Mountaineers hoping for revival year in new league


RAINIER — The 2022 season was not the bounceback year the Rainier football team was looking for.

After a 2021 campaign derailed by COVID-19 cancellations — due to both outbreaks on the Mountaineers’ sidelines and among opponents — 2022 saw Rainier start off 1-6 before internal issues and resulting suspensions cost them their final two regular season games.

Now, the hope is that a new year, an experienced group, and a change of league will yield results.

“These guys have a full squad this year, a full, good offseason in the weight room, and a good plan, they’re more disciplined,” head coach Andy Bartell said. “I would describe us as pretty hungry. We want to play a full schedule, and we want to be competitive.”

The Mountaineers return their starting quarterback in Jake Meldrum, top weapon Hunter Howell, tailbacks Jared Sprouffske and Chris Gray, and four pieces from their offensive line, led by Matthew Kenney.

“To have that many guys returning that know the system and had a full offseason makes us that much further ahead now,” Bartell said.

And the challenge has changed somewhat, with the Mountaineers moving to the younger 2B East/West league.

District 4 has produced the past six 2B state champions, and nine of the 12 finalists in that span. With the local ranks stacked with the best teams, it’s hard enough to rise to the top, and harder still to pull oneself out from the bottom, causing negative cycles at some schools where poor seasons lead to low turnout, which lead to more poor seasons, and so on.

To that end, local officials created the East/West league as an alternative to the SWW 2B North and South divisions, where teams who have recently struggled can play each other instead of powerhouses on a weekly basis.

After staying in the North division last year, Rainier makes the move to the East/West in 2023 along with Ilwaco and Wahkiakum, joining Ocosta, Toutle Lake, and North Beach.

They’ll play that group this season, along with non-league contests against Onalaska, Toledo, and Morton-White Pass. At the end of the season, the top team in the league will get a shot at a crossover against a lower seed from one of the higher leagues.

And if things go to plan, Bartell sees the drop down as being a very temporary one.

“It’s not easy to get out of District 4 by any means, there are a lot of good teams,” he said. “For a team like us that’s been down the past couple of years, instead of every Friday night being that battle, maybe you can put together six wins and be the No.1 or 2 in our league. Then if you go play a good game against the No. 4 from one of the upper leagues, win or lose you can count that as a successful season after the couple that we’ve had. 

“It’s definitely a building block to get back to where we want to be, and then maybe next year if it goes well for us, we can bounce back into one of those other leagues.”