When the Ferndale football team shifts to the Wesco next fall, it won’t be coach Jamie Plenkovich’s first rodeo down south.
Plenkovich was at the helm of Sehome when it moved to the Wesco more than a decade ago, before he took over the Golden Eagles in 2004. The Mariners ended up winning a league title during their first year in the league, Plenkovich said, but it was a little lonely at the top.
“We felt a little isolated,” Plenkovich said of the Mariners’ move. “We really lost all of the games that we were used to playing against teams like Lynden and Bellingham and Squalicum and replaced them with games against Mountlake Terrace and Shorewood and Shorecrest. ... It hurt us a little being removed like that.”
But Plenkovich doesn’t see that as a problem this time around. In fact, he sees nothing but opportunity.
“This situation is completely different,” he said. “I think we’re going to end up with some pretty good rivalries against some communities that are a lot like ours.”
This time the Golden Eagles won’t be going alone, as Squalicum, which was moved up to Class 3A for the next four-year cycle, will join them in the Wesco for football beginning with the 2016 season. Both schools will remain in the Northwest Conference for all other sports.
Expected to join the Golden Eagles and Storm in a proposed seven-team North Division are Arlington, Oak Harbor, Stanwood, Marysville-Getchell and Marysville-Pilchuck.
“You look at the schools in that division, and they’re all a lot like us,” Plenkovich said. “Most of the communities have one high school, like us. Even Marysville has a rural community feel, like we have. I think that gives us a great opportunity to build some strong rivalries against those schools.”
Ferndale and Squalicum also should be able to continue cultivating their traditional rivalries against 2A NWC foes, such as Lynden, in non-league games.
Most importantly, the move will allow the Golden Eagles and Storm to have a more realistic chance to advance to the state playoffs when they have a strong team.
Under the old format, where Ferndale was the only 3A school playing in the NWC, the Golden Eagles had no shot to earn a top seed out of the district and would be seeded among the Wesco teams according to their NWC 2A/3A win percentage.
That resulted in Ferndale having to face powerhouse Bellevue in the quad-district playoffs two of the past three years, including in 2015, when Ferndale had to take on Marysville-Pilchuck in a Tuesday play-in game just for the right to face the Wolverines four days later. In 2012, the Golden Eagles again had to face Bellevue in the first round of the state playoffs after receiving a lower seed (No. 3) out of the Northwest District.
By joining the Wesco, Ferndale and Squalicum will have an equal opportunity with the other 12 Wesco 3A teams to advance to the quad-district playoffs or even win a district title, because they will be playing what is expected to be a a full six-game Wesco schedule.
“I’m excited for us and our players to get to compete and really earn a seed into postseason,” Plenkovich said. “It’s been difficult the last few years with the arrangement, and rightfully so — we were the only 3A team up here.”
But don’t expect the Golden Eagles and Storm to waltz to district titles for the next four years — there are plenty of good 3A Wesco football programs.
Plenkovich said he expects there to be a learning curve while he and his coaching staff get to familiarized the styles, strengths and weaknesses of the teams they’ll now be playing every year.
“That can be refreshing game planning, too,” Plenkovich said. “I think this is an exciting opportunity for us, and I’m looking forward to building some new rivalries.”