Are you ready for another great season of high-school volleyball in Washington?
I am. Especially after spending much of the past week on the phone with dozens and dozens of coaches around the state.
I’ve found putting the rankings together for Class 4A and 3A is always challenging, and this season we’ve added 2A, which many believe should be equally as competitive. Where else do you find three teams returning as defending state champions?
Nowhere, of course.
But that’s what’s happening in this year of reclassification. Burlington-Edison won the 2A title last year without dropping a match. And remember the state’s other unbeaten team — West Valley of Yakima, which captured the 3A crown? Well, the Rams have dropped to 2A this fall. And Colville, the 1A champ, moves up a class.
I’ve gone with West Valley as the preseason No. 1, with Colville at No. 4 and B-E at No. 6. And there’s plenty of debate about whether storied Selah should get the top spot coming in — especially after beating West Valley in a jamboree Saturday. But West Valley it is.
That 2A top-10 has tons of talent and several other teams got serious consideration — including Archbishop Murphy, White River, East Valley of Yakima and Sehome, to mention a few.
But let’s jump up to 4A, where I couldn’t help but go with Jackson again. After all, the Timberwolves did earn a lofty spot in PrepVolleyball.com’s national rankings at No. 17. They won the title with a young team in 2010 and I had them at No. 1 coming into last season, when they were again Washington’s top team in the PrepVolleyball.com rankings at No. 56.
But if you’re a prep volleyball fan, you know what happened after that. They struggled a little early, losing to Burlington-Edison and Bellarmine Prep, then seemed to get on a roll. At state, though, they were upended by eventual-champion Olympia in the semifinals, then also fell in the consolation final to Curtis, finishing fourth.
I don’t see those kinds of things happening again, but I could be wrong. And we’ll find out in a hurry just who is better at this young stage of the season — No. 1 Jackson or No. 3 Bellarmine Prep — as the two square off at Jackson on Sept. 11. I hope to be there for that!
As it turns out, my top-four coming into the season are exactly the same as last year, with Jackson followed by Mead, Bellarmine and Olympia. Mead is on a mission after failing to win a trophy in 2011. The Panthers were young — they didn’t have a senior on the roster — but that’s no excuse for coach Judy Kight and her storied program.
Olympia lost several key players, but coach Laurie Creighton does a masterful job and I won’t be surprised to see the Bears make another run.
It seems as though there are a ton of really good 4A teams again and I really struggled with the top-10. I think Skyline, Skyview, Wenatchee, Richland and Kent-Meridian have trophy potential, too, and let’s not forget Camas, which was been a constant in 3A and now moves up a notch.
Then there’s Tahoma, Gonzaga Prep, Chiawana and Auburn Riverside. And even that is just scratching the surface. Never count out Woodinville, and Walla Walla has potential, too. With that in mind, I’m not listing “bubble” teams this season — there are just too many!
Of the top three classifications, I see 3A as being the most wide open. I could have put five or six teams in a hat and been happy with the preseason No. 1. When I spoke with Prairie coach Andrea Doerflinger, she almost teasingly said her team would be happy to take that top spot — so, sure enough, that’s where you’ll find the Falcons.
I’ve heard lots of good things about Mount Si, which opens at No. 2. Bonney Foote does a great job with that program — she was our Star Times Coach of the Year last season. I also gave serious consideration to Holy Names, which hopefully used up all of its bad luck last season. The Cougars start at No. 3, one of three Metro League teams to make the list. Sure, Eastside Catholic and Seattle Prep both lost D-1 players in Kameron McLain and Olivia Magill, but many expect them simply to reload.
When all is said and done, No. 6 Mercer Island could have a say in things. And, again, there were multiple teams I went back and forth with when it came to the top-10. I expect good things from Timberline, Meadowdale and Auburn Mountainview, for instance — all knocking on the door. Don’t rule out Bishop Blanchet or Lakeside, where former Seattle Prep coach Katie Wilson has taken over.
Oh, and if Shadle Park, Kamiakin or Bainbridge wind up at state, I won’t be surprised either.
The list goes on and on, which simply means it indeed should be another fantastic season.
So, here’s my best guess as we head into 2012. Have a look and let me know what you think. I’m sure there will be changes next Monday, especially with some key early tournaments on tap for Saturday. Oh, and in the next day or two, you should be able to find my extensive state-wide preview at PrepVolleyball.com, with a look at the top teams in the smaller classifications as well.
1. Jackson (Mill Creek)
These seniors won as sophomores and want to go out on top again
2. Mead (Spokane)
Panthers want payback after fizzling out at state last year
3. Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma)
Courtney Schwan & Co. are capable of winning it all
Defending champs could make another run at the title
Lanesha Reagan has the hops to lift her team in any match
6. Central Valley (Spokane)
Bears should be better than last year’s state qualifiers
If they play to their potential, Vikings could be major contenders
Knights’ only loss at state last year was to eventual champs
9. Kentwood (Covington)
New coach, new setter, but same expectations for 2011 runner-up
10. Curtis (University Place)
Vikings believe they can finish much higher than this
1. Prairie (Bruch Prairie)
With no clear-cut favorite, veteran Falcons start the season at the top
2. Mount Si (Snoqualmie)
This could be the year Wildcats win that elusive state title
3. Holy Names (Seattle)
Cougars on the prowl after car wreck wrecked last year’s state hopes
4. University (Spokane)
In the brutal GSL, Titans appear to be the 3A team to beat
Eight players return from last year’s state squad
6. Mercer Island
Islanders expect to challenge Mount Si for KingCo 3A/2A crown
7. Eastside Catholic (Bellevue)
Tradition counts for program with three second-place finishes in four years
8. Glacier Peak (Snohomish)
Heavy-hitting Grizzlies have the potential for first volleyball trophy
9. Seattle Prep
Panthers have been in the top four the last three years – winning in 2010
10. Southridge (Kennewick)
Suns nearly got to state last year, and are already much better
1. West Valley (Yakima)
After going unbeaten in 3A last season, Rams drop in class but not talent
Tradition-rich program could well win a seventh state title
Plenty of talent returns for team that played for 2011 crown
Don’t underestimate the crew that ruled 1A last season
Seahawks took fifth last year and lost just two key players
There’s still plenty left in the tank for defending champions
Greyhounds gearing up for 11th straight state appearance
8. Capital (Olympia)
After three straight trips to 3A tourney, Cougs could flourish here
9. East Valley (Spokane)
This could be Knights’ best chance at a state trophy
Trojans appear poised to return to state after rare miss