Five storylines to watch from the local high school boys basketball scene this winter:
WESCO 4A APPEARS WIDE-OPEN
Two longtime Wesco 4A coaches said they believe this could be the league’s most parity-filled season in recent memory. “I see Wesco 4A more competitive top to bottom as any year I can recall,” said Jackson coach Steve Johnson, who’s entering his 19th season in the league. Lake Stevens coach Mark Hein echoed a similar sentiment: “The league should be one of the most balanced we have had in a while.”
Glacier Peak is the slight favorite in the conference’s preseason coaches poll. The Grizzlies have made three consecutive Hardwood Classic appearances and won two of the past three Wesco 4A titles, compiling a 36-5 conference record over that stretch. Glacier Peak graduated five of its top seven scorers from last season, but the Grizzlies are off to a 4-0 start and have been a consistent contender year in and year out under coach Brian Hunter.
Picked just behind Glacier Peak is upstart Mariner, which is coming off both its first winning season and first state berth since 2009. The Marauders have their sights set on another big year after returning four of their top seven scorers and bolstering their rotation with some talented youth, including a sophomore transfer and freshman point guard who both start.
Defending Wesco 4A champion Jackson graduated four of its top five scorers from last year’s Hardwood Classic team, which went unbeaten in conference play. But with Jaylen Searles highlighting a trio of key returners, the Timberwolves remain a serious contender.
Mount Vernon also should be a major factor in Wesco 4A. The Bulldogs returned their entire starting lineup from last year’s team, which finished third in the conference.
MP FAVORED IN INTRIGUING WESCO 3A/2A
Even after graduating superstar RaeQuan Battle, Marysville Pilchuck remains the favorite in the league’s coaches poll to repeat as Wesco 3A/2A champions. The senior-laden Tomahawks have plenty of talent and experience coming back, with all but two players returning from a team that went unbeaten in league play and captured a program-best fourth-place state trophy.
However, with six of the 15 teams in Wesco 3A/2A receiving at least one first-place vote, it’s far from a one-horse race.
The coaches tabbed Mountlake Terrace as the Tomahawks’ biggest threat. The Hawks returned five of their top seven scorers from last year’s squad, which tied for third in the conference and fell just one win short of the Class 2A state tournament.
Marysville Getchell brought back its two leading scorers from a program-best 11-win team, including dynamic junior guard Malakhi Knight. The Oregon State University baseball commit averaged 25.7 points per game last season and has scored at least 25 points in each of his first three contests this season.
Stanwood graduated leading scorer Mitch Jones, but returned four of its other five top scorers as it aims for an eighth consecutive state regional berth.
Mutdung Bol, who’s averaging more than 20 points per game through three contests, leads an Edmonds-Woodway team that brought back four of its top five scorers.
Arlington suffered considerable losses to graduation and Shorecrest graduated its top two scorers, but both teams still garnered a first-place vote in the coaches poll after state regional appearances last season.
LAKEWOOD LOOKS TO CONTINUE ITS RISE
After just one winning season in an 11-year span, Lakewood made considerable strides the past two seasons under coach and alumnus Anthony Wiederkehr. The Cougars are coming off back-to-back winning campaigns, having posted a combined 29 victories over the past two years.
And with a handful of key returning contributors, led by do-everything guard Alex Jensen, Lakewood appears positioned for more success. The Cougars have performed well thus far, with a season-opening win over regular 3A state qualifier Stanwood and narrow losses to Wesco 3A/2A contender Marysville Getchell and 1A power King’s.
KING’S EYEING MORE HARDWARE
King’s has made a habit of deep postseason runs at the 1A level, with 14 consecutive state appearances and seven consecutive top-five state trophies.
The Knights are coming off a third-place state finish, highlighted by a stunning 73-50 rout of top-seeded and previously unbeaten Lynden Christian in the state quarterfinals. King’s then suffered a heartbreaking 43-42 semifinal loss to King’s Way Christian before bouncing back to win the third-place game.
The Knights graduated three of their four all-league players, but return an elite talent in Tyler Linhardt. According to PrepHoops.com, the 6-foot-7 forward is the top-ranked sophomore recruit in the state and already has offers from Boise State University and Eastern Washington University. Linhardt scored 25 points in a narrow season-opening loss to Wesco 4A favorite Glacier Peak.
With their star sophomore leading the way, expect the Knights to be among the state-title contenders in 1A.
TIGHT BATTLES FOR STATE SPOTS
From Wesco 4A down to the 2A level, competition for state berths figures to be particularly intense this season for local teams.
Wesco 4A and KingCo 4A had a combined five state berths available through their bi-district tournament last year, but that number decreases to four this season as part of an alternating annual cycle. That could make it difficult for Wesco 4A to send three teams to the state regionals like it did last year, especially with reigning 4A state runner-up Mount Si residing in KingCo 4A.
Similarly, the Northwest District has just 3A three state berths available this season after having four berths last year. It figures to be a tight battle for those spots with numerous contenders from Wesco 3A, as well as Squalicum and Ferndale from the Northwest Conference.
And while the strength of the Northwest Conference often creates an arduous path for local 2A teams to reach state, it’s even tougher this season with the Northwest/Sea-King bi-district having just three 2A state berths available instead of four. The competition for those spots should be fierce, with teams such as perennial power Lynden, Burlington-Edison, Liberty-Issaquah and Anacortes among the bi-district foes local teams like Mountlake Terrace and Lakewood could be battling with.