But defending Metro champ Beaverton and Southridge strong too
The good news for the Metro League's boys water polo teams is that it's their district's turn to have an extra state berth, giving the league four this season.
The bad news is one of the five Beaverton-area schools will still miss the cut.
Westview enters as the favorite and looks to regain its place atop the Metro League after its nine-year reign (including five state titles) ended last season. Defending league champion Beaverton lost two key players, but reloads with a strong senior class. Sunset remains competitive and Aloha looks to regain its edge under an alumnus coach. Then there's Southridge, which has moved up a spot in the league standings each of the past three seasons, taking third last year and already testing Westview in an 8-4 loss last week.
'Westview is going to be a big challenge,' Beaverton coach Matt Bayha said. 'Southridge could be a sleeper in the league. I think they might surprise some people.'
'Westview is definitely stronger then the rest,' Aloha coach Kevin Bebb said. 'The next four teams on that tier can all play with each other. It just depends on who has the best day.'
That could make every game crucial. And exciting, hard-fought battles.
'There's just a few goals difference between the top teams in the district,' Sunset coach Chris Akerman said.
'You have to have show up every day,' Bebb said. 'You can't have an off day and pull out a win against any of those top-5 teams.'
The Metro League has won seven of the last 10 state titles. Newberg has taken the other three and the defending champions remain the state's team to beat, led by returning state tournament MVP Keary Schlactus.
'They only lost one senior, so they're obviously the favorite,' Westview coach Jeff Lee said. 'They're always loaded.'
ALOHA - In Kevin Bebb's final season at Aloha, the Warriors took fourth at the state tournament. The 2002 Aloha graduate, who enters his first year as the Apollos' coach, is eager to get his alma mater back in contention a season after the team finished 1-10-1 in Metro League play.
'Last year was rough,' Bebb said. 'We've finished in the top-8 (in the state) five of the last eight years, so I definitely want to get us back to that level.'
Bebb will be working with a young team to do so, despite losing just two seniors off last year's squad. Junior Aaron Bentz will be the Warriors' go-to player and was second team all-Metro last season.
'(Aaron's) kind of the scorer as the hole-set,' Bebb said. 'He's pretty physical.'
Sophomore Gabe Darrah gives Aloha another solid option. The Warriors will turn to the Phan brothers (senior Edward, junior Alex and freshman Franklin) to fill half of its starting spots.
'They make practice competitive,' Bebb said. 'They like kicking the crap out of each other. They definitely have a strong brotherly bond.'
Senior Isak Free takes his 6-foot-5 frame into the cage for the first time as the Warriors' goalkeeper this season.
'He's been playing long enough, so he's ready,' Bebb said.
BEAVERTON - The Metro's defending champions graduated two first team all-leaguers including Player of the Year Chet Eimstad. But Beaverton coach Matt Bayha isn't expecting much of a drop off from an 11-1 Metro season that ended with a fourth-place finish at state.
'A teamwork approach should lift us near the top of the league and another solid finish at state,' Bayha said.
The Beavers have placed at state the past six years. To continue that streak, the team will turn to senior captains Robert Schoen in the goal and Ethan Balgley in the field.
'Robert and Ethan will force teams to make errors and turnovers defensively,' Bayha said.
Senior Steve Curtis, a pitcher on the baseball team, gives Beaverton an offensive weapon.
'Steve will light it up whenever he as the opportunity on the offensive end,' Bayha said. 'He has an arm like no other in the league.'
A solid group of underclassmen support the senior trio. That crew includes juniors Cody Hannan and Nick Nourigat and sophomores Daniel Feldhan, Yonah Hendin and Grant Schoen.
BEAVERTON - Last year Southridge beat Sunset in its final league game to earn the third and final spot to the state playoffs, the school's first postseason berth. The logical next step is a state placing, something this year's team has the potential to do.
'We lost a couple components, but we're playing a little better water polo at this point in the season,' Southridge coach Ryan Chiotti said. 'We're hoping to be in the mix.'
Senior captains Michael Moshofsky and Wes Stone lead the Skyhawks. Moshofsky earned first team all-league honors last fall and gives Southridge a strong presence in the pool.
'He's a good, smart player and a vocal leader,' Chiotti said. 'He knows what to do with the ball and plays great defense. Those two guys are looking to make a run in their senior season.'
Sophomore Mitch Wise will be a big help to them doing so. Wise emerged as a threat his freshman year and looks to build off his second-team all-league campaign.
'He was able to surprise some people last year,' Chiotti said. 'He has a strong shot and is a smart, heady player. He won't surprise anyone this year. As a sophomore, to be as good as he is, it's nice to have that.'
Seniors Todd Acosta and Peter Adam, junior Kyle Morgan, sophomore Adrian Eames and promising freshmen Kevin Funkhouser and Boonkit Purt add to the mix and give Chiotti some depth to work with.
'We have a few guys we can work into our starting lineup,' Chiotti said. 'It depends on the game. Some work better against different teams.'
Junior Jeff Maginnis takes over the full-time goalkeeping duties after mainly manning the shallow end last season.
CEDAR MILL - Sunset graduated just one player off a team that finished a ½ game out of the state playoffs. A deep squad has the Apollos primed to end a four-year absence from state.
'Our offense is pretty spread out this season,' Sunset coach Chris Akerman said. 'One through six, all the players can score. If someone's not having a good game, five other guys can step up.'
Senior captain Danny Recordon heads the strong group. Recordon is one of four first-team honorees returning in the Metro this season.
'He's fast and he's strong,' Akerman said.
Sophomore James Lauder gives the Apollos a 'solid defender that's really consistent,' according to Akerman. Seniors Jordan Zehner, Louis Maltese and Austin Johnson add leadership, while sophomore Andrew Lee and freshman Stephan Syzonenko are promising youngsters. Syzonenko could make an immediate impact, having played for the Tualatin Hills club team in the past.
'His knowledge of the game is good,' Akerman said. 'He brings some experience even though he's young.'
Senior Andrew Baker returns in the cage for the Apollos, giving them a reliable stopper.
'He's a solid goalkeeper,' Akerman said. 'He'll help the team out a lot.'
ROCK CREEK - If anything, getting knocked off its perch atop the Metro League has only made Westview more determined to regain the crown it held for nine straight years. And Wildcats coach Jeff Lee has the group to make that happen.
Westview, the state runner-up last season, lost one player to graduation and returns a strong senior class, headed by first team all-state player Thomas Traudt.
'He's a field marshal in the water,' Lee said. 'Pretty much every game, he's the smartest player and most fundamentally sound. He's only 5-10, 140 but, for his size, he makes big guys look silly.'
On the other end of the spectrum is junior John Abercrombie, a second team all-league selection last season.
'He's pretty much the antithesis of Thomas,' Lee said. 'He's enormous, but very quick. He can muscle his way through a lot of stuff.'
Senior goalkeeper Stephen Jarmer also returns after a second team all-league campaign.
'He's got good legs, good reflexes and a good sense of where the ball is going,' Lee said.
The Wildcats also bring back captain Scott Tienken, who Lee said is 'probably our fastest player,' as well as fellow seniors Kyle Wilson and Dan Shaw. Sophomores Zach Helm and Michael Barclay also figure into the mix in a lineup that Lee considers 9-deep.