The Coupeville High School baseball team was the surprise team of the Cascade Conference last spring. No one will be shocked by the Wolves' success this season.
After last-place finishes in 2011 and 2012, Coupeville was picked to finish in the basement again last year in a poll of league coaches. The Wolves placed third in the seven-team league and expect to compete for the top spot this time around.
"Our expectations are pretty high, and, I think, legitimate," coach Willie Smith said. The goal is to win the league pennant and reach the final four at state, he added.
"I generally don't publicly state goals as big as these because I've seen it come back and bite coaches/teams too often," he added. "But, I really feel confident in what these kids, especially the seniors, can do this year. I don't think I've had as determined, focused and deep pitching staff as I have this year and our team focus is really dialed in."
The Wolves return eight starters and its entire pitching staff from 2013. The group includes five seniors who are multi-year letter winners: Ben Etzell (infield/pitcher), Morgan Payne (infield), Wade Schaef (outfield/pitcher), Kurtis Smith (outfield) and Jake Tumblin (catcher).
Etzell and Smith were first-team, all-Cascade Conference last year; Payne was a second-team choice; and Tumblin and junior Aaron Curtin honorable mention.
Curtin (infield/pitcher); juniors Josh Bayne (infield/pitcher), Kyle Bodamer (infield), Korbin Korzan (outfield/pitcher) and Aaron Trumbull (first base/pitcher); and sophomore Cole Payne (infield/pitcher) round out the returning letter winners.
Sophomore CJ Smith (infield/pitcher) is a key newcomer, coach Smith said.
The underclassmen will need to "perform at the same level of the senior class" to meet the lofty expectations, coach Smith said.
"(The players) understand what it takes to win in this league and what it is going to take to win at the next level," coach Smith said. "Our pitching and defense is a huge strength for us."
The offense struggled at times last spring, so consistency is "a point of emphasis this year," coach Smith said.
Taking the league title won't be easy; the Cascade Conference is loaded. Standing in the Wolves way is Archbishop Murphy, which finished third and first in state the past two seasons. Sultan, Cedarcrest, South Whidbey, Granite Falls – everyone – is tough, according to Smith.
The season will get off to an interesting start when Coupeville meets rival South Whidbey in a three-game series, beginning at 4 p.m. Monday, March 17, in Langley. The teams meet again in Coupeville Wednesday and then back at South Whidbey Friday.