Cascade Christian's continued success is expected among coaches in the four-team Southern Cascade League.
The Challengers claimed their eighth straight conference title last year before ultimately falling to Coquille/Pacific in the Class 3A state quarterfinals. They are the unanimous favorites to win the league again after recent voting by SCL coaches.
If the season goes according to form, that leaves St. Mary's, Lakeview and Illinois Valley in a fight for the other automatic playoff berth. Fifteen 3A teams automatically qualify for the OSAA's 16-team bracket, including two from the SCL.
Last fall, Cascade Christian went 8-3 overall and 3-0 in league play. The second-place Crusaders were 6-4 and 2-1 in conference, while Lakeview finished in third (3-5, 1-2) and Illinois Valley fourth 1-7, 0-3).
At Lakeview, coach Rusty Zysett guides a 44-player turnout that includes returning SCL lineman of the year Alex Decker (a senior).
Also back for the Honkers are senior defensive back Dom Maita and senior special-teamer Cotter Shullanberger, both SCL first-teamers.
The offense will be charged by quarterback Shullanberger, running back Jace Brazeal and receivers Jerry Patzke and Nolan Petersen. Other impact players include offensive lineman/linebacker Reece Raines, lineman Matthew Armbrust, defensive back Lonnie Brooks and receiver/defensive back Kaden Greenfield.
The Honkers graduated SCL first-team running back David Arcularius and receiver Derrick Dunn and linebacker Noah Steward.
"We have good depth at most positions," Zysett said.
At Cave Junction, Bruce Reece leads a squad with three returning first-team all-league selections in senior offensive lineman Randy Bates, senior defensive lineman Nathan Klaiss and sophomore defensive back Elijah Polk.
Pepe Mendoza, who received honorable mention, is now a senior at Illinois Valley.
Other Cougars to watch include quarterback/defensive back Caleb Hess and running back/linebacker Dane Alvarez.
First-team SCL selection Skylar McLanahan graduated.
Former league member Rogue River will continue as an independent program after going winless last season.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org