Monroe’s Efton Chism III hauls in a reception with Glacier’s Peak Dawson Crosby trailing Sept. 29, 2017, at Monroe High. The high-powered Bearcats are hoping to use Chism’s talents to vie for the league’s top spot this year. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Monroe’s Efton Chism III hauls in a reception with Glacier’s Peak Dawson Crosby trailing Sept. 29, 2017, at Monroe High. The high-powered Bearcats are hoping to use Chism’s talents to vie for the league’s top spot this year. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Wesco 4A Football Preview: Coaches poll/storylines

Lake Stevens sets its sights on a 6th straight league title, with Glacier Peak and Monroe chasing.

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. Lake Stevens (7) — 49

2. Glacier Peak — 41

3. Monroe (1) — 38

4. Mariner — 25

5. Jackson — 24

6. Mount Vernon — 22

7. Cascade — 13

8. Kamiak — 12

NOTE: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams.

FAVORITE

Lake Stevens. The Vikings have won five consecutive Wesco 4A titles and are riding a 31-game conference win streak dating back to October 2013. Lake Stevens won all seven league games by double digits last season — including five contests by more than 40 points — en route to its sixth state-playoff appearance in seven years. Senior quarterback Tre Long, who replaces graduated standout Conor Bardue, threw for a combined 694 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception in the Vikings’ two playoff games last year after Bardue suffered a season-ending injury. Lake Stevens graduated a handful of first-team all-conference players, but plenty of talent returns on the offensive line, at running back, at cornerback and elsewhere. After dominating Wesco 4A competition the past several seasons, the Vikings are the overwhelming favorite to claim yet another conference crown.

Lake Stevens’ Tom Lewis rushes by Monroe defenders Oct. 27, 2017, at Monroe High School. League coaches picked the Vikings as the top team, but others are close behind this year. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Tom Lewis rushes by Monroe defenders Oct. 27, 2017, at Monroe High School. League coaches picked the Vikings as the top team, but others are close behind this year. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

CONTENDERS

Monroe and Glacier Peak. Monroe is coming off back-to-back state-playoff appearances, including a historic opening-round win last season that resulted in the program’s first-ever trip to the state quarterfinals. But after graduating 10 of their 11 all-conference players, the Bearcats have numerous voids to fill. Monroe lost all five starters from its massive offensive line, as well as 2,000-yard running back Isaiah Lewis, two standout linebackers, its starting quarterback and more. The Bearcats have been the clear-cut second-best team in Wesco 4A the past two years, but their significant roster turnover could open the door for Glacier Peak to assume the role as Lake Stevens’ primary threat. The Grizzlies’ hopes for a breakthrough season begin with the dynamic senior trio of quarterback Ayden Ziomas and two-way standouts Evan Mannes and Ma’aka Fifita.

Glacier’s Peak Ayden Ziomas reaches for the pylon and a touchdown with Snohomish’s Keegan Stich attempting to stop him Sept. 8, 2017, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish. With Ziomas running the offense, the Grizzlies could challenge for the league mantle in 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Glacier’s Peak Ayden Ziomas reaches for the pylon and a touchdown with Snohomish’s Keegan Stich attempting to stop him Sept. 8, 2017, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish. With Ziomas running the offense, the Grizzlies could challenge for the league mantle in 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Is this the year Glacier Peak ascends into league-title contention?

Since moving up a classification and joining Wesco 4A in 2016, the Grizzlies have struggled mightily against conference powers Lake Stevens and Monroe. Despite going 9-1 against the league’s other five teams the past two seasons, Glacier Peak has lost all four games to Lake Stevens and Monroe during that span by an average of 54 points per contest. With Monroe having graduated a slew of key players and the Grizzlies returning a trio of dynamic senior standouts, perhaps this is Glacier Peak’s chance to ascend into the conference’s upper tier. The dual-threat Ziomas returns as a fourth-year starter at quarterback after totaling more than 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-4 Mannes, who received a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy, is back as a matchup nightmare both on defense and at receiver. And the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Fifita, who has an offer from Washington State University, returns to anchor both sides of the line.

Mariner’s Amory Brown tackled by Oak Harbor’s Mac Carr and Isaac Gomez (52) as the Marauders took on the Wildcats in football Sept. 1, 2017, at Goddard Stadium in Everett. Mariner is expected to battle for playoff position this season. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Mariner’s Amory Brown tackled by Oak Harbor’s Mac Carr and Isaac Gomez (52) as the Marauders took on the Wildcats in football Sept. 1, 2017, at Goddard Stadium in Everett. Mariner is expected to battle for playoff position this season. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The league’s middle tier could provide an intriguing battle for postseason spots.

In the Wesco 4A preseason coaches poll, there was very little separation between Mariner, Mount Vernon and Jackson for the No. 4-6 spots. Assuming the league is once again allotted four postseason berths, that could mean an intriguing battle for the conference’s final Week 10 playoff bid. Mariner will look to bounce back from last year’s 3-6 campaign, which came after graduating numerous key players from its 2016 state-playoff team. Mount Vernon appears to be on the rise under second-year coach Nic Vasilchek, who guided the Bulldogs to a 4-6 record last season after the program suffered back-to-back winless campaigns in 2015 and 2016. Jackson, which ended a four-season playoff drought last year but finished 3-7, is seeking just its second winning season since 2012.

New coaches take over at Kamiak and Cascade.

Wesco 4A has a pair of new head coaches in Kamiak’s Bryant Thomas and Cascade’s Jordan Sieh. Thomas replaces former longtime coach Dan Mack — a 2014 inductee into the state football coaches association’s Hall of Fame — who stepped down this past winter after guiding the Knights for 20 seasons. Thomas, who played receiver and defensive back at Washington State University, was an assistant coach at Idaho State University and spent the past five seasons as Auburn Riverside’s head coach. He looks to turn around a Kamiak team that went winless in league play last year. Sieh, who helped lead Cascade to the 2005 state semifinals as a player, takes over as head coach at his alma mater after spending the past seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Bruins. He replaces Shane Keck, who resigned this past spring after three seasons at the helm. Sieh looks to build on the success of last year’s five-win campaign, which matched the program’s win total from the previous two seasons combined.

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