Coach talk: 2A Greater St. Helens League football

Defending league champion Ridgefield graduated a lot of seniors but returns plenty of talent to be considered the ‘team to beat’ again, but look for a number of teams to be competing for playoff spots

No night off in this league, coaches say, with talent in every program

The schedule. Wow. Just look at the schedule.

Ridgefield is taking on W.F. West and then Class 3A Mountain View.

Columbia River has Class 4A Skyview in Week 2.

Oh, and then the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League schedule starts.

“It’s a difficult league. It’s awesome,” Columbia River coach Brett Smedley said. “There is not a night off, and we love that. Everybody is extremely tough. That’s what I love about the 2A GSHL. It keeps us engaged and it keeps us working every single day. That’s what life is all about.”

For years, it was Hockinson’s league.

Last year, Ridgefield made The Leap, taking the league title and advancing to the state quarterfinals.

This year? Oh sure, Ridgefield has to feel good about its chances. But Washougal is on the rise, too. Columbia River is ready to battle. Hockinson wants to get back to the top. Mark Morris is solid. And on and on it goes.

Washougal Panthers

“I think it’s going to be pretty balanced this year,” Washougal coach Dave Hajek said. “I don’t see anyone being a dominant force like Hockinson in the past where they dominated the whole league. I feel we can compete with everyone in our league. Most everyone can compete with anyone in our league. There will not be too many games where it’s 40-0. It will be a pretty competitive league.”

Washougal, by the way, and Woodland will get an early start to the season. The Panthers play at River Ridge on Thursday. Woodland is at Kalama on Thursday. The rest of the league will have their openers on Friday.

Hockinson and Ridgefield will open league play against each other in Week 3.

The Hawks, who won state titles in 2017 and 2018 and reached the state semifinals in 2019, understand what it is like to be chased. 

“You have to expect everyone’s best night when they play you,” Hockinson coach Clint LeCount said. 

Now the Hawks are chasing the Spudders.

“For the longest time, we were running the show. Last year, Ridgefield came in and knocked us off. We’re fighting and scraping to get ourselves back to a league championship,” LeCount said.

“They’re the defending league champs and bring back quite a few starters. (Coach) Scott Rice has done some tremendous things with the program,” LeCount added. “For us to even have a shot at a league title, we know we have to win that Week 3 matchup with them.”

Rice said he could see the Spudders, Hockinson, Washougal, Columbia River and Mark Morris battling for the top four spots. But he also knows Hudson’s Bay will be improved with a new coach, Woodland has renewed optimism with a state champion coach, and the Spudders also worked with R.A. Long over the summer.

“They’re all good football programs,” Rice said. “I think, top to bottom, it’s going to be a fight to win games.”

As far as the Spudders, Rice is liking where his team is going into the season. He even said the Spudders are a little further along in the process than at the same time in 2021.

Ridgefield will also have to deal with a difficult schedule. W.F. West is a top 10 team in Class 2A, according to Cascadia Preps. Mountain View is the defending 3A GSHL champion. Then the Hockinson game in Week 3.

“Hoping those first two weeks will pay off,” Rice said, in terms of getting the Spudders battle-tested for the rest of the season.

“We can win a lot of football games,” Rice said. “I’m excited about the leadership. A quiet group of kids but they show up and go to work every day. I’m excited to see what we’re going to be made of. I know they come to work hard every day. I don’t have to worry about that.”

Sean McDonald, who led Kalama to three state titles, has taken over as the head coach at Woodland.

He said Ridgefield is the team to beat and that he heard Washougal has something brewing this season, as well. He noted Mark Morris and Hockinson as always having good programs.

“It will be exciting to see,” he said.

McDonald is not overlooking his own team. No way.

“I always expect to win. I’ve told the boys that. We keep working our butts off, there is no reason we can’t be competing for a league championship at the end of the year,” McDonald said.

Hudson’s Bay program can still celebrate a league title during this abbreviated girls basketball season, and the Eagles still expect to soar in the future

At Hudson’s Bay, the Eagles are celebrating the return of Mark Oliverio. He coached Bay in 2015 and 2016, leading the Eagles to a winning season in 2016. 

“I’m familiar with the coaches,” said Oliverio, who moved to Kentucky following the 2016 season, but returned to Clark County and was the head coach at Battle Ground last year. “They’re all great guys. They all run great programs,” Oliverio said. “It’s a highly competitive league. I feel appreciative to be mentioned in the same sentence with those guys.”

All the coaches, all the players, will be getting ready for league play in the next couple of weeks.

Then, expect a battle in the 2A Greater St. Helens League

Opening week:

Columbia River at Foss, 6 p.m. Friday

Hockinson at La Center, 7 p.m. Friday

Hudson’s Bay vs. Heritage, 4:30 p.m. Friday at McKenzie Stadium

Mark Morris at Battle Ground, 7 p.m. Friday

Castle Rock at R.A. Long, 7 p.m. Friday

W.F. West at Ridgefield, 7 p.m. Friday

Washougal at River Ridge, 7 p.m. Thursday

Woodland at Kalama, 7 p.m. Thursday

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