Numbers drop for South Whidbey High School fall sports

LANGLEY — Against the odds, student-athlete numbers are steady for South Whidbey High School this fall.

LANGLEY — Against the odds, student-athlete numbers are steady for South Whidbey High School this fall.

There were lots of reasons for numbers to dramatically fall for the Falcons. The cost increased, enrollment dropped and it has been years since a fall sports team made it to a state tournament.

There’s one big change for the little school. South Whidbey is now a 1A sports program — the sixth-largest in the state — according to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, 468 students are enrolled. Falcon fans hope the switch will lead to more district playoff games and state runs.

Before any of the glory can fall the Falcons’ way, they began the 1A era Aug. 20 across the South End. At the high school, football was well underway with its eighth practice. In Washington, high school football practice begins five days earlier than other sports. The Falcon football team — with about 45 players,10 fewer from a year ago — had finished conditioning and already running drills and learning position plays Monday.

Other than football, several other South Whidbey sports saw an increase in participation. With 34 players, Falcon volleyball will once again field three teams: varsity, junior varsity and C-team, though head coach Mandy Jones said she is looking for a C-team coach.Haley Viers, a junior on the Falcon volleyball team,  passes Monday during the first day of practice Aug. 20. The upperclassmen is part of a large group of juniors.

In Erickson Gym, Falcon volleyball ran through rapid passing and digging drills. Only three seniors are on the volleyball team, one of Jones’ smallest senior classes in her five years as the Falcons’ head coach. Jones wanted to evaluate every player with assistant coach Meggan Lubach before naming the varsity players, which she expected to do Wednesday. That meant she rotated with groups of players that were a mix of returning lettermen and a dozen freshmen.

“That’s where I’m hoping we’re going to be a strong team,” said Jones, referring to passing and serving, as well as team unity.

Boys tennis saw a change in its composition. Last year, head coach Karyle Kramer was a late hire to replace her dad Tom Kramer, who coached for more than 20 years. The few expected returning seniors did not show up, and the boys tennis team was without a senior for the first time in more than a decade, leaving the Falcons with a young squad and a new coach. On Monday, Karyle Kramer had 12 returning varsity players, and a total of 20 boys at the first day of practice.

“We need to build the program for a few years,” Kramer said.

“Most of the kids played summer tennis.”

Up the hill at Community Park, the girls soccer team had swollen its ranks. Last year, the Falcons struggled to field a junior varsity team with about 25 players total. This time around, head coach Ben Rusch has a “good problem” ahead of him trying to find playing time for some 33 girls between two teams.

“What I see is a lot of quality players,” Rusch said.

The program was on the rebound after a few single-digit win seasons. Rusch came in as a first-year head coach at 23 years old and revitalized Falcon girls soccer to a 4-10 Cascade Conference finish.

“With more interest and more excitement, I think more girls will show,” he said.

South Whidbey’s competition begins Friday, Aug. 31, with the football squad visiting Chelan for a weekend trip.