League change is a mixed bag for LMS

A move out of an athletic league made up of big schools and into one composed of small schools seems to have made a big difference for athletes at Langley Middle School.

As South Whidbey High School prepares to make a jump into large-school competition due to climbing enrollment, LMS — which had largely been battered on the field of play in most sports over the past few years — appears to be a real winner after joining the middle school Cascades Conference.

Signs of success include a 9-1 junior varsity volleyball season for the Cougars, a 7-3 varsity volleyball record, a two-win season for eighth-grade football players who won no games as seventh graders, a 4-1-1 season for the school’s JV football team, and a promising — if too dominant — start for the school’s girls soccer program. And at this point, it seems that the school’s student athletes will continue to succeed with more regularity than it has in the past.

“I think it’s definitely helped their self confidence,” said Steve West, who coached the school’s JV football team and who is currently coaching an eighth-grade basketball team that went 7-1 when its players were seventh graders.

Parker Barnette, who played on the varsity football team this fall and who is a varsity basketball player this season, agreed with West.

“It’s better because we’re playing against schools our size,” he said.

As the school moves into its early winter season — when girls soccer takes the field and boys basketball takes the court — this year’s league change nonetheless appears to be a bit of a mixed bag. While some losing teams are winning more, other teams that were winners in the past, or that didn’t even exist until this year, are struggling to find a little competition.

Tim Gordon, the athletic director at LMS, said the league made big dividends for both the school’s volleyball and football teams this fall. Last year, the school’s seventh-grade volleyball team lost every game it played. This year, the age-equivalent Cougar JV team lost only one game. For football, a winless seventh-grade season in 2002 was avenged with a winning JV season over the past two months and two wins by the varsity team.

On top of this, teams that are still losing are losing by less.

“They didn’t get physically beaten up as badly,” Gordon said, specifically referring to the school’s football teams.

At the same time, Langley Middle School’s boys and girls cross country teams, traditionally dominant against even middle schools in 3A and 4A high school conference, was unchallenged in all but the biggest invitationals. The Cougs were undefeated on the race course in the Cascades Conference and, said Gordon, will likely have to look outside the conference in 2004 to find competition to push its runners to improve.

Also at a loss for a challenge are the school’s girl soccer players. Even though this is the first year the school has offered the sport, the Cougar girls hammered Sultan 7-1 and 6-0 in varsity and JV games this week. Sultan is expected to be the best team the Cougs will see all season.

Players on the JV soccer team have mixed feelings about winning so handily.

“I kind of feel bad for the other team,” said seventh-grade goalkeeper Maya Houge, noting that she and her defenders got almost no action this week.

Natasha Grover, a seventh-grade defender, said there is still an upside.

“It’s good because we get to experience some wins,” she said.

Still, through the winter sports seasons, the “ayes” on the league change will likely have it. The new league offers more playing time for less-experienced and junior varsity players, who generally get to play complete games this year instead of special quarters or periods reserved for bench players. And with the approach of the girls’ basketball season in January, the players and coaches in the program — which went a combined 1-19 last season — are likely looking forward to playing against schools with smaller talent pools.

As for the teams that are finding little or no competition against the other Cascades schools — Lakewood, Granite Falls, Sultan, Coupeville and Kings — athletic director Gordon said LMS may have to look at doing for other teams what it did for the cross country program — go outside the league.

“We had to cut and paste a schedule,” he said.

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