MARYSVILLE — The Wesco 3A football conferences are going to look a little different when the Friday night lights start shining this September.
Reclassification by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association prompted some local schools to switch classifications. It also resulted in a pair of schools from the Northwest Conference, Squalicum and Ferndale, joining the Wesco 3A North for football only.
The new-look Wesco 3A North will feature the Storm and Golden Eagles, along with Arlington, Marysville Pilchuck, Marysville Getchell, Oak Harbor and Stanwood.
The Wesco 3A South football league now consists of Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace (although, the Hawks are now in the 2A classification), Shorecrest, Shorewood and two historically “north” teams: Everett and Snohomish.
The Seagulls and Panthers will play in the Wesco 3A North for other sports besides football.
Marysville Pilchuck saw its three-year reign as Wesco 3A North champions snapped last season by Arlington. The Tomahawks had won every league title since Wesco 3A split into north and south leagues following the 2011 season.
As the first week of practices continued, Marysville Pilchuck head coach Brandon Carson said it’s going to be an even tougher battle than it has been in recent years to clinch a playoff berth out of the north.
“It just makes the league a whole lot tougher (and) way more competitive from top to bottom,” Carson said. “Those are two really good, strong programs. They’re perennial playoff teams and, you add the other teams in the league to that mix, and it’s going to be a dogfight for those three playoff spots.”
Carson’s Tomahawks faced Ferndale in a 3A district play-in game last season, falling to the Golden Eagles 49-20 at home on Nov. 3rd.
Squalicum is a bit more of a mystery to Marysville Pilchuck.
“It’s just part of the deal,” Carson said. “It is nice to play different programs. We played Ferndale last year so they’re not really new but Squalicum is new to us. And they’re good.”
Squalicum has made it to the 2A state quarterfinals in back-to-back seasons, losing both times to Tumwater.
Snohomish, meanwhile, joins Wesco 3A this season after moving down from 4A. While moving down a classification sometimes means a chance to be more competitive, fourth-year Panthers head coach Kai Smalley knows things will be just as, if not more, difficult in 3A.
“Having coached in a couple of other states, there is a big difference between 3A and 4A or 6A and 5A,” Smalley said. “Here, there are very good teams in 3A. It’s not like it’s going to be a cakewalk going down a classification. I think sometimes there is that image, but there are some very good teams in 3A.”
Smalley said he was still learning all of the nuances of his 4A opponents before moving down to 3A, but is taking it in stride and starting the learning process anew.
“I think the biggest thing for us as coaches is to try to do our homework on those teams,” Smalley said. “Figuring out what they want to do — what they do on offense and what they do on defense — and making that a priority for us so that we learn it so that when we go into that game plan we don’t look at it as a new league.”
One of the keys to the Panthers’ success will be focusing on the improvements they’ve made over the past four years and not too much on opponents they have very little experience with.
“What we need to do with this reclassification is take care of business on our end,” Smalley said. “We learn what they’re doing and we prepare for it, but at the same time if we do what we do and we do well and we practice it and we rep it, it’s going to take care of itself. I’ve really been trying to make sure the kids understand that.”