As usual here in northeastern Washington, late winter weather is taking its toll on spring sports. Teams had barely gotten outside for practices for the first time late last week. Then, on Monday afternoon, a surprise snowstorm sent them all back into the gym.
The spring sports season officially opened on February 27, but an extended winter has made it nearly impossible for athletes to enjoy the first two weeks of the season.
Tennis players were out on the court early last week. They were followed a couple of days later by baseball, softball, and golf teams. Also, the discus, shot put, and javelin throwers were outdoors midway through the week.
However, Monday’s snowstorm made it unfeasible to be outdoors.
Still, despite the inclement weather, it is time to take a sneak peek at three of the five spring sports.
With six returning starters and several more players with varsity experience, the Cougar baseball team is loaded.
Only two senior ballplayers graduated last spring. In addition, a returning starter transferred out of the district. Every other player is back in uniform for Coach Luke Jeanneret.
Returning to their positions are first-baseman Brandon Smith, second-baseman Dillon Bigler, shortstops Cody Sweat and Caleb Wiebe, third-baseman Joey Baker, center-fielder Calvin Connall, and right-fielder Derek Smith. Returning to the team with varsity experience are Cordell Bean, Dustin Crowell, Russell Smith, Ty Curtis, Jake Stenback, Dustin Olson, and there may be a couple of others.
“I’ve already made some defensive changes from last year,” said Jeanneret. “Dillon Bigler is going to play shortstop this year, and Cody Sweat is going to be at second base. Derek Smith will be in left- field, and it looks like Ty Curtis will play right-field.
“And, right now, third base is up for grabs. Joey Baker, Dustin Crowell, and Dustin Olson are battling hard for that position. Josh Sulgrove is also in that mix.”
So, going into this season, it looks like there is only one empty position for Coach Jeanneret to fill. The Cougars need a catcher. They do have players who have spent time behind the plate. The three top contenders right now are Cordell Bean, Baker, and Crowell. The question is: Which one will rise to the top and be the Chewelah starter?
Altogether, 34 young men have turned out for baseball. Of which 14 are freshmen.
“All these kids are players,” said Jeanneret. “I’m keeping and playing all of them. I don’t foresee me cutting anybody.
“There is a dogfight every night at practice. These kids are motivated, highly competitive, and driven to achieve their goals for this season.”
The Cougars were supposed to play their first games this week, but they will have to be rescheduled because of the snow. A preseason tournament at Washington State University may end up being their first outing.
Track and Field
The Cougar track team has one of its largest turnouts in recent years, but without an all-weather oval, runners are practicing on roads, in parking lots, in the high school hallways, and in the gym.
“This is the biggest turnout we have had here for track in a long time,” said Coach Pat Kostecka. “We have over 50 students turning out this year. Many of them are young freshmen, but we also have some exceptionally talented state veterans who we expect to do well again this year.”
In fact, almost half of this season’s team is made up of freshmen. A total of 25 ninth graders are on the roster. They join six sophomores, 13 juniors, and eight seniors.
“This could be the best group of young throwers we have ever had here,” Kostecka said. “They seem to have a lot of natural ability and they are anxious to learn and to improve.”
Still, the strength of the team is a handful of veteran juniors and seniors who have their eyes focused on earning an entry into the state meet at the conclusion of the season.
Senior hurdler Zach Schneider has already earned two state medals. He is hoping to set school records in both hurdling events this spring. His ultimate goal is to place first in one or both hurdling events at this year’s state meet.
As a junior, Schneider placed fourth in the 110-meter high hurdles with a time of 15.79 seconds. He crossed the finish line fifth in the 300-meter low hurdles.
Makayla Earl is a senior thrower who is expected to compete in the shot put, the discus, and the javelin at this year’s state finale. Earl is a state veteran in the javelin, and her distances in both the shot put and discus could qualify her to throw at the state meet in all three events this spring.
Adam Collins is a state veteran in the high jump. He hopes to return to the state meet this spring, not only to compete in the high jump, but also in the long jump and triple jump.
The one key ingredient to the success of this year’s team is when the track will be dried out enough to run on it. Last week, it was covered with two inches of ice. The rain melted the ice and turned the track into mud.
“Every other school in our league has been out on their track for two weeks, but our track is still a mud bog,” said Coach Kostecka prior to Monday afternoon’s sudden snow storm. As it looks now, we’ll be lucky to start running on our track by spring break.”
“I took the throwers out to the field last Friday,” said Kostecka, “but the ground was still so frozen that a javelin wouldn’t stick.”
Besides having a new crop of freshmen, the track team also has a new assistant coach. Jason Tapia will be coaching the jumping events, which are his specialty, and he will also be working with the sprinters. He is a former Chewelah resident who moved away following his eighth grade year.
The Cougars are scheduled to open their season at Colville on Thursday, March 22, weather permitting.
With 25 students turning out for golf this spring, Chewelah has one of its biggest turnouts in recent years.
“We have 18 boys playing this year,” said Coach Brian Harting, “but what is exciting is that we have seven girls, so we will be able to field a team. It’s thrilling to see that we have this much interest among the girls.”
The Cougar boys return their entire team from last year, including state veterans Dylan Long, Josh Olson, and Zack Richmond. Also returning are varsity golfers Matthew Chalmers and Nic Grimm.
“I look for our boys to be very competitive in league this year,” said Harting.
“We have a couple of girls back from last year, but most of our girls are new. It’s going to take them awhile to figure this sport out.”
Because of the late winter weather, the Cougar golfers have not yet been out on the golf course.
“We hit a few balls out on the soccer field last week, but that’s the only practice time we have had so far,” said Harting. “So far, most of our time has been spent in the classroom, explaining the rules of the game to our new players.”
The girls are led by Morgan Farrington and Hannah Johnson, who are the two returning members of the girls’ team. Among those playing golf for the first time are Amanda Pugh, Savannah McMillan, and Avery Corbett.
The Cougar golfers have their first scheduled match at Pullman on March 22.
Next week, look for an introduction to Cougar tennis and softball.
By Geno Ludwig, The Independent Staff