Koetting said, “We had some challenges in front of us from losing a great class that won two state championships to moving up to 3A. Our kids handled it extremely well. It was one of the funner groups that I’ve coached. We probably surprised ourselves as to how far we made it.”
It was a rewarding season, but it certainly took some time. The Wildcats started off 2-2 and lost a 31-game winning streak in the process. The losses were to two 4A teams in Bushland and Perryton, but Koetting has a history of scheduling tough opponents in non-district play. He credits those tough early games as part of why Canadian has been a top program over the last several years.
“We’ve tried to play a really tough non-district schedule every year,” Koetting said, “This year, it took us a little while for us to settle down because we had so many new faces. I think it helps us become mentally tougher and has been a key factor into getting better every year.”
2016 had its own challenges with the tough schedule and jump in play but 2017 will bring some entirely new challenges for his team. The Wildcats lose a senior class that won 43 games over the last three seasons, including those aforementioned two state championships. Koetting called those players “extremely tough to replace” and understands that there will be a lot of fresh faces for the Wildcats, especially with just two returning starters on offense.
Even with the new faces, Koetting still does have returners that will have their opportunities to shine. Running back Alexis Flores is back after rushing for 537 yards and 10 touchdowns from a year ago. All-state offensive lineman Tyler Richardson also returns that Koetting calls “a leader up front.”
The biggest strength may lie in the Wildcats’ defense which returns both defensive lineman Jackson Anderson (8 sacks in 2016) and Matthew Lynch (10 interceptions) from a season ago.
“We have a little more experience coming back with five returners on defense,” Koetting said, “We may need to lean on them a little more early in the year.”
In order for the Wildcats to succeed in 2017, Koetting is ready to rely on his defense to get the job done. Overall, Koetting does feel good about the 2017 Wildcats even with all the new looks and changes on his team.
“This upcoming season, we’re probably going to be the youngest, least experienced team that we’ve had in a long time,” Koetting said, “There’s going to be some growing pains with the kids that we have but we’re really excited about the kids coming back. We feel like they’re going to be able to do some really good things for us.”
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