SARTELL -- The Sartell Sabres started slow in 2015 with four straight losses, but finished by winning four of their last five games before losing to Moorhead in a close section playoff game. The Sabres were better than their 4-6 record would indicate, as four of those losses were decided by seven points or less.

The goal for the Sabres in 2016 is to continue the improvement they showed in the back half of the 2015 campaign.

"We started out pretty poorly, but definitely as we went through the season went on we all got more comfortable," senior quarterback Chris Belling said. "We made a decent run but we are definitely planning to go a lot further this year."

(Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON)

Belling threw for 1,321 yards last season and 16 touchdowns while only throwing nine interceptions. The junior seemed to gain confidence as the 2015 season progressed.

"Chris performed really well for us in the second half of last year, and we expect him to continue that going forward, Hentges added.

"The goal for the season is to improve on every game, every practice," senior offensive lineman Ben Gault said. "I want us to get better...whatever that leads to."

Coach Scott Hentges says the team has been working hard in the weight room this summer in a quest to return to the state tournament, which they last reached in 2014.

"We had a really great offseason of lifting weight and training together," Hentges said. "Overall, it's one of the strongest teams that we've had here in Sartell."

The Sabres return many key pieces from last year's team, including quarterback Belling, running back John Schmidt (214 carries for 768 yards and ten touchdowns), receiver Brandon Walz (15 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns) and most of the offensive line, making training camp easier on coach Hentges.

(Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON)

"Things go better with a returning quarterback," Hentges said. "Chris sees things that younger guys don't, and he's been through all the emotions of the game."

"I like the way things are looking," Hentges said at a recent practice. "We have a lot of our offensive line, quarterback and running back back, so we've been able to install and get things where we need them."

"Our biggest strength is our returning guys," Gault said. "People know what they are doing."

Belling knows that he will be looked up to as a senior leader for the Sabres, both on and off the field.

"As a quarterback, you are always expected to be a good leader," Belling said. "This year, as a senior, people look to you in every aspect of life so you have to be a good role model for everybody."

(Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON)