Coach talk: 3A Greater St. Helens League football

Competitive five-team league does not yet know how many teams will qualify for the playoffs, but one coach says if only two teams advance, there will be at least one top-20 team in the state that will be staying home.

Defending league champion Mountain View returns a ton of starters, has hopes for a long playoff run

One of the quirks of Washington high school athletics is that there are some years when teams do not know how many playoff teams will qualify from a certain league until a week or two into the season.

That is the case with the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League.

It is a five-team league, and athletic directors will learn shortly if the league gets three playoff berths to Week 10 or two this season. 

“This is a year when we can have a top-20 team (in the state) sitting at home in Week 10 if we only get two,” Evergreen coach Christian Swain said. “I feel really good about our team, really, really good about our team. And I know how good the other teams in our league are, so I expect it to be a really tough league.”

Could it be a three-team race for two playoff spots? Or will one of the other two teams rise up and stun the league?

“Mountain View is loaded. Kelso is loaded. I think we’re loaded,” Swain said.

Plus Prairie and Heritage have new coaches, new systems.

“It’s an intriguing league,” Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson said.

The new coaches will bring new schemes.

“I’d imagine they will be taking positive steps forward,” Mathieson said.

Then there are the presumed top three teams in the league going into the season.

“I have all the respect in the world for what Christian is doing at Evergreen,” Mathieson said. “Kelso has been a playoff team forever.”

Chase Smith, the new coach at Heritage, is looking forward to the challenge of exceeding expectations. Heritage went 2-7 overall last year, but that included a win over Evergreen.

“Prairie has improved. Kelso is always competing at a high level. Evergreen’s is constantly pushing the envelope. Mountain View? When are they not in the tournament at the end of a season,” Smith asked.

Then there is Heritage. He understands the reputation, even if the Timberwolves did not finish last in 2021.

Opponents, Smith said, look at Heritage as a win before even taking the field.

“We’re going to show them this year it’s not the case. We’re coming to fight,” Smith said. “We strongly believe if all the kids buy in, we can stand toe-to-toe with every single team.”

Will Ephraim is back as a head coach, this time taking over at Prairie.

“I think any team can beat any team in this league,” Ephraim said. “Kelso, historically, has always been tough. Mountain View has always been tough. If we have success against those teams, then that’s a great sign that we have a great team.”

“If you want to be successful, you’ve got to beat those teams. Not to put down any of the other teams. Those teams have always been on top,” Ephraim said. “To beat them is a great sign of the improvement in your program.”

Evergreen, Kelso, and Mountain View all have players with Division-I offers. The talent is spread throughout the 3A GSHL. Now, it is about the results on the field.

Evergreen did not get the results it was looking for in 2021, going 3-6 overall but 0-4 in league play.

“We’ve had a great offseason. We’ve worked extremely hard. We’re bigger, faster, stronger,” Swain said of his Plainsmen. “We’ve improved in a lot of different areas. The offensive line has a chance to be dominant. I have high expectations for this team.”

Prairie ended up 5-4 and 2-2 in league play last year and then won a non-playoff Week 10 game to get to six victories. So Ephraim is taking over a winning team.

Kelso finished second in the league a year ago and finished at 8-3 with a trip to the state playoffs. The Hilanders have an impressive offensive line returning for 2022.

Then there is perennial favorite Mountain View, the defending league champion. The Thunder went undefeated in the 3A GSHL but lost in the Week 10 preliminary round playoff to miss out on a state playoff game.

Still, the Thunder return more than a dozen starters, and they believe this will be a special season.

“It’s a good group of kids who have been around each other a long time,” Mathieson said. “A lot of kids who are passionate about football. They’re fun to be around. They enjoy athletics. They’re high achieving people. It’s a good group.”

Opening Week:

Eisenhower vs. Evergreen, 7 p.m. Friday at McKenzie Stadium

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

Timberline at Kelso, 7 p.m. Friday

Mountain View at Nooksack Valley, 7 p.m. Friday

Prairie at Auburn, 7 p.m. Friday

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