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Winona, the Team to Beat in DII

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Winona, the Team to Beat in DII

The women’s DII college landscape is a fickle one. Every year a new set of teams advances to the national playoffs, and it’s rare to have a DII program with sustained success - and maybe that's because success begets pressure to promote itself to DI. Winona State might be on that path, as the current DII ACRA champion prepares for another title run. The Black Katts return 24 players from last year’s roster and show no signs of veering from their championship goals.

“The team so far has a focus I haven’t seen before, which really excites me and motivates me as their coach,” said Josh Krzewinski, who has replaced long-time head coach Roger Riley. “We are trying to focus on the mental aspect of our game to make us smarter on the field. The girls took their off-season training serious and thus far it shows in regards to their fitness, strength and speed.”

Twenty-one of the 24 returners have been attending training this week, and freshmen will join the squad next week.

“There is a variety of players coming in to join us and I look forward to seeing them contribute on the field from multiple positions,” Krzewinski said of the incoming players. “We have recruited some speed in the backs, and some strength in our forward pack from quality high school programs in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

Those recruits include prop Anika Junakin (Oak Creek, Wisc.); center/lock Hanah DeMars (Faribault, Minn.; Serevi residency program participant); wing Allie Schulz (Muskego, Wisc.; Midwest U19s); and fullback Erin Schroeter (Orono, Minn.). With 24 returners, it’ll be tough breaking into that starting line, but there are some vacancies left by the center pairing of Holly Edelburg and Caitlin Courtney, and fullback Heather Kohl in the backs; and forwards Emilee Burkhalter (hooker) and DII championship MVP flanker Holly Vassar.

Krzewinski is confident that the younger players can move into these roles, and he’s pretty excited with the returning talent. In the forwards, there’s sophomore Lanoira Duhart, typically a prop, who is getting time at inside center (big cetners, something for which Winona is known). Seniors Nadia Nassif (flanker), Hilary Zimmer (lock) and Ashley Pomeroy (No. 8) are all hard-hitting, hardworking players, who are comfortable and aggressive in the open field. Senior scrumhalf and captain Georgia Porter and junior flyhalf Katie Dries team up in the halfback positions once again, and they’ll look to move the ball to saavy wings Nicole Lindberg and Lindsey Bucki.

“Overall, the team is very versatile,” Krzewinski said. “We can use several girls in multiple roles, and I am confident in their ability to perform at a high level no matter what number they end up wearing.”

The biggest challenge for Winona is competition. The Black Katts are the best DII team in the Northern Lights conference and Midwest – by far – and won’t play comparable teams until the ACRA semifinals, which will take place on December 6 in Palm Coast, Fla.