Monroe senior Gio Fregoso returns as the starting quarterback for the Bearcats, who are looking to bounce back from last year’s 4-6 campaign. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Monroe senior Gio Fregoso returns as the starting quarterback for the Bearcats, who are looking to bounce back from last year’s 4-6 campaign. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wesco 4A prep football preview: Coaches poll and storylines

Lake Stevens is again the odds-on favorite, while Monroe seeks a return to the league’s upper echelon.

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 — 39

3. Monroe (1) — 37

4. Mount Vernon — 33

T5. Jackson — 22

T5. Mariner — 22

7. Kamiak — 12

8. Cascade — 10

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

FAVORITE

Joe Gonzales, left, is among the many standouts on a Lake Stevens team that’s coming off a Class 4A state title game appearance. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Joe Gonzales, left, is among the many standouts on a Lake Stevens team that’s coming off a Class 4A state title game appearance. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Lake Stevens. The Vikings have dominated Wesco 4A for the better part of this decade, winning six consecutive conference titles and 38 straight league games. And most of those contests haven’t even been close. Since its last Wesco 4A loss in 2013, Lake Stevens has won all but three conference games by double digits. With a bevy of returning talent from last year’s Class 4A state runner-up team — and with Glacier Peak and Mount Vernon having graduated numerous key players — the Vikings are once again the overwhelming favorite to claim yet another league crown. Lake Stevens’ deep array of talent is highlighted by two-way standout cornerback/receiver Kasen Kinchen, safety/receiver Joe Gonzales and left guard Logan Bruce. A potential late-season return from injury by Washington State University-bound left tackle Devin Kylany would make the Vikings even more dangerous as they aim for another deep playoff run.

CONTENDERS

Monroe and Glacier Peak. After graduating a slew of talent from its historic 2017 state-quarterfinal team, Monroe went 4-6 last year while battling youth, inexperience and a challenging schedule. But with the vast majority of their roster returning, the Bearcats appear primed for a return to Wesco 4A’s upper echelon. Monroe’s offense averaged nearly 40 points per game in conference play last season and could be even better this year with the return of quarterback Gio Fregoso, running back Blake Rybar, receivers Efton Chism III, Trey Lane and J.R. Little and two offensive linemen who missed nearly all of last season with injuries. Glacier Peak, meanwhile, was picked by the league’s coaches to earn a second consecutive Wesco 4A runner-up finish. The Grizzlies gave Lake Stevens a rare wire-to-wire league test in a 24-21 loss last season, but they graduated a slew of key players from last year’s 8-2 team.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

How will Glacier Peak and Mount Vernon fare after graduating so many standouts?

Tony McDaniel (right) and Glacier Peak look to continue their success after last year’s 8-2 campaign. (Katie Webber / The Herald)

Tony McDaniel (right) and Glacier Peak look to continue their success after last year’s 8-2 campaign. (Katie Webber / The Herald)

Glacier Peak and Mount Vernon both will look quite different this fall. The Grizzlies graduated eight all-conference players from last season’s Wesco 4A runner-up squad, including a trio of game-changers in four-year starting quarterback Ayden Ziomas, two-way star lineman Ma’ake Fifita (now an offensive lineman at Washington State) and standout receiver/linebacker Evan Mannes (now a linebacker at Central Washington University). Mount Vernon also lost a strong senior class that was instrumental in the program’s massive turnaround under coach Nic Vasilchek, who took over in 2017 after back-to-back winless seasons and guided the Bulldogs to the state playoffs last year. Mount Vernon graduated eight all-conference players and returns just five starters combined on both sides of the ball.

Jackson, Cascade and Kamiak look to make strides under first- and second-year coaches

First-year Jackson coach Mason Siddick gathers the Timberwolves in a huddle before last week’s season-opening practice. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

First-year Jackson coach Mason Siddick gathers the Timberwolves in a huddle before last week’s season-opening practice. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jackson begins a new era under coach Mason Siddick, who replaced Joel Vincent after the longtime Timberwolves coach stepped down following 21 seasons at the helm. Along with an almost entirely new coaching staff, Siddick is tasked with helping turn around a Jackson program that hasn’t had a winning season in conference play since 2012. Siddick, a former standout defensive lineman and assistant coach at NAIA powerhouse Carroll College in Montana, brings his defensive expertise to a defense that’s looking to improve after allowing 33 points per game in Wesco 4A play last year. Meanwhile, second-year Kamiak coach Bryant Thomas and second-year Cascade coach Jordan Sieh look to continue to build their programs after 1-6 conference finishes last season.

Will there be more competitive league games this year?

Blowouts were commonplace in Wesco 4A last season. The average margin of victory in conference games was 30.3 points, and just three of the 28 league contests were decided by single digits. Lake Stevens’ dominance certainly contributed to those numbers, but there were plenty of other routs in Wesco 4A not involving the Vikings. The lack of parity stemmed in part from the divide between the league’s top and bottom halves, with fourth-place Monroe finishing a full two games ahead of fifth-place Mariner and Jackson in the conference standings. Teams that finished in the bottom half of the standings went a combined 0-16 against top-half teams. Improvement from the league’s bottom half, combined with the graduation losses suffered by Glacier Peak and Mount Vernon, could lead to more competitive games this fall.

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