New era begins for Norsemen football
—by Roger Fritz
A new era of Norsemen football begins this Friday night, as someone other than Kerry Van Winkle will be the head coach for Roland-Story football for the first time since the fall of 1973. And that new head man is Aaron Stensland. Stensland was promoted to the position after six years as an assistant for the Norse. Prior to that, he had one year stints as an assistant at Urbandale and North Polk, and seven years at Nodaway Valley of Greenfield; four of them as the head coach.
Coach Stensland is a native of Iowa Falls, and spent his collegiate days at Wartburg. Besides the top football job at Roland-Story, he also teaches 8th grade English and P.E., and coaches Middle School boys track.
Stensland is not the only new thing for the Norsemen. New opponents are on tap for 2014. This is the first year of the bi-annual redistricting, and the Norse are on the western outpost in their newly assigned district. The new district will see Roland-Story teeing it up for the first time ever against Union and South Tama. Both of those games are in Story City.
Another new opponent is Aplington-Parkersburg. A-P has won the only previous meeting, which was a playoff game in 2002. The Norse will be traveling to the Sacred Acre in Parkersburg in 2014. R-S has also not clashed with Iowa Falls-Alden since 2007, and will close out the season against the Cadets in Story City.
Other, more familiar opponents dot the schedule. The Norse begin the season Friday (Aug. 29) at South Hamilton. These two teams have met every year throughout Roland-Story’s history, except for the first year of consolidation in 1969. The Norse hold a 27-17 all-time record, but the Hawks have won the last two.
Roland-Story is also on the road at North Polk and gets to experience the Comets’ brand new stadium, which includes a field turf playing surface. This will be a mid-season non-district matchup. The Comets are the team Roland-Story has played the second most all time, after South Hamilton. The Norsemen hold a 27-8-1 record against the Comets.
Other opponents include East Marshall at home, South Hardin on the road, both in district action, and the remaining non-district game will be CMB at home in Week 2.
Fans venturing out to see the Norsemen this year will notice a change just by looking out onto the field. New “lids” are on the Norsemen, as they will be sporting newly painted helmets this season. The helmets are a deep red, with an R-S logo on the side. The players will also be using new game pants, all black, forgoing the stripes that were used in previous years. The jerseys themselves look the same, with the traditional white on black home jerseys, and black on white road jerseys.
As for the action on the field, the Norsemen are coming off a disappointing 2-7 season. But the Norsemen captains are confident that better days are ahead. Seniors Jerald Fritz, Ryan Hadaway, Austin Jewell, Andrew Schlatter and Josiah Soderstrum were elected captains by a vote of their teammates.
When asked about the team’s preparation, Hadaway said, “The conditioning hasn’t been any easier this year, but it seems like it is, because the players are really encouraging each other.”
Fritz said, “Things are really coming together. We are working well together as a team. We break it down to family at our practices.”
But the season is still new, and there are things to work on. When asked what still needs to improve, Soderstrum said everyone still needs to keep learning their assignments. Schlatter offered, “We just have to keep getting better. We may not be the most talented team, but when we work together, we will be tough.”
Coach Stensland talked a bit about his team. “I think we have a new attitude. This past Friday in the scrimmage, we played hard, and we played aggressively.” That sort of attitude is what Norse fans should expect to see out of future Norsemen teams. “Going forward, we want to be the hardest hitting, most physical team in Class 2A,” said Stensland. “We want to build momentum back in the program. We need more fans, we need more players out for football.”
It looks to be a wide-open race for the district championship. Only one team in the new district made the playoffs last year. “It looks like anybody could finish from first to seventh,” said Stensland. When asked if he could pick a favorite from the other teams, he said you probably have to point at Union and South Tama, who are dropping down from Class 3A. He said to also not fall asleep on Aplington-Parkersburg.
New for Iowa high school football this year is how post-season match ups are arranged. Previously there was a partner district, with first place from one district playing the fourth place team of the partner district. Now in the post-season, the IHSAA will match teams up based on seeding and geography of the finalists. The top four seeds of each seven team district will advance. So if the Norse can crack the top four of their district for the first time since 2010, the team will not know the direction they will travel for the playoffs until the IHSAA announces the opponent. One of the new rules is that a team cannot travel more than 125 miles for a playoff game.
But there are still nine games to play before worrying about the playoffs, and it all gets under way this Friday in Jewell. The first home game is the following Friday (Sept. 5) against CMB. There will also be an early Homecoming this year, and that will be in Week 3 against Union.