What a race it was. Racine Lutheran, University School and Catholic Central posted 8-1 league and overall records to share the conference's regular-season title. Meanwhile, Martin Luther and Shoreland Lutheran also qualified for the playoffs.
However, WIAA realignment has thrown another curveball into the equation, adding members and dividing the league into North and South Divisions.
St. John's NW Military
The Lancers missed the postseason by a game with their 4-5 finish. They made their first and only playoff trip in 2005, losing in the first round of D-4.
But St. John's has a key piece coming back in senior defensive lineman Zac Bickett, who was a first-team pick and is a four-year starter.
However, St. John's must replace several all-league performers, including first-team defensive back Josh Weitzel, second-team guard Chris Cromwell, second-team linebacker and honorable mention running back Aaron Gardtke and second-team linebacker Carter Lindley. Cromwell is a preferred walk-on at the University of Wisconsin.
Gaedtke led the team in rushing with 707 yards on 143 carries (4.9) and nine scores, while Weitzel caught 26 balls for 459 yards (17.7).
Coach Gary Richert will rely on a defense that returns six letter winners while an inexperienced offense tries to develop, especially at the skill positions.
Living Word Lutheran
The Timberwolves finished 2-7 in a muddled bottom half of the league standings. They are still looking for the school's first playoff appearance.
Senior punter Marshall Herget is Living Word's lone returning first-team choice and was an honorable mention selection at quarterback. Senior kicker Aaron Hauser made the second team and gives the Timberwolves arguably the best special teams squad.
Living Word must replace such standouts as first-team receiver and second-team defensive back Joey St. Peter and first-team linebacker and honorable mention guard Timmy Zbytnitski.
Herget finished 104 of 227 (45.8 percent) for 1,290 yards with eight scoring tosses and nine interceptions.
Lake Country Lutheran
The Lightning also finished 2-7 and have yet to taste postseason action, although they have size and experience to work with to end that streak.
Among those who are returning, senior offensive tackle Hunter Mason made the second team, as did senior defensive lineman T.J. Diercks, while junior linebacker Aaron Wagner garnered honorable mention status.
Wagner led the Lightning with 122 carries for 735 yards (6.0) and four scores.
Junior quarterback Jared Wartinbee returns after completing 93 of 216 pass attempts (43.1 percent) for 1,229 yards and 17 TDs, although he threw 15 interceptions.
Lake Country must fill holes left by second-team receiver Andrew Preisler and honorable mention receiver Jon Knudtson.
The Patriots went 2-7 and are seeking their first trip to the postseason.
Senior defensive lineman John Anderson and junior defensive back Sam Verhulst made the second unit, while junior quarterback Kailan Boston made the honorable mention roll.
Verhulst topped the squad with 16 catches for 288 yards (18.0), while Boston completed 32 of his 70 tosses (45.7 percent) for 658 yards and three scores.
Heritage must find replacements for honorable mention running back Luke Konkel and honorable mention guard Matt Halpert.
Konkel led the Patriots with 606 yards and six rushing TDs in eight games.
Whitefish Bay Dominican
The Knights couldn't dent the win column, finishing 0-9, and still are searching for the school's first playoff contest.
Junior running back Rashaad Brown is the lone returning player who earned all-league laurels, making the honorable mention list. He carried 132 times for 516 yards (3.9).
Dominican must fill holes after second-team linebacker Zach Keller and honorable mention linebacker Juan Lozano graduated.
The Blue Knights finished 3-4 in the Indian Trails and went 5-4 overall, missing the playoffs after making their first appearance in 2006.
Junior Eric Wermuth made the first-team offensive unit as a special teams performer, while senior Zach Ezzell was an offensive honorable mention pick and senior Andy Gibson earned the same honors on defense and will be counted on again this year.
Brookfield Academy must replace the likes of first-team quarterback Andrew Oesterling, first-team defensive lineman Colby Skonord and second-team tight end Marvin Trotter.
Oesterling led the Blue Knights with 168 carries for 884 yards (5.3) and eight scores while completing 65 of 160 pass attempts (40.6) for 944 yards and eight TDs with 14 interceptions.
The Hawks are not only new to the Midwest Classic, but they're new this whole conference gig as they have been playing as an independent.
Second-year coach Jermaine Evans faces a tough task after top player Deonte Trawick graduated.
Hope's nucleus will include seniors Austin Davis and Jarrett Triplett and junior Jerome Williams, while sophomores such as Bruce Christopher, Tivonte Robinson and Tim Johnson could play major roles.
The Crusaders posted their fifth consecutive overall winning record (9-2), posting five shutouts, and qualified for their eighth consecutive playoff spot.
Racine Lutheran reached the second round in Division 6, which they've done three of the past four seasons. The Crusaders defeated Dodgeland, 38-12, but suffered a 27-20 setback against Stevens Point Pacelli.
Senior running back DaMeon McGee and junior defensive back Eric Oertel are returning first-team all-league choices. Senior receiver Stuart Brown made the second team, while senior guard Ryan Gails made the honorable mention list.
McGee gained 943 yards in 90 carries (10.5) and scored 11 touchdowns in nine contests, while Oertel added 816 yards on 85 attempts (9.6) and registered 13 TDs.
The Crusaders must replace a host of all-league choices, including first-teamers in center and defensive lineman Jarrett McGee, tackle and defensive lineman Mike Nikolai, kicker Adam Perez and linebacker Casey Smith, the league's defensive player of the year and a Journal-Sentinel all-region honorable mention selection.
Second-teamers who graduated were quarterback Anthony Gonzales tight end Bobby Jarvis. Gonzales completed 82 of 150 attempts (54.7 percent) for 1,457 yards and a 17-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 10 games.
Milwaukee University School
The Wildcats held six opponents to single digits and scored 40 or more points on six occasions in finishing the regular season with an 8-1 record. They made the D-5 bracket for the fifth time in eight years, reaching the second round for the first time with a 21-14 victory over Random Lake. Their season ended the next week against Brillion by the same score.
Senior Sam Krieg returns after being a first-team choice at tight end and defensive line. Senior Beau Palin was a second-team pick on the defensive line, while junior linebacker Tom Schadewald was an honorable mention selection.
Schadewald was third on the run-oriented squad with 510 yards rushing (8.2) and scored six times.
University School also faces the task of replacing numerous all-leaguers, starting with first-teamers in running back Read Servis, tackle Patrick Downey and linebacker Jack Wigdale; second-teamers in Wigdale at receiver and Eric Follett at center; and honorable mention selections in linebacker Patrick McMinn and defensive back Kyle Jacobs.
Servis topped the Wildcats with 141 carries for 1,119 yards (7.9) and 18 TDs.
Burlington Catholic Central
The Hilltoppers were the only team to knock off Racine Lutheran in the regular season, claiming a 34-31 triumph. They qualified for the postseason for an eighth straight time since joining the WIAA ranks, reaching Level 2 in D-7. They edged Cambria-Friesland, 28-26, before eventual runner-up Southwestern whipped them, 42-7.
Senior quarterback Reese Hartlage returns after being named the league's first-team signal caller. One of his key blockers, senior Patrick Kelly, is back after also making the first unit at guard. Meanwhile, the first-team defense included senior linebacker Max Vos, who also made the second unit as a running back. Senior linebacker Spencer Williamson was an honorable mention choice.
Hartlage completed 88 of 141 (62.4 percent) for 1,531 yards and an eye-popping 21-4 TD-to-interception ratio in eight games. Vos rushed for 877 yards on 133 carries (6.6) and 14 scores through 10 games, adding 13 receptions and three TDs and contributed a touchdown pass.
Catholic Central must find a replacement for first-team receiver and league offensive player of the year Tim Wiemer, who caught 55 passes for 921 yards (16.7) and 12 touchdowns in 10 contests, also an honorable all-region pick.
Others who graduated included second-teamers in tackle Jake Wagner, linebacker Joe Pieters and defensive back Dusty Floyd. Also gone are receiver Glenn Kurpiel and defensive back Robby Ulloa, who earned honorable mention status.
Greendale Martin Luther
The Spartans finished 6-3 in the regular-season, claiming all six triumphs by seven points or less. They made the playoffs for a fourth time in five seasons but lost in the first round for a third consecutive trip, this one a 47-3 verdict to Oostburg.
Martin Luther must replace a ton of talent, starting with first-team guard Caleb Zehnder, second-team defensive lineman Phil Kock and honorable mention players in center Spencer Polacek, guard Joel Herz, kicker Josh Ochnikowski, linebacker Jon Mattrisch and defensive backs Marshal Povlick and Matt Borchardt.
Povlick led the way with 167 carries for 877 yards (5.3) rushing and nine touchdowns, adding nine receptions. Mattrisch completed only 24 of 84 pass attempts and two scores while throwing 16 interceptions.
The team's only player back with all-league recognition is senior linebacker Cody Polacek, who made the honorable mention list. He finished with 527 yards rushing (5.6) and three scores in eight games.
The Pacers finished 5-4 during the regular season, making the D-5 playoffs for a third year in a row but bowing out in the first round for a second straight time in suffering a 42-7 loss to Racine St. Catherine's.
Senior guard Jeff Tennyck made the second-team offense, while senior running back Kerry Robinson and junior defensive back Justin Dillow were honorable mention selections and provide the nucleus for this year's squad.
Robinson was second on the team with 718 yards (6.4) and five TDs through nine contests.
The Pacers must replace several key contributors, including first-team defensive back Steve Thusius, second-team quarterback James Rettig, and honorable mention selections in guard David Sermons, tackle Cole Beaudin and defensive back Joe Picone.
Rettig led the Pacers with 961 yards rushing (6.4) and 11 scores.
Racine St. Catherine's
The Angels finished 5-1 to tie Waterford and Lake Geneva Badger for the top spot in the now defunct Lakeshore Conference and ended the regular season at 8-1. They qualified for the postseason for the second time, both since 2004.
St. Catherine's rattled off wins against new league foe Shoreland Lutheran (42-7), Oostburg (38-14) and Brillion (35-7) before falling to eventual state champion La Cross Aquinas, 29-7.
The Angels must reload after losing all but one of their all-league choices. That list includes first-teamers in tight end and defensive end Mitchell Quill, offensive lineman Caleb Valentin, running back and Lakeshore offensive player of the year Eddie Morelli, linebacker Tyler Kostos and punter Keith McLeod.
Quill is taking his talents to NCAA Division I-AA program Eastern Illinois, while Valentin is headed to Harper Junior College (Ill.).Morelli was an all-region honorable mention pick after turning in games of 268 yards against Milwaukee Lutheran, 208 versus Waterford and 335 in a playoff win over Brillion.
Morelli also made the second team at linebacker, as did fellow graduates in offensive end Justin Brantley (also an honorable mention DL), offensive lineman Kevin Richards, defensive lineman Joe Hamilton and defensive back Dylan Neale as well as honorable mention picks in quarterback Brennan Green.
The only returning all-leaguer is junior honorable mention offensive lineman Sidney Young.
Kenosha St. Joseph's
The Lancers finished 0-6 in Lakeshore action and 0-9 overall after being forced to forfeit their final five contests because injuries decimated a team already fighting low participation numbers.
It was the school's second straight year of not making the playoffs after qualifying six consecutive seasons.
St. Joseph's doesn't return any all-league performers but hopefully will be competitive again in their new surroundings behind a junior-dominate