Cascade Conference preview: Coaches poll, storylines to watch

Related: Cascade Conference team capsules

Related: Archbishop Murphy’s Gordon smooth as silk

Related: Cascade Conference teams pledge to play Wildcats this season

Coaches poll

The predicted order of finish as voted on by the league’s coaches. Included are total points, with first-place votes in parentheses.

1. Archbishop Murphy (4) — 20

2. King’s (1) — 17

3. CPC-Bothell — 14

4. Cedarcrest — 10

5. Granite Falls — 9

6. Sultan — 5

NOTES: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams. One coach chose not to participate in the voting.

FAVORITE

Archbishop Murphy. This is a no-brainer. The Wildcats cruised to the Class 2A state title last year, outscoring opponents by a combined 463-44 margin while winning all nine games in their forfeit-shortened season by at least 34 points apiece. Archbishop Murphy lost numerous key players from last year’s dominant squad, but plenty of talent is returning — including big-time college prospect Kyler Gordon, standout linebackers Ben Hines and Emmanuel Osuoha, and 6-foot-2, 300-pound center Martin Napeahi Jr. The Wildcats enter the season as favorites to win a second consecutive state crown.

CONTENDER

King’s. If any team can contend with Archbishop Murphy for the league title, it would be the Knights. King’s, the only Cascade Conference team to play Murphy last season, beat the league’s other five teams by an average of 34.8 points per game. The Knights lost nine all-conference players from last year, including speedy running back Caleb Perry, a state-champion sprinter in track who is now a member of the Washington State football team. But King’s is a constant force under veteran coach Jim Shapiro, and his team returns standout two-way lineman Taylor Schoenfeld, who is garnering Division-I college interest.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can Wildcats defend their state crown?

All eyes will be on Archbishop Murphy this fall after last year’s dominant run to the state title and a slew of opponent forfeits that made national headlines. Non-conference matchups against Garfield and Bellevue should provide an early gauge of this season’s Wildcats before they enter the heart of their league schedule, where they figure to be heavy favorites against every team.

New faces at the helm

Three of the league’s seven teams will have new head coaches roaming the sidelines this fall. The most notable is Butch Goncharoff, who takes over at Cedar Park Christian-Bothell after guiding Class 3A powerhouse Bellevue to 11 state titles in 16 years as the Wolverines’ head coach. Goncharoff was removed from his job last year following an investigation that found the Bellevue program had committed wide-ranging violations of state rules. Another newcomer is Jim Wright, who takes over at Sultan after previous head-coaching positions at Seattle Lutheran and Franklin. Longtime coach Mark Hodson returns to South Whidbey after a three-year hiatus, looking to turn around a program that will play an independent schedule this fall while working to build up participation numbers.

Can Tigers take another step forward?

Prior to last year, Granite Falls had mustered just two league wins combined in the previous two seasons and four league wins combined in the previous five seasons. The Tigers showed marked improvement last fall, winning three conference games and reaching the postseason in coach Tim Dennis’ first season at the helm. Granite Falls will look to build on that success this year with the return of starting quarterback Camden Landrum and running back Brayden Counsellor.

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