Posts Tagged ‘Fall Sports Preview’

Alex Jimenez is one of four returning seniors for the CHS football team. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

It seems like a lifetime.

Jump all the way back to November 1, 2019, and the Coupeville High School football team was on the field at Interlake, wrapping up the first winning season for the Wolf gridiron program since 2005.

Powered by departing seniors such as Sean Toomey-Stout and Dawson Houston, CHS finished 5-4 while playing an independent schedule, collecting wins against Vashon Island, La Conner, Kittitas, Northwest Christian, and Anacortes.

Now, after the pandemic wiped out a year-plus of prep sports, Coupeville returns to the field this Saturday with a home game against La Conner, kicking off an abbreviated four-game schedule.

That marks a 526-day break between CHS football games.

With traditional fall sports playing after spring sports during the 2020-2021 school year, the Wolves will play twice at home, and twice on the road — with no Homecoming game.

The plus is no Wolf lost a football season, and the short run gives CHS coach Marcus Carr and Co. a lead-in to what all hope will be a normal 2021 season come August/September.

For now, Coupeville opens with La Conner, travels to Friday Harbor and La Conner, then closes at home with Concrete — a short, but intense welcome to the Northwest 2B/1B League.

Ben Smith (16) leads the rushing attack.

When action heats up, the Wolves will be led by four returning seniors in Ben Smith (RB, DE), Sage Downes (WR/DB), Alex Jimenez (OL/LB), and Dakota Eck (RB/LB).

“They will play significant roles on both sides of the ball,” Carr said.

Other key returnees include juniors Brian Casey (OL/LB) and Isaiah Bittner (C/DL) and sophomores Scott Hilborn (RB/SS), Tim Ursu (WR/DB), Kai Wong (OL/DL), Daylon Houston (WR/CB/K), Josh Upchurch (OL/DL), and Dominic Coffman (RB/LB).

Junior Isaiah Bittner anchors the Wolf line.

Three freshmen have already begun to make names for themselves at well.

Logan Downes, he will be in competition to start at QB,” Carr said.

Mikey Robinett, he is getting some good reps as a running back right now, and Zane Oldenstadt is a great addition to the offensive and defensive line.”

The youngest of three brothers, Logan Downes follows Sage and the oldest of the trio, Hunter, who held down the starting QB job for three seasons before graduating in 2018.

Meanwhile, Robinett follows in the footsteps of his dad, the late Mike Smart, who earned team MVP honors and All-League recognition while playing at fullback and linebacker during his 2001 senior season.

While this season will clock in at less than 50% of a normal campaign, with no playoffs planned, Carr will use the opportunity to work on player development.

The team is “transitioning to a power spread, so timing and good QB play will be big for us.”

With their school having moved from 1A to 2B, the Wolves primary foes on the gridiron will be fellow 2B schools La Conner and Friday Harbor.

If Chimacum joins the NWL starting with the 2021-2022 school year, as expected, Coupeville will gain a third home-and-away rival during a normal season.

For now, Carr is ready for anything.

“Friday Harbor always fields a tough team,” he said. “La Conner has a new head coach, so they will have a different look. It is hard to tell at this point.”

If nothing else, the Wolf head coach wants his program to be part of a boom period for Coupeville athletics.

“I am just looking forward to all sports filling the trophy case in the gym!,” he said.

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Big-hitting sophomore Lucy Tenore is a key part of this year’s CHS volleyball team. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Cory Whitmore has come home, after a fashion.

As he enters his fifth season at the helm of the Coupeville High School volleyball program, the Wolf coach and his players have jumped from 1A to 2B, joining the Northwest 2B/1B League.

For Whitmore, it’s a bit like returning to his own days as a young’un at Ritzville, where he played football, basketball, and track at the 2B level.

“I look forward to the change in classification, particularly our new league,” he said. “This league regularly produces teams that go deep into playoff runs and even some state champions.

“We will need to bring it every night, and our standards and expectations are wherever we hold them to.”

Coupeville has found dramatic success under Whitmore, racking up a 48-18 record over the past four seasons.

The Wolves started with back-to-back 1A Olympic League titles, and a trip to state in 2017, then finished second behind powerhouse King’s the past two seasons in the 1A North Sound Conference.

That last season, which ended way back in the fall of 2019 before the pandemic put the world on pause, CHS went 14-5, tying the program record for wins in a single season.

Now, King’s is gone, but La Conner, the two-time defending 2B state champs, is the big baddie on the block.

Whitmore, ever enthusiastic, is ready for the challenge.

“Entering a new league without much prior experience with any teams in the league, we will enter each game as an opportunity to perform our absolute best and respect every team we face across the net.

“We know that La Conner always puts together very strong teams and has been recent state champions at the 2B classification,” he added. “They will of course put together a wildly strong team, and we will work to do the same.”

That squad, while down eight seniors from the last go-around, has several players with considerable experience.

Seniors (l to r) Kylie Chernikoff, Maddie Vondrak, and Chelsea Prescott will be team leaders.

Senior Chelsea Prescott, who has been a lethal weapon since day one, anchors the team, with a diverse group of players around her.

Chelsea will handle a large load of the offensive weight we will bring this year,” Whitmore said. “She has built a lot of experience at the varsity level over these last few years and has worked hard to be where she is at today.

“She was on the edge of her breakthrough before going down with her ankle injury – she has bounced back tremendously and we are excited to see what she can do.”

Joining Prescott will be big hitters like seniors Maddie Vondrak and Kylie Chernikoff, as well as sophomore sensation Lucy Tenore.

“We will rely on (Maddy and Lucy’s) experience as we race through an abbreviated season that will be one full of adaptations,” Whitmore said.

Kylie saw the varsity court a couple times last season and anchored the offensive attack her junior year on JV,” he added. “She has made the leap to varsity without missing a beat and adds a spark of energy we will need.”

Other players expected to have big impacts at the varsity level include sophomores Maddie Georges, Alita Blouin, and Jill Prince, junior Abby Mulholland, and seniors Jaimee Masters and Heidi Meyers.

Georges replaces the graduated Scout Smith at setter, an especially crucial spot.

Maddie has used the “off-season” — if we can call it that — very productively and is going to jump in to manage the offense at the setting position,” Whitmore said. “She’s ready for the next step.”

Sophomore Maddie Georges will run the offense from the setter position.

Alita, Jaimee, and Heidi have also grown since our last season – they have grown as passers and defenders in the back row, and all three get after the ball in practice, daily raising our competitiveness in the gym.”

While there has been a lot of turnover on the roster, the girls moving up are used to success, with the JV going a crisp 11-3 last season.

“Losing eight strong seniors from our 2019-2020 group has left plenty of question marks that needed to be addressed,” Whitmore said. “But having last season’s strong JV performance has definitely been important to reloading and keeping our expectations and standards as high as possible.

“This newer group had some terrific examples to learn from, and they have taken those lessons and in many ways have applied them already.”

While the Wolves had a chunk of pandemic time where they weren’t allowed to work together as a unit, individual players remained focused on what was ahead.

“The team will definitely look very different, having only four returning players with varsity experience,” Whitmore said. “But so many in this new group have worked hard, stayed engaged throughout the challenges and have earned this chance to compete and get out there to play.

“Growing pains are to be expected, but we also expect this group to grow right through them.”

The pandemic-shortened fall sports season, being played after spring sports this time around, will present unique challenges, with matches compressed into a one-month sprint.

“I know the time will fly by fast in this abbreviated season, but we definitely have some very clear goals that we will be progressing toward,” Whitmore said.

The Wolves want to work on team dynamics and chemistry, from day one to the end of the lightning-fast season, and beyond.

“With so many new faces and some new roles, it will be a shift for many to work with those they haven’t had the opportunity to just yet,” Whitmore said. “Our older members are very welcoming, but will have to also be mindful of the time that it can take for younger members to adapt to new speeds and systems; empathy and patience will go a long way.”

The Wolf coach will also continue to teach his charges, with the belief they can adapt on the fly.

“Another goal for this season will be for our group to take risks in learning newer concepts,” Whitmore said. “Based on new personnel, they will have to be adaptable and ready to make in-game changes and work through the natural level of comfort that comes with that.

“A lot of our success will come from this willingness to learn at an accelerated pace and take risks in order to progress as individual players and as a team and program.”

As always, the CHS spikers are aiming for first-place, no matter what rivals may be lurking in their path.

“We also always shoot to be finishing at the top of the league by the end of the season,” Whitmore said. “This is more so assessed on the basis of whether or not we are “peaking” at the right time as a unit.

“That can be hard to measure, but our mindset is growth, and “success” will naturally follow that growth,” he added. “This group has already demonstrated an impressive willingness to learn. I can’t overstate how important that is, not only for this year but every year.”

To build a program similar to what La Conner, with its five state titles, has achieved, takes talented players, but also a deep commitment from all involved. That’s something Whitmore preaches.

“Each player that we have worked with during our “off-season” months really worked hard on staying diligent to setting and being mindful about goals,” he said. “They regularly ask questions, request feedback and have even been resourceful in attempting to learn the game.”

Abby Mulholland is one of many JV players making the jump to varsity.

Over the course of a 12-match season, the Wolves will strive for wins, but also continued growth, as players and as a program.

“This season will be a great time to push ourselves in our versatility on both offense and defense,” Whitmore said. “We will have to be good at adapting, but this season will afford that as an actual goal of ours.

“We will try out some different defensive schemes and work to see where our offensive attack can be improved by mixing up our areas of threat.”

One key component of the game Whitmore wants his squad to focus on is service return.

“Serve receive is one of the hardest skills to perform in volleyball, but will always remain as one of the most important to determining the results of a set/match,” he said. “Serve receive takes a diligent attention to detail, but also just a ton of reps in order to gain experience that applies to the court on game days.”

As the season plays out, Whitmore and his staff, which includes Cris Matochi and former Wolf player Ashley Menges, will work on building leaders, for the short term and long term.

“It’s crucial to foster a strong leadership dynamic on the team,” Whitmore said. “With a large number of younger players filling large roles, it will be critical to their development this year and in potential future seasons/teams that they start to shift their attention to the intangibles, such as leadership qualities and skills.

“It’s a huge component and sometimes overlooked aspect of successful programs and so we hope to work on training leadership through active discussion and facilitation.”

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Elizabeth Bitting is the new CHS cross country coach. (Jackie Saia photo)

They’ve already won.

As sports continue to return after the long COVID shutdown, the Coupeville High School cross country program has much to cheer.

First, the Wolves get to run, with four meets in a pandemic-shortened season which begins Monday, March 29, and ends May 8.

And when they do, the CHS harriers will take to a familiar course in half those meets, with Coupeville hosting the season opener and the league championships at Fort Casey State Park.

“My biggest thought and triumph are that for this shortened season, and for all foreseeable seasons, and through the turbulent times we’ve had over the past year, we finally have a home course!!!,” said elated Coupeville coach Elizabeth Bitting.

“A course to call our own! It has been close to, if not over 30 years, since Coupeville last had a home course and was able to host a race. This is huge!!!!

“This is something I personally have hoped to see for many years. With our beautiful scenery and spectacular trails, it’s a win, win, win for all — runners and spectators!!!”

When Coupeville schools returned to the world of competitive cross country in 2018, after a long absence, Bitting helped launch the middle school program.

Now, after a family move lured CHS coach Luke Samford to another state, she’s agreed to helm the high school program as well.

The move reunites her with several athletes she previously coached back when they were middle school track and field stars, such as seniors Catherine Lhamon and TJ Rickner.

“This makes it truly a full circle moment for me,” Bitting said.

The last time a Coupeville cross country runner competed was November 9, 2019, when Lhamon capped her junior campaign with an appearance at the state meet.

Catherine Lhamon is a state meet veteran. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Joining the veterans will be a diverse group of runners including Reiley Aracely, Mitchell Hall, Cristina McGrath, Helen Strelow, Alex Wasik, Erica McGrath, Tate Wyman, and Alex Bowder.

Foreign exchange student Nozomi Hagihara, who made her CHS debut as a tennis player, will also be running, while freshman Hank Milnes is expected to have an immediate impact.

“It’s been a pleasure to see Hank grow as a runner, and he is ready for the high school challenge,” Bitting said. “The core group brings some familiar faces eager to get this season started.”

While they will have just over a month in which to run, expect the Wolves to put in considerable work.

“My goal for the season is to concentrate on the run, maintain healthy legs, and make those hills look more like speedbumps,” Bitting said. “An added bonus will be to have each runner feel better each time they lace up their running shoes.

“Hills could win a race, and hills could cost a race,” she added. “Hills also result in strong legs, which athletes need for a strong finish.”

Mitchell Hall is one of Coupeville’s top returning runners. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

With her many coaching roles in Coupeville, Bitting is well-established in the local running scene, and a familiar presence to almost all of her athletes.

Better yet, many of her runners already have a strong connection, as well.

“Our team’s strength is unity,” Bitting said. “Some of these runners have been running together since last summer, and more joined in the open coaching season we had from September 2020 – February 2021.

“They know each other, they know one another’s strengths, they know how to push one another, and most importantly, they know how to support one another.

“The camaraderie these athletes have for one another is mind-blowing. They truly care about one another and will do what it takes to make sure each of them reaches their athletic ability.”

Three of the seven schools in the Northwest 2B/1B League compete in cross country, which pits Coupeville against Orcas Island and Mount Vernon Christian this season.

Bitting enters the season with a mix of confidence and excitement.

“With the past year we have had, I feel the league title is up for grabs,” she said. “There are some athletes not participating in their usual sports due to the rollout of when sports are being played.

“We have athletes who have signed up who haven’t participated in cross country in the past. We have freshman who are eager to begin competing at the next level.

“Whatever happens this season, the foundation for the team’s future is being built and it’s being built pretty strong.”

Building not just for today, but for seasons to come, is a huge part of Bitting’s game plan.

“There is a lot of talent among the whole crew,” she said. “I see great things in this team’s future, both male and female teams.”

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Carolyn Lhamon pushes the ball upfield in pre-pandemic times. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

New league, new dreams.

With the pandemic, it’s been a bit since the Coupeville High School girls soccer team has competed together as a unit.

That would be fall of 2019, and a lot has changed since then.

CHS moved from 1A to 2B, joined the Northwest 2B/1B League, and top scorer Genna Wright has recovered from a devastating leg injury which erased 98.2% of her junior season.

Now, Wright is back to torch nets again, the Wolves are on what should be a more level playing field, and coach Kyle Nelson is only leading one Coupeville soccer program.

The move to 2B brings boys soccer into the same season as girls soccer — technically the fall, but being played this school year from April to May — with the pitch guru opting to step down as boys coach.

While former assistant Robert Wood takes the reigns of that program, Nelson is ready to bound back into action with the Wolf girls as they head into new waters.

“I am thrilled to have left some of those 1A schools behind,” he said. “In soccer we were facing schools that were sending off some of their seniors to go play at Division I schools, not something we were ever able to compete with.

“Now, each school is on a fairly even playing field.”

In this pandemic-shortened season Coupeville will face NWL mates Friday Harbor, La Conner, and Mount Vernon Christian three times each, with five of nine games at home.

“From our past experience with these schools, all the games we have played against them have usually been good contests where either team could have been the winner,” Nelson said. “Looking forward to going into all of our games knowing that we could win that game.

“Friday Harbor and Mount Vernon Christian could both be strong,” he added. “But, since it has been a year and a half since any of us have played, it really could be anyone.”

And there’s no reason to think these Wolf booters can’t be the first CHS soccer team to capture a conference crown.

“Our first goal is not any different than any other year, and that is to have some fun,” Nelson said. “Since there will be no playoffs, a league title will be our team goal.”

Sophie Martin shows off some wicked skills.

Leading the pursuit of that goal will be a group of players with years of experience on the pitch.

Nelson’s three captains are seniors Mollie Bailey and Genna Wright, along with junior Mary Milnes.

Bailey anchors the Wolf defense in goal, with Milnes and sophomore Nezi Keiper holding down the back line.

Midfielders Sophie Martin, a junior, and super sophomore Carolyn Lhamon will be joined by Wright and junior Eryn Wood, who lead the Coupeville attack.

Martin rattled home four goals in 2019, while Wright enters play this season tied for third-place all-time on the CHS girls scoring chart.

With 10 goals as a freshman and another seven as a sophomore, she sits with 17 goals, the same figure thrown down by former Wolf star Lindsey Roberts.

Wright is chasing Mia (35 goals) and Kalia Littlejohn (33 goals) for the career record.

While he has a strong core of returning players to lean on, Nelson also looks forward to seeing which other Wolves accept the challenge and rise to prominence.

“I am sure we will have some athletes that will be stepping up for us to cover key positions, but at this point I am not sure I can identify them,” he said.

“It has been awhile since we have really had a full team out there playing, and it will be fun to see who is ready to take it to the next level.”

However the roster spots break down, Nelson is ready to roll.

“We bring back quite a bit of experience all over the field,” he said. “We just need to bring the pieces together to form a cohesive unit.

“This could prove to be tricky in such a short season, but we will give it our best effort.”

Mollie Bailey clears the goal.

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Sam Wynn is the top returning male runner for Coupeville High School cross country. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Alana Mihill (center) and Catherine Lhamon are back to pace an expanding girls team.

Step by step, the program is coming back.

Coupeville High School jumped back into cross country last season, after a two-decade absence, and found some immediate success.

Now, with a new coach on hand, the Wolves want to keep building numbers, while preparing their harriers to run far into the postseason.

Luke Samford, who spent the previous seven years coaching cross country and track at the college level, replaces Natasha Bamberger, who stepped down to focus on her real-world job.

The new Wolf head man immediately jumped into things, and has a good mix of returning runners and newcomers.

Juniors Sam Wynn and Catherine Lhamon and sophomore Alana Mihill top the letter winners, while three freshmen have already made their presence felt.

“Right now, on the men’s side, Mitchell Hall has been looking really good at the first few practices,” Samford said. “It is evident he put in some miles over the summer, and it shows.

“On the women’s side, our two freshmen girls, Claire (Mayne) and Helen (Strelow), have both been finding their strengths!,” he added. “I’m really pleased with their attitudes and work ethic. They are going to be good running partners for the future, too.”

The biggest challenge for the Wolves will be to grow, both as individual runners and as a unit.

“We are a young team!,” Samford said. “There’s not a lot of racing experience in the upperclassmen either, since the program is so new.”

Putting in the miles should pay off down the road, however.

“Cross country is a sport where the big competitions happen in October and November, but the season is won during July and August!,” Samford said. “It takes time to get ready for high-level racing.

“I think we missed some miles over the summer, but our raw talent, work ethic, and systematic approach to training will shore up these weakness,” he added. “What we need most, is to put our noses to the grindstone, and get the work done.

“Focusing on having consistent days of quality training turn into weeks, into months, and into seasons, is the key to success in this sport.”

With Coupeville also restarting its cross country program at the middle school level in 2018, one of the key building blocks was set in place.

Runners shaped by CMS coach Elizabeth Bitting are already making the jump up to high school, while the next waves will be where the real pay-offs happen.

“On the boys and girls sides we have a lot of freshman with a tremendous amount of potential,” Samford said. “Our returners also had a year of great coaching last year, so they know what it’s going to take to get to the next competitive level.

“Our middle school program is AWESOME and will be a great source of getting talented athletes in Coupeville into the sport.”

While numbers are up for both girls and boys, the girls are still a hair away from having a full roster.

Mihill and Lhamon ran last year, and the addition of Strelow and Mayne bumps the girls team to four harriers, but they need a fifth runner to be a full-scoring team in competition.

“We need a few more girls to join us!!!!!,” Samford pleaded. “To any parents, grandparents, or to the kids themselves — cross country is a sport about camaraderie, inclusion, and self-improvement.

“Yes, it’s difficult. It’s worth it, though!”

Coupeville, which has seven regular-season meets on the books, kicks off its season Sept. 12 at Granite Falls.

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