ONALASKA — A sharp howl screams from Mazen Saade’s whistle as his Onalaska football players line up to begin calisthenics as a light rain falls down. Forty yards away, the Loggers’ girls soccer team works on dribbling drills.
Twenty miles west, Adna cross country coach Karl VonBargen is collecting his athletes to begin a practice jaunt. Twenty-four miles northwest, the Tenino girls soccer and football teams are working out simultaneously on each end of the black turf football field.
It’s the first day of official team practices for Season 1 sports (football, girls soccer, volleyball and cross country), and teams across the county are gearing up for a season they thought might never materialize.
Onalaska junior Marshall Haight, who’s taking over at starting fullback this year, was one of those who tried not to get his hopes up after the WIAA kept postponing sports.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever coming back,” Haight said. “We started having our doubts and now it’s here.”
Onalaska football has perhaps the biggest task of them all. They’re tasked with the weight of defending their 2B state championship, won against league rival Kalama on Dec. 4, 2019. It’s the last time a Lewis County team has played a football game.
The title defense is no doubt on their mind, though the burden is slightly less as there will be no WIAA state football tournament this year due to the pandemic. Instead, the Southwest Washington 2B League will play its own version of a crossover playoff, between teams within its own divisions.
The plus side to that, other than the obvious health and safety reasons, is that the SWW 2B League is the perennial cream of the crop, so this league playoff will basically be what the state championship would have likely been anyways.
The Loggers have no time to ease into the season. They begin their schedule facing one of the top teams in the state in Napavine, a team that features a slew of returning starters from the squad that made it to the state semifinals in 2019.
For now, the Loggers are just focusing on their first full practice since early fall. The rest can come later.
“It’s great, man,” Saade said. “It’s a great feeling. These guys are excited, the coaching staff is excited, I think the whole town’s excited. There’s a buzz about it. Our community’s excited, they’re chomping at the bit. It’s just awesome.”
At the same time, 16 miles east, the squeaking of shoes on a gym floor and the unmistakable sound of a volleyballs ricocheting off hardwood flooring fill Mossyrock High School’s gym. Inside, around 20 varsity and JV players are honing an assortment of drills.
Coach Alex Nelson is yelling out instructions as her players sprint through each drill, including a bump, set, spike workout where volleyballs are torpedoes across the net. As soon as one group of three players complete the drill, another three enter the court instantaneously and begin their turn. It’s organized chaos.
It’s also the team’s first indoor team practice since early fall after the WIAA shut down indoor practices in mid-November. The opportunity to get back at it was clearly showing among the players and coaches Monday.
“I’m extremely excited,” senior Morgan Houghtelling said. “It was a huge surprise to me that we were actually able to come in and even practice this week, let alone have games next week. I’m extremely excited for this season.”
Nelson, who kept her players moving at a dizzying pace all night, was pleased to see the intensity of her players during the first practice of the year. It’s a positive sign of a fruitful season, she said.
“We are loving it,” Nelson said. “They’re pretty elated. I’m excited to be here and so are they. Unfortunately these girls are going through this whole situation. They’re a pretty good group, especially our seniors. We’ll take a part of a season over no season at all.”
The ferocity on day one is a prime example of why the Vikings have been one of the top-three Class 2B teams in the state each of the past four years. That stretch includes three consecutive second-place finishes followed by a third-place showing in 2019.
The Vikings are now preparing for their first season in Class 1B after dropping down a classification in January 2020 due to low enrollment numbers. After blasting through Class 2B competition, they’re sure to be Class 1B title contenders.
“I don’t want to underestimate it, because there’s still a lot of competition at 1B, but it’s going to be the size difference,” Mossyrock senior Emily Edgar said. “We’re going to be playing teams that don’t have as big of a bench as we do. That’s going to be interesting to see.”
For now, the Vikings are preparing for their season opener at Willapa Valley on Feb. 9, a school that also dropped down from Class 2B to 1B this season. Like all Season 1 sports, volleyball will have no state tournament this year.
“Unfortunately no state, but these guys are excited to just be here and hopefully we get some type of crossover/regional thing,” Nelson said.