Buoyed by a strong finish during the 2020-21 split season Kansas Conference football coaches expect the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes to continue their surge this fall.
KWU was picked to finish second in the KCAC behind defending champion and No. 12 Bethel in the preseason coaches’ and media polls conducted Thursday during the conference’s annual Media Day. The event was conducted virtually for the second consecutive year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The No. 24-ranked Coyotes received two of the 11 first-place votes in the coaches’ poll, Bethel getting seven and No. 3 Avila and No. 4 Southwestern one apiece. Bethel garnered nine of 17 first-place votes in the media poll, KWU had six and Avila and Southwestern one each.
Avila’s ranked 21st and Southwestern 25th in the NAIA’s Coaches’ Preseason poll.
The Coyotes were 8-2 (5-2 in the conference) in 2020-21. They won their last five games including three victories in the spring – the highlight a 28-21 come-from-behind conquest of then-No. 11 ranked and unbeaten Bethel on March 27 in North Newton.
“The conference is extremely deep in talent,” said KWU coach Myers Hendrickson, who enters his third season. “I think every week is going to be a battle, there’s probably five to six teams that legitimately could have been picked number one in the KCAC this year.”
Wesleyan returns 20 starters led by NAIA/AFCA Honorable Mention All-American seniors Isaiah Randalle (JR/Sacramento, Calif.) and wide receiver Stevie Williams (SO/East Los Angeles, Calif.). Four starters return in the offensive line and the defense looks to continue the stellar play it displayed in the spring.
“I think you’re going to see more depth across the league, too,” Hendrickson said. “I heard Dr. (Kent) Kessinger say he has the largest roster he’s had in 18 years at Ottawa. I think you’re going to see that accumulation of talent across the conference and see more depth across the conference than we’ve seen in previous years just because everybody gets their year back if they chose to exercise it. With that teams are going to stockpile talent.”
In a rarity the coaches and media polls were identical. After the first four Ottawa was picked to finish fifth followed by Tabor at sixth and McPherson seventh. Friends, Sterling, Bethany and Saint Mary rounded out the polls.
Hendrickson said told the gathering he’s eager to get the season started for several reasons.
“I’m excited to get back into the rhythm of fall,” he said. “Last year there was a lot of uncertainty but that was last year and this year it’s full speed ahead. Excited for those vibes and that rhythm of getting back into a fall where we can prepare for a season that will be played in one semester.
“We’ve got some outstanding leaders, returners, captains coming back this year, which will make things really fun. I’m really looking forward to getting them back. There’s a buzz, there’s an excitement right now amongst our staff and the program and the community of Salina getting ready for the season.”
KWU opens the season against Friends at 6 p.m. on September 4 in Wichita. Three of the Coyotes’ first four games are on the road, including another trip to North Newton to play Bethel on September 18. They travel to Lindsborg the following week to play arch rival Bethany on September 25.
The good news is four of their last five games are at home at Graves Family Sports Complex. KWU plays Arkansas Baptist on November 6 in GFSC in its lone non-conference game. UAB is in his first season as a four-year school after being a two-year school and playing junior college competition last season.
Understandably Hendrickson’s focus is on the opener against Friends.
“I think we got better in the spring, but that was last year and we’re excited to get things rolling again this fall with the returners checking in here soon and going into classes next week and getting ready for a much-improved Friends team in four weeks.”
KCAC COACHES PRESEASON POLL
1. Bethel – 95 (7)
2. Kansas Wesleyan – 87 (2)
3. Avila – 86 (1)
4. Southwestern – 73 (1)
5. Ottawa – 63
6. Tabor – 44
7. McPherson – 43
8. Friends – 38
9. Sterling – 37
10. Bethany – 20
11. Saint Mary – 19
KCAC MEDIA PRESEASON POLL
1. Bethel – 177 (9)
2. Kansas Wesleyan – 168 (6)
3. Avila – 155 (1)
4. Southwestern – 139 (1)
5. Ottawa – 117
6. Tabor – 84
7. McPherson – 83
8. Friends – 78
9. Sterling – 63
10. Bethany – 35
11. Saint Mary – 23