Justin Kuehl (copy)

Hustisford’s Justin Kuehl (top) is now a junior for the Falcons and will be called upon to be a leader. The Falcons are expected to compete for a conference championship. 

This year’s new Trailways East Conference will be competitive — and that’s an understatement.

Many of the league’s coaches believe Oshkosh Lourdes and Hustisford are the favorites, while Dodgeland, Horicon and Wayland Academy will look to play spoilers, if not surprise some people. The revamped conference also includes Central Wisconsin Christian, Oakfield and Oshkosh Valley Christian.

The following are outlooks on area teams in the East:

HUSTISFORD (16-7 last season, 12-4 Trailways South)

The bar is set high for the Falcons this season.

“(We expect to) win conference or at least be fighting for it,” Husty head coach Jake Falkenthal said.

Falkenthal also expects the Falcons to make a deep run in the WIAA tournament at the end of the season, just like they did in two of the last three years.

With Justin Kuehl (22.4 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game last year), Dylan Schmitt (12, 6.2) and Nick Bloedel (11.9, 4.3) returning, it’s going to be hard for teams to argue that Hustisford won’t end the season near the top of the conference.

The Falcons add Zach Kehl (13.7, 7.0), Trent Kehl (8.4, 4.0) and Caleb Gavin (3, 3.3) to the varsity after they had successful JV campaigns in 2016-17.

DODGELAND (10-13, 6-10 Trailways South)

The Trojans lost Tobin Otte, their leading scorer (17.7 points per game) and rebounder (11.9), but they return junior Zach Yuenger, who proved his worth the last two years. As a sophomore, Yuenger averaged 15.6 points and nine rebounds a game.

Yuenger entered the season with 649 points, meaning if he matches or exceeds last year’s scoring average, he could hit 1,000 for his career by season’s end. Coach Bill Otte said Dodgeland is switching to an offensive style geared toward Yuenger’s strengths.

“We will be running a motion offense this year, which is a change from the last couple of years,” Otte said. “Our goal is to limit turnovers and create more space and rhythm.”

WAYLAND (9-12, 6-10 Trailways West)

The Big Red surprised some last season as head coach PJ Osvald led them to a fourth-place finish with a young team.

And this year Osvald believes his team has a chance to challenge the Falcons and Knights for the Trailways East crown.

“(We want to) create exciting basketball action up and down the floor, play hard and be a factor in the conference race,” he said.

He knows it’s going to be tough after losing Artur Altundas, who averaged 7.3 points per game, to graduation and now having lost senior Cole Abel (9.7 ppg last year, 9.5 rebounds per game) for the season to an injury.

“This is a very big loss of a hardworking hustle player who fills the stat sheet,” Osvald said.

But the Big Red do have Kerem Koce, who averaged 14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 3.8 steals a game a year ago. Seniors Ryan Sefuku (10.1 ppg) and Henry Balk (12.2 ppg) return with their double-digit scoring averages. Sefuku also averaged seven rebounds and two blocks a game while Balk added 3.7 rebounds a game.

HORICON (9-14, 6-10 Trailways West)

The Marshmen finished fourth in the conference last year, a lower spot than they were used to.

But with another year of experience, they’re hopeful they can rinse away the bad taste that below-.500 record left behind.

Senior Hunter Nehls (18 ppg, 4.0 rpg last season) and junior CJ Brooks (18, 8.0) are poised to help the Marshmen compete with Lourdes and Hustisford for the championship.

Horicon also returns Maxx Livingston, who put up seven points and six rebounds a game last year.

Head coach Darrel Schliewe is also counting on Coonor Drews, Seth Spoerl, Caleb LaBlanc and Darius Minnema to step up in order to have success this season.

CENTRAL WISCONSIN CHRISTIAN (1-22, 0-16 Trailways West)

Josh Gibbons is entering his third season as head coach of the Crusaders and he hasn’t had much success, winning just a single game in each of his first two campaigns.

But this year might be the year Gibbons turns the program around with four returning starters from last season.

Matthew De Young leads the way, averaging 7.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game last year. Zach Vander Werff (6.8 points), Josh Schouten (5.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Grant Buwalda (3.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg) also return for the Crusaders.

Follow Mark on Twitter @mmcmull2.

Mark McMullen is currently a sports reporter for the Daily Citizen. He can be reached by email at mmcmullen@wiscnews.com or by phone at 920-356-6754. Can also follow him on Twitter at @mmcmull2.