WV Eagles, EV Knights aspire to continued success in Class 2A
Craig Whitney got it straight from his assistant coaches:
“You know, coach,” one of them offered, “this group of players could be as good as the one we had two years ago.”
The West Valley High School head coach agreed – his 2011-’12 Eagles have that kind of potential. But, he insists, he’s not ready to make all-out comparisons just yet.
In 2009-’10, the Eagles went undefeated all the way to the state Class 2A championship football game, where they suffered their first loss, 16-6 to Lynden.
“We had a lot of things go right that season,” the eighth-year coach said. “What’s similar this year is the kinds of kids we have, the attitude they have, the way they’re willing to work hard to make themselves better.”
Those qualities have been a hallmark at West Valley under Whitney.
After an 0-10 season in the Greater Spokane League his first year, the Eagles are nine games over .500 (36-27). Since joining the Great Northern League for the 2006-’07 season, the Eagles are 33-21.
“That’s been the biggest change here,” Whitney said. “There are expectations around this program now. We’re expected to be successful.”
At East Valley, coach Adam Fisher’s Knights are learning to deal with expectations as well.
“On the one hand, those kinds of expectations are a good thing,” he said. “At the same time, it means you’ve got a target on your back.”
The Knights started the season 1-5 a year ago, but turned the year around and marched all the way to the Class 2A semifinals.
A year ago, the expectations were a series of unknowns. The Knights were in their first season in the GNL, dropping down from the GSL.
“Last year we really did not know what to expect coming into a new league,” Fisher said. “We didn’t know the league; we didn’t know the teams.
“Having been in the league, our league – if it isn’t the toughest Class 2A league in the state, it’s no lower than second. There may be better teams, but top-to-bottom, I don’t think there’s a tougher league.”
Fisher said you never truly pick up where you left off in a new season. But he does see positives as the Knights start the season.
“It’s a positive when you have so many young players who got to play in the Tacoma Dome, or who were at least a part of that game on the sideline,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of finding some of them to take the places of the seniors we lost.”
A year ago, the Knights offensive line was together and intact for just one game during the regular season and in the first six games, the EV offense turned the ball over 19 times – in games that the team lost by fewer than 10 points.
Fisher made several key midseason changes: inserting sophomores Tyler Watkins at quarterback and Adam Talley at running back.
Talley, in particular, was a gigantic spark running roughshod over the remainder of the GNL season before breaking loose in the playoffs. At Clarkston, he ran for more than 170 yards and a touchdown. Against Prosser he rushed for 241 yards and four scores.
The Knights were legitimate road warriors a year ago, traveling to play at Sandpoint, Post Falls, Colville, Clarkston twice, Ellensburg and West Valley. In the playoffs, East Valley traveled to Kennewick to play Prosser. Technically, the state semifinals, a 63-27 loss to eventual state champ Tumwater, was a home game. It was played, however, in the Tacoma Dome after bad weather forced the WIAA to change the venue from Joe Albi Stadium.
“If you add up all the time we spent on a bus last year, we could have driven to San Francisco and back,” Fisher said. “I’m looking forward to playing a lot more home games this year. We have Sandpoint coming here to start the season, and four of our first five games are at home.”
Medical Lake dropped out of the GNL for football beginning this season, dropping scheduled games with Cheney, West Valley and East Valley.
West Valley was able to add a nonleague game at Cashmere. East Valley, however, had to take the week of its scheduled game with the Cardinals as a bye.
Both schools begin the season at an unfamiliar time. Each school’s opener will be played before students report for the start of the year.
“In my 12 years here, this is the first time this has happened,” Fisher said.
Whitney said the Eagles will follow their usual schedule anyway.
“We’re going to shift our schedule and practice at 3 p.m., just like we would if we were in classes,” he said. “That way we can get into a familiar routine and we can be all set when we do get back to classes.”