Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 16 Waunakee

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The Wisconsin high school season kicks off on March 27th, the first day for regular season games.

Leading up to the opening week of games we will be rolling out team previews of high school teams all across the state and across all classifications, eventually launching our Preseason Power 25.

We will bring you a snapshot of what to expect along with top players and keys to success for that particular team.

Team: Waunakee
Preseason Rank: 16
2017 Record: 18-9
Conference: Badger North
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Spencer Lee
Playoff Run: Sectional Champions
2017 Final Rank: 23
Returning Starters: 7
Returning Pitchers: 2


Jack Kratcha, OF
Dayne Oleson, LHP
Jeff Thomasen, OF


Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Jarrett Fueger WI Waunakee 2018 SS/3B St. Louis
Ben Nordloh WI Waunakee
2018 RHP/OF  
Derek Lee WI Waunakee 2018 2B Madison JC
Riley Ripp WI Waunakee 2018 LHP/1B  
Will Connors WI Waunakee 2018 OF  
Dylan Haack WI Waunakee 2018 INF/OF
Nate Stevens WI Waunakee 2019 C Arkansas
Taiten Manriquez WI Waunakee 2020 SS/RHP  
Will Ross WI Waunakee 2020 OF  
Nick Smith WI Waunakee 2020 RHP  

Newcomer to watch

As talented as the Warriors’ class of returning seniors is, reinforcements may be on the way this spring in the form of this program’s 2020 class.

Sophomores SS/RHP Taiten Manriquez, OF Will Ross, and RHP Nick Smith could all be varsity contributors this season. The trio got the call to suit up with the varsity squad last year as freshmen in the middle of Waunakee’s playoff run, and even though they didn’t see any action, it still served as valuable experience heading into their sophomore campaign.

Manriquez is probably the closest to varsity ready. He recently showed an improved fastball (touches 86-87 mph) and he’s already reliable enough as a defender to play shortstop at the level, as well. The Warriors return their entire infield so we’ll see how Manriquez fits in the scenario, but he could shove his way onto the field with his skillset.

Smith also has a repertoire ready for the varsity mound, including a low-80s fastball and feel for an above-average curveball. There might be innings up for grab in the rotation, so Smith has a chance to earn a starting job ahead of schedule.

Outfield is the biggest void that was left by the 2017 graduating class, and Ross could plug that gap. An natural outfielder, Ross also handles the bat well and is an above-average runner for his age. He’s probably skilled enough to get regular playing time at this level, too.

Taiten Manriquez (3.12.17)


Junior C Nate Stevens (Arkansas) and senior INF Jarrett Fueger (St. Louis) need to break through the season-long slumps that plagued them in 2017 in order for Waunakee to head back to state. Both are high-level prospects offensively and neither of them hit over .300 last spring.

Despite their woes at the plate last season, the Warriors still punched a ticket to Appleton. Fueger hit .300 as a sophomore and failed to repeat that in his junior campaign and Stevens has been hitting around the .250 mark since his freshman season on varsity -- and still managed a first team all-conference selection because of his stellar defense.

The combo will likely anchor the middle of the lineup this spring. Stevens led the team in home runs and RBIs a year ago, so it’ll be fun to witness what a breakout season looks like for the D-I prospect.

The Warriors’ supporting cast is great, but two of their biggest stars need to shine the brightest.

Nate Stevens (3.12.17)


A 9-3 record in 2017 was good enough for a share of the Badger North crown, Waunakee’s first since 2013. The inexperience of last year’s squad didn’t really seem to affect them, either. The Warriors marched all the way to the state semifinals but were finally defeated in the postseason when the eventual state champs Kimberly dismantled them, 11-2.

It’s never easy to take a glass-half-full approach from a season-ending loss, but the veteran Coach Spencer Lee had a lot to look forward to in 2018. That hasn’t changed.

Waunakee is returning the majority of its sectional championship squad, five all-conference picks, including its staff ace RHP/OF Ben Nordloh. Nordloh was heavily leaned on at the top of this team’s rotation last year, and went 6-6 and recorded a 1.93 ERA. With an ERA like that, it’s a wonder how Nordloh was on the losing end of six games, and it’s most likely because, offensively, the Warriors underachieved despite a state playoff berth.

It’s covered more thoroughly in the X-Factor section, but their two best players, Stevens and Fueger, struggled to be the run producers they’re capable of being. A redemptive 2018 would do a lot of good for Nordloh and the rest of his staff mates. Stevens is a supreme athlete who displayed next-level power as a sophomore last year and has the defensive abilities to become an excellent collegiate catcher, given his plus arm strength. He’s ranked No. 3 overall in Wisconsin’s 2019 class on our list, and is the No. 22-ranked catcher nationwide from his class. His toolset is that good, he just hasn’t fully unlocked it yet for his high school team.

Back on the mound, after Nordloh, senior LHP/1B Riley Ripp will most likely be taking the ball as the No. 2 arm. He was 3-0 last season with a 1.75 ERA. There are some sophomore arms competing for innings on this staff, too, so having a senior like Ripp to depend on is going to ease Coach Lee’s mind this spring. Ripp also should be counted on within this lineup and at first base when he isn’t pitching. He hit .356 and started in the three-hole for the Warriors at state.

Joining Stevens, Fueger, Ripp, and Nordloh (a .351 hitter in his own right) in this lineup is a crew of seniors who contributed heavily to this team’s deep run last year. Coach Lee will be starting his son, Derek, a senior, for the third straight year at second base. Derek earned the job as a sophomore and solidified his role as one of the team’s most consistent bats as a junior when he hit .417 for the Warriors. Fellow senior OF Will Connors is also back. He saw intermittent playing time but hit .409 in his limited role.

Bottom line

Few teams on this list have two players as talented as Stevens and Fueger and have this type of offensive pedigree returning to their lineup. Many of the same faces helped earn them a sectional title in 2017 and Waunakee could be about to receive an influx of adept sophomores, too, to fortify a lineup and rotation already teeming with talent.

This team made it all the way to a showdown with the Papermakers at state and put together an 18-9 season without some of their most talented players performing at their highest levels. Waunakee could surge back to state this spring if just a few things go their way and if their developments over the offseason prove prosperous.

Find more information on the 2018 Warriors below:

+ Team Website
+ Twitter

Make sure to follow @PBRWisconsin on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.