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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ralph Walter: Reloaded S-R sports team ready to tackle another football season, and much more

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 2, 2021

Even championship teams eventually need to retool.

The sports crew at The Spokesman-Review – hit hard by offseason defections – is no different.

Just months after winning the newspaper’s first Grand Slam in the annual Associated Press Sports Editors’ national contest (Top-10 finishes in daily print, Sunday print, special sections and website), we’ve had to replace nearly a third of our staff.

So as we embark on a new football season, we’re having to address the same types of concerns as the teams we write about.

– Can talent overcome a lack of experience?

– Will the young players be able to handle game-night pressure?

– Can the embattled head coach make it through another season?

It’s no different in Pullman, where coach Nick Rolovich’s Washington State Cougars went down to the wire trying to settle on a starting quarterback; or in Cheney, where Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best is trying to find the right mix to improve his team’s run defense from a year ago; or even out in Liberty Lake, where the new Ridgeline High School is just trying to field a team for the first time.

Making the pieces fit is always hard. But trying to do it during these unprecedented times can be overwhelming.

It’s why we settled on a theme of “Solving the Puzzle” for our annual football section, which you’ll find in Thursday’s print newspaper and here. We’ve even created some fun crossword puzzles for the teams we cover. We’ll provide the clues, but you’ll have to come up with the solutions.

As you’ll read in Thursday’s previews, teams at all levels are seeking the right answers that might lead to big successes.

Our team is no different. While it’s hard to say goodbye to old friends, it’s also exciting to welcome in new faces.

You’ve probably noticed a new byline on WSU stories. Colton Clark has replaced Theo Lawson as our primary reporter covering the Cougars. A graduate of the University of Idaho who lives in Pullman, Clark will be able to supply on-the-spot coverage when news breaks on the Palouse.

We’ll still lean heavily on Lawson’s deep insight and knowledge of WSU athletics from time to time, and he’ll often team with Clark to provide unmatched coverage on game nights.

As readership trends show, we simply can’t write enough about the Cougars.

Or Gonzaga men’s basketball.

It’s been outrageous to expect just one full-time reporter to cover a national championship contender year in and year out (as Jim Meehan has magnificently done – and has the gray hair to prove it.) That’s why Lawson is sliding over to GU basketball this season alongside Meehan.

They’ll be our version of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme – mustache-less, unfortunately.

And we haven’t even mentioned columnist John Blanchette, fresh off another award-winning season. Or contributors Vince Grippi and Justin Reed. Or our fantastic photo staff.

Talk about a dream team.

Meantime, our coverage of other fall sports won’t miss a beat. Dan Thompson brings his storytelling skills to Eastern Washington; the steady Peter Harriman returns to cover Idaho; And newcomer Adam Chambers takes over Whitworth.

Dave Nichols will continue to anchor our high school coverage, backed by a bevy of correspondents.

Kevin Dudley returns when the Spokane Chiefs take the ice, and Jim Allen is back to cover the Gonzaga women’s basketball team.

Two new faces – Connor Vanderweyst and Taylor Newquist – have taken the reins of our design and website. Veteran editors Chris Derrick and Gene Warnick provide steady leadership and stellar editing. Jason Shoot and Angela Schneider offer versatility as both writers and editors.

Sadly, there is one hole on our staff that we’ll never be able to fill.

In early August, Joe Palmquist decided to retire. He spent the past five years as managing editor after serving the previous 14 as sports editor.

Joe was smart, efficient and creative as sports editor, with some of this paper’s best work done under his watch.

As a mentor and friend, he’s also been one-of-a-kind, offering guidance and support during some of the most stressful times in my life – both professionally and personally.

I’ll miss wandering into his office every day to talk life and sports, everything from Mike Leach, to standup comedy, to my dating misadventures, to how he’ll spend retirement.

With plenty of free time now, he ought to be able to find a few extra hours to come up with solutions to the football crossword puzzles in our print edition.

And once he’s finished with those?

Well, he’ll hopefully keep his phone nearby, because it’s a safe bet I’ll be calling to ask for a few more answers.

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