Wesco 4A preview: Coaches poll, storylines to watch

Related: It’s next man up, again, for powerhouse Lake Stevens

Related: Wesco 4A team capsules

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 (5) — 41

2. Monroe (2) — 38

T3. Glacier Peak — 28

T3. Mariner — 28

5. Jackson — 24

6. Kamiak — 16

7. Cascade — 14

8. Mount Vernon — 7

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

FAVORITE

Lake Stevens. Riding a 24-game conference winning streak, the Vikings appear to once again be the team to beat in Wesco 4A. Lake Stevens cruised to its fourth consecutive league title last season, outscoring conference opponents by an average of 40.5 points per game. The Vikings are young and inexperienced at many positions this fall, having lost seven starters on both sides of the ball. But returning is senior quarterback Conor Bardue, who was named The Herald’s Offensive Player of the Year last season after completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 3,023 yards and 41 touchdowns. Senior receiver and cornerback Anthony Hutchinson is slated to miss the first part of the season with a leg injury, but the Vikings hope to have their dynamic playmaker back later this fall as they seek their sixth trip to the state playoffs in seven years.

CONTENDER

Monroe. Coming off their first state-playoff appearance since 1991, the Bearcats are Lake Stevens’ top challenger for the Wesco 4A crown. Monroe will look to avenge last year’s 42-3 running-clock loss to the Vikings in the de facto conference title game, which came after the Bearcats had stormed to an 8-0 start with seven wins by 40-plus points. Monroe lost quarterback Zach Zimmerman and star running back JJ Jerome — the area’s second-leading rusher last season — but returns an all-senior offensive line that should help pave the way for running back Isaiah Lewis. Monroe is hopeful that injured Isaiah Cole, a dynamic receiver and electric special-teams returner, will be back later this fall as the Bearcats make another state-playoff push.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can rest of Wesco 4A close gap on Lake Stevens and Monroe?

The Vikings and Bearcats went a combined 12-0 against the league’s other six teams last season, outscoring them by an average of 43.8 points per game while winning all 12 of those contests by 30 points or more. Lake Stevens and Monroe both lost key players to graduation, but the two Wesco 4A powers are once again the clear-cut favorites to claim the league crown.

Intriguing battle for postseason spots

Even if Lake Stevens and Monroe dominate Wesco 4A again this fall, the battle for the league’s remaining postseason berths should be intriguing. Mariner finished third in the conference last season, but lost eight all-league players. Glacier Peak junior quarterback Ayden Ziomas — who tossed 33 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year — leads a Grizzlies team that took fourth place in Wesco 4A and reached the postseason. Jackson is coming off its first winning season since 2012 and boasts University of Colorado commit Daniel Arias, a 6-foot-4 senior wideout who totaled 1,030 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns last year. The return of Jackson junior quarterback Ben Olesen, who missed most of last season with an injury, should benefit the Timberwolves as they strive for their first postseason berth in five years.

Star receivers sidelined with injuries

Two of the league’s most dynamic playmakers are slated to miss at least the first part of the season because of injuries. Monroe senior receiver Isaiah Cole — who posted 839 yards receiving and 16 total touchdowns last year, including four special-teams returns for scores — is recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in February. Lake Stevens senior receiver and cornerback Anthony Hutchinson — who had 849 yards receiving and nine touchdowns last year — suffered a leg injury during Friday’s jamboree. Their return to health will be pivotal to their teams’ conference-title and state-playoff aspirations.

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