Northwest 2A preseason storylines/coaches poll

Coaches chose Lynden and Archbishop Murphy to finish atop the league’s ultra-tough Sky Division.

Archbishop Murphy’s Victor Gabalis (11) is hit as he throws by Tumwater’s Jack Prentice (43) during a Class 2A state semifinal game at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup on Nov. 25, 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Archbishop Murphy’s Victor Gabalis (11) is hit as he throws by Tumwater’s Jack Prentice (43) during a Class 2A state semifinal game at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup on Nov. 25, 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

COACHES POLLS

The predicted order of finish as voted on by the league’s coaches. Included is the average points received per vote, with first-place votes in parentheses.

NOTES: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams. One coach chose not to participate in the voting and two coaches were unable to be reached.

Sky division

1. Lynden (2) — 4.0

2. Archbishop Murphy (1) — 3.5

3. Sedro-Woolley — 2.7

4. Burlington-Edison — 1.7

5. Lakewood — 1.0

Lake division

1. Sehome (3) — 4.8

2. Blaine (1) — 4

3. Mountlake Terrace (1) — 3.3

4. Bellingham — 3

5. Anacortes — 1.8

6. Cedarcrest — 1.5

FAVORITES

Archbishop Murphy and Lynden. Over the past 12 seasons, the Wildcats and Lions have combined for seven Class 2A state titles and 16 state semifinal appearances. In a juggernaut Sky division loaded with accomplished programs, these two perennial powerhouses appear to be the favorites heading into the two-tiered, district-wide league’s inaugural season. Archbishop Murphy graduated a number of key players from last year’s team, which fell 10-6 to Tumwater in the state semifinals. But the Wildcats have established a reputation as one of the state’s top 2A programs and should once again be a force. And though Lynden is coming off a 5-6 season, the Lions reached the state playoffs last year with a 28-7 win over Sedro-Woolley, and then nearly upset eventual state runner-up Tumwater in a 23-21 first-round loss. With ample experience and numerous starters returning, the senior-laden Lions are looking to build off last season’s strong finish.

CONTENDER

Sedro-Woolley. The Cubs graduated four two-way all-conference selections from last year’s squad, which claimed a three-way share of the Northwest Conference 2A title but missed the state playoffs for the first time since 2013. The biggest loss was two-way standout lineman Dylan Peterson, who was the NWC 2A’s Most Valuable Player. However, seventh-year coach Dave Ward has built a perennial league power at Sedro-Woolley while guiding the program to the 2014 state title and a 2015 state-semifinal appearance. Expect the Cubs and their Wing-T rushing attack to be a force in the loaded Sky division.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

How will Archbishop Murphy fare in a significantly tougher league? The Wildcats steamrolled through the since-disbanded Cascade Conference the past three seasons, winning all 13 league games over that span by an average of 42.2 points per contest. And that doesn’t include the five games forfeited to Archbishop Murphy in 2016, when teams cited player-safety concerns over facing an ultra-talented and physically superior Wildcats team that cruised to the 2A state title. The juggernaut Sky division presents a much more challenging level of competition for the Wildcats, who now will be facing regular 2A state contenders Lynden, Sedro-Woolley and Burlington-Edison instead of a predominately 1A slate. After graduating a number of key players from last year’s state-semifinal team — including two-way star Kyler Gordon, who signed with the University of Washington as the state’s top-ranked senior recruit — players such as standout linebacker Luke Riojas, receiver Dillon Halpin and second-year starting quarterback Victor Gabalis will be tasked with helping Archbishop Murphy continue its recent success.

Can Lakewood rebound from losing its graduated standouts?

The Cougars captured a three-way share of the Northwest Conference 2A crown last year in just their second season in the league. But Lakewood will have to replace a handful of all-conference players that graduated, including Austin Lane and Jon Cox III. Lane broke several school records last season while completing 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,489 yards, 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Cox, who signed with Central Washington University, excelled both at receiver and on the defensive line. New standouts will need to emerge for the Cougars to be successful in the juggernaut Sky division.

Will Mountlake Terrace benefit from playing similar-sized teams?

After moving down a classification in 2016, the Hawks struggled while competing as the lone 2A team in the Wesco 3A South. Over the past two seasons, Mountlake Terrace went 3-10 in league play and was outscored by an average of 16.9 points per game in those contests. Playing in the lower tier of an all-2A league should provide the Hawks with a more level playing field in terms of roster size. “Our opponents’ sidelines are going to look a lot like ours numbers-wise,” Mountlake Terrace coach Kelly Dougan said. “The athletes are going to be similar. Overall, the level of competition seems like it will be more equal for us.” Led by quarterback Jesse Martineau and dynamic, all-purpose athlete Brandon Bach, the Hawks figure to be in the mix for one of the top seeds in the Lake division.

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