When many of the state football participants put down their helmets in the fall, they head straight to the gym to lace up their sneakers for basketball season.
At the top of the Central 2B League will be some familiar faces. League MVP Jackson Esary of Kalama led the Chinooks to a district championship last spring, and will look to do the same this year after another deep football run.
Their top competitors might be another team chock-full of gridiron studs. Napavine, which finished 13-4 last spring, nearly came away with the district crown a year ago, falling to Kalama in the title game. Featuring a lineup that returns Keith Olson, Gavin Parker, Cael Stanley and James Grose, the Tigers will look to upend the Chinooks with more at-stake this season.
Not far behind are the Adna Pirates, who bring back Aaron Aselton, Lane Johnson, Braeden Salme, Eli Smith and sharpshooter Chase Collins. After a solid 8-2 season in the spring, the Pirates are looking to make a run at state during this full winter season.
“This is as tight knit of a group as I’ve had,” Pirates coach Luke Salme said. “They all love being together, and competing for one another. That’s special stuff.”
Morton-White Pass, which returns Collette brothers, Kysen and Leytan, and Gary Dotson and Carter Dantinne, will also be looking to compete at the top of the C2BL ladder. The Timberwolves might have been one of the most dangerous teams at the end of the spring season before getting shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak before the district tournament.
“We’re hoping to rediscover the team we became in the last half of last season and try to build on it,” T-Wolves coach Chad Cramer said. “We’re excited about our experience and depth, but we know the league will be really tough as always.”
Elsewhere, Onalaska will look to improve upon a tough spring season, in which it went 1-5. Winlock replaces most of its starting lineup, with just Nolan Swofford and Payton Sickles returning as a key contributors after going 3-9 last spring. Rainier, which had a sub-.500 record last season, but surprised Forks and then lost in districts, returns Ian Sprouffske, Logan Bowers, Curtis Keller, Thomas Ronne and David Cano.
“We have good senior leadership along with some talented young guys ready to step up,” Rainier coach Ben Sheaffer said.
Rounding out 2B, Toledo, Wahkiakum, and Toutle Lake will all look to challenge the Chinooks for the district title. The Riverhawks finished sixth in league last season with an 8-5 record, and return Jake Cournyer, Carson Olmstead and Carson Gould from last spring’s squad.
“The young core of this team started preparing the weekend after the season was over last year,” Toledo coach Grady Fallon said. “They never stopped until three weeks prior to the season starting this year. We’ll be fairly young, but they’ve put in some time so we’ll play hard and try to compete.”
In the 1B ranks, Mossyrock will continue to try and build its program up after a banner 11-6 season in the spring last year, where the Vikings finished third in league and districts. They return Keegan Kolb, Zack Munoz and Warren Nelson, but lost star Gunner Mulligan to a leg injury during football season.
“I like our chemistry better this year than in the past,” Vikings coach Adam Deck said. “Gunner Mulligan breaking his leg in football is a huge loss for this team but it will help the underclassmen grow up a little faster and assume bigger roles. Our goal is always to be in the state tournament, always.”
Over in Pe Ell, Chris Phelps is taking over a program that returns several starters like Aiden Lee, Wyatt Marrs and Joe Krafczyk, and has football star Blake Howard as a player to watch.