You’d think fall was already here, what with the mild temperatures we’ve had this summer.
Perhaps that’s for the best. Last year at this time, fall athletes and coaches were gathering for their first practices and spent much of their first week indoors because of wildfire smoke.
Soccer players were dribbling in the hallways, football coaches set up makeshift conditioning workouts in wrestling rooms and cross country runners had to do a lot of laps in and around their cafeterias.
But the calendar still reads August. As a confirmation of that, the first day of practice was Wednesday.
Still, the varied storylines surrounding our local teams have yet to unfold.
There is a new football coach at South Kitsap for the fourth time in seven years. Is Dan Ericson the man who can turn things around for this once-storied program?
We likely won’t know the answer to this question for a while, but Klahowya was in disarray and suffering from low turnout and morale when Ericson took over in 2011. He was able to repair the culture and build up the depth in the program — the Eagles often had twice as many players as their Nisqually League foes. This will be a greater challenge, however, as South Kitsap is still a member of the daunting South Puget Sound League.
We’ll also be watching to see if North Kitsap can get back to the top of the Olympic League after being unseated by Sequim last year. The Vikings have a relatively small senior class this year, so there will be a number of position battles to keep an eye on, including at quarterback.
We know Olympic has an explosive offense led by two of the area’s best athletes in Malcolm Dewalt and Adam Johnson, but it remains to be seen if the defense can keep opponents in check. If it can, the Trojans will be a dark horse in the league race.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Central Kitsap may have the West Sound’s best defense. It’s the offense that will have to score enough points if the Cougars want to return to the football postseason.
Heading over to the pitch, the North Kitsap girls soccer has been eliminated in the quarterfinals in consecutive years by two-time state champion Liberty. The Vikings have a huge senior class this season and it is their final opportunity to get over the hump.
Klahowya has been the most consistent program in the West Sound for a while now and their window to contend hasn’t closed. The Eagles lost a few key players from a team that finished third at the 1A state tournament, but their senior class is strong and they always find a way to integrate a few younger players.
There will be several compelling teams to watch on the volleyball court this year. North Kitsap remains a consistent force in the Olympic League, so not much should change there.
It will be interesting to see how Kingston forges ahead now without four-year player Ava McCabe, whose tenure coincided with some of the program’s best seasons and biggest accomplishments. But they were far from a one-player team and coach Ed Call has assembled a deep, strong program. The Bucs are still trending up and should have their eye on a third consecutive 2A state tournament appearance.
Let’s also not forget about Central Kitsap’s triumphant return to the postseason under first-year coach Becky Arthur. She took a roster full of underclassmen back to the 3A district tournament and they should get there again. Klahowya also has a number of experienced players returning from its 1A district team and could take another step forward toward state this year.
At the pool, all eyes will be on defending 2A state champion North Kitsap. The Vikings still have standout sprinter Eleanor Beers and a number of skilled underclassmen. It’s a lot to ask, but the talent is there to aim for another title.
The South Kitsap cross country program had a fall to remember last year as both the boys and girls team qualified for the 4A state meet, where the girls ended up finishing in fourth place. The boys will have to replace four of their top five state runners and the girls will have to replace three of five, but if any program can do it, it’s the Wolves who can.
Of course, the best part of high school sports are the stories we can’t foresee — the player who comes out of nowhere to score a ton of goals or the team that starts hot and never lets up. Who will be this year’s wild card? We’ll know soon.
The games, meets and matches start Sept. 6.