Last December, half of the four-team Class 2A state football semifinal field featured Evergreen Conference teams Capital and Tumwater. While the Cougars lost in their third trip to the semis in five years, the Thunderbirds went on to reach the state title game for the second time in three seasons.
On Wednesday, a new season starts with the first day of football practices across the state. Here are some things to keep an eye on in South Sound during the 2013 season:
3 STORY LINES
Can Tumwater get back to the title game? Despite their deep foray into the postseason, the T-Birds were left with a sour taste in their mouth after a 41-7 loss to Lynden in the 2012 2A state title game. With multiple skill-position starters back, including seven all-EvCo performers, Tumwater is poised make another postseason run to the Tacoma Dome.
Replacing the record holder: How do you find a replacement for Kai Van Sickle, who set a single-season state rushing record with 2,774 yards for Capital last season? It might be tough, but the Cougars will turn to a two-back tandem — juniors Ryan Rieta and Conner Kennedy — as the main ball carriers in the Cougars’ multiple offense scheme. Capital has made the state playoffs every year since 2008.
New faces, new places: The South Sound region has new head coaches at six schools — Black Hills (Dominic Yarrington), Centralia (Matt Whitmire), Mary M. Knight (Matt Brklacich), Rainier (Terry Shaw), Rochester (Eric Snelson) and Yelm (Jason Ronquillo). Yarrington and Ronquillo are the only coaches who have prior head coaching experience; Yarrington has been head coach at West Seattle, Tyee, Lindbergh and White River; Ronquillo spent six seasons at Hoquiam.
3 PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB/LB Hayden Maliska, sr., North Thurston: Might be the most complete player in the 3A Narrows League with his combination of speed and strength. He has racked up more than 200 tackles the past two years and will be a big component in the Rams’ running game whenever quarterback Ryan Mets, an Oregon State baseball commit, isn’t throwing the ball.
DB/WR Mitch Fettig, sr., Olympia: One of the top defensive backs for the Class of 2014, Fettig has been called by Olympia coach Bill Beattie as the best, pure defensive back he has had in his 19 years with the Bears. Beattie also calls the 6-foot, 170-pound dual-threat player his “quarterback of the defense.” Fettig also is a potential 4A Narrows MVP candidate and a difference-maker on both sides of the ball.
ATH Asan Neil-Evergin, sr., Timberline: Neil-Evergin impressed Eastern Washington coaches so much after seeing him at a high school all-star camp that the Eagles offered him a scholarship. There are more big things to come from the 5-9, 175-pounder, who stars at running back, safety, and special teams. A jumper in track and field, Neil-Evergin represented the United States at an international meet in Australia in July.
3 GAMES TO WATCH
Tumwater at W.F. West, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, Bearcat Stadium: It’s too bad this game is in Week 5, but the winner should be in the driver’s seat to win the 2A Evergreen Conference title. Both teams feature strong-armed quarterbacks back for their second year starting — Jayden Croft (Tumwater) and Tanner Gueller (W.F West). Tumwater has won the past three league titles.
Timberline at North Thurston, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, South Sound Stadium: Playoff positioning should be at stake when Thurston County’s longest continuous rivalry — the Lacey Showdown — kicks off for the 49th time since 1970. North Thurston, which has won two of the past three meetings, leads the all-time series, 27-21.
Olympia at Bellarmine, 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 26, Memorial Field: Stop if you’ve heard this before: Bears and Lions face off with the 4A Narrows on the line. It has happened two of the past three years, and it’s likely to happen again when their late-October showdown happens on grass in Tacoma.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick