This is the season Hoquiam has been looking forward to since the arrival of a large group of sophomores began taking over the starting and leadership roles in 2010.
And, the Grizzlies will have to go through one of the toughest three weeks of the schedule they’ve ever encountered to start the campaign.
“There’s no other way to prepare for the season than to prepare for the best,” Hoquiam head coach Jason Ronquillo said.
On Friday, Hoquiam (9-2 in 2011) will host Class 2A Centralia to open the season. Once the Grizzlies face the Tigers, a matchup at Stewart Field against rival Aberdeen and the Evergreen 1A opener at Rottle Field against the seven-time reigning league champion Montesano await them.
It is a schedule that will test and show the mettle of a squad populated with experience and speed. Several members of the Hoquiam state boys track & field champions are on the team, including senior sprinter Nolan Hoiness and jumper Cole Smith. From the sound of things, the entire program (57 players, including 35 on varsity) is embracing the challenge.
“Recognizing that our first three games are our toughest games — Centralia, Aberdeen and Montesano — there’s no better way to test yourself than going up against bigger schools and then facing the league champs,” Ronquillo said. “It is not easy. I like the way it is set up. We’re going to prepare for the best first and we have to be first-class, top-notch in practice every day. It is kind of fun. It is stressful.”
A senior-laden starting lineup will step onto Olympic Stadium on Friday. Led by Hoiness and Drew Bravos in the backfield, Evan Erickson will pilot the offense at quarterback. Ronnie Espedal and Dakota Boone will anchor the offensive line. Smith will be a multi-purpose threat at tight end, while Cody Parker and Paul Girts will be Erickson’s main targets in the passing game.
Defensively, the Grizzlies are stacked with returning starters and contributors. The linebacking corps of Hoiness, Espedal, D.J. Cox and Alex Munoz will anchor the entire unit. On the line, Jake Guined and Devin Kelly will return, while Josh Steen, Girts and Parker will solidify the defensive backfield.
“I think there is added pressure, but I think the kids can thrive on that if it is taken the right way,” Ronquillo said. “This is an aggressive, tough bunch of kids. Sometimes we have to dial it back in practice, because with pads on, they’ll take it out on each other. They are very tough and competitive and that’s what I love about them. And, this is the fastest team I’ve ever had here. It’ll give some teams fits.”
In the Evergreen 1A, Ronquillo acknowledges that the road to the league title runs through Montesano. With the Bulldogs on Hoquiam’s schedule in the third week, the Grizzlies will know if the road has a detour or not.
“The league championship runs through Montesano and it’ll be that way until someone takes it away from it,” Ronquillo said. “Everyone knows that. That’s all part of getting better and how we get better. We know how to get to a championship and it goes through Montesano.
“Tenino will be tough, with Forks and Elma also fighting in league this year,” he added. “We’re in that mix as well. It’ll be five teams for four spots.”
Assisting Ronquillo this season will be Justin Christensen, Jeff Gates, Rick Moore, Ed Dawson, Jeremy McMillan and Dana LaDuc.