By Bud Milroy

Sports Correspondent

Following three consecutive state championship game appearance that produced state titles in 2008 and 2009, the 2011 Catholic Central High School football team hit a bit of a skid.

Finishing just 5-4 during the regular season last year, the Hilltoppers pulled it together yet again for playoff time before falling in a Level 4 game.

With 21 returning letterwinners, this year’s squad is looking to get past Level 4 and back to Madison.

“The finish last year has certainly set a higher starting point for this season,” said Hilltopper head coach Tom Aldrich.

With a core of 10 seniors on the team, Aldrich sees that as the team’s strength.

“Senior leadership is so important,” he said. “We have a great group of kids that are working real hard and setting a good example for the underclassmen.

“They’ve been there before and know what it takes to get back to that level.”

With four of the five offensive linemen returning – guards Calvin Kempken and Joe Homan, plus tackles Jake Kaider and Ethan Sobbe – experience is expected to paved the way for an explosive offense.

Beneficiaries of the experience up front will be quarterback Carson Meinholz, looking to improve on his 1,041 yards rushing and 1,425 passing from 2011, and running back Grant Alderman (827 yards rushing, 423 yards receiving, 12 rushing touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns in 2011).

Defensively, Aldrich is looking to improve the team’s pass defense.

“We not only need to improve our coverage, but we also need to improve our pass rush,” he said.

With a roster of just 28 players, staying healthy will also be a key component.

“Any school our size would be affected by an injury to any of its players,” Aldrich said. “If someone goes down, we would likely need to move players around and that’s usually not a good thing.”

Aldrich sees his Catholic Central team being tested early.

“We have three really tough games to open the season,” Aldrich said. “Lake Country Lutheran returns most of its squad that won the Midwest Classic North Division last year, Ozaukee – who is favored in a real tough football conference (Central Lakeshore) and Kenosha St. Joseph that is, I think, considered the team to beat in our conference.”

Also new this year is Aldrich’s new position as the school’s athletic director.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I think being around the kids in a different setting will help me get to know the kids better and make be a better coach.”

The Hilltoppers open the regular season Friday when they host Lake Country Lutheran at 7 p.m. at the ’Topper Bowl.