Welcome to the Central Washington Athletic Conference, the amazing shrinking league of schools.

While it was trapped in COVID hibernation for the last year, the Class 2A CWAC, which had 10 members when last in full action, has undergone two significant contractions.

While that was planned, what happened next certainly wasn’t. Deep into the pandemic, the state created multi-county COVID regions, sending Ephrata and Othello to other parts of Eastern Washington to develop plans for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

That left the CWAC with five members — East Valley, Selah, Ellensburg, Grandview and Prosser — to make the best of it and they have started doing exactly that, leading the Valley’s return to high school athletics on Tuesday. The CWAC was able to jump out quickly when our region was elevated to Phase 2 because it was the only local league willing to brave a Feb. 1 start to practices, the earliest date the WIAA allowed in its modified three-season format.

Based on the CWAC’s framework, its fall season will run through March 20 and then give way a seven-week spring season. Winter sports will then run April 26 through June 12. No WIAA state competitions will be held.

But the games have finally returned, albeit with extensive protocols and limited spectators, and September has by unfortunate necessity become February. Here’s a little of what to expect in the CWAC:

FOOTBALL: Tonight we’ll have our first Friday Night Lights in the dead of winter when Prosser hosts Selah at Fiker Stadium.

The Mustangs, who won the CWAC district title and reached the state quarterfinals in 2019, could have been a legit title contender last fall with seven all-leaguers back and the return of Haden Hicks.

Quarterback Kaiden Rivera was a revelation in ‘19 as a sophomore, nearly breaking a vaunted school record with a 440-yard game, and with Hicks back at wide receiver the offense, which returns seven starters, will be formidable. The defense will be anchored by an experienced secondary that includes two-way all-leaguer Brock Weinmann.

Selah returns Rollin Levon, who set a school record with a 346-yard game as a junior and earned all-league honors at outside linebacker.

East Valley, which opens Monday at home against Grandview, averaged nearly four touchdowns a game in ‘19 and returns playmakers Tyler Stone, Erik Navarro, and Aiden Estill, the North’s offensive MVP at quarterback.

Each team will get four league games with one nonleague date. Selah will host Southridge on March 5, and Prosser closes at Sunnyside on March 19.

VOLLEYBALL: Four-time league champion Ellensburg put its 26-match win streak on the line against rival Selah on Thursday.

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Both teams had all-league freshmen outside hitters in 2019 — Taylor Kieser for the Vikings and Abby Harrell for the Bulldogs.

Ellensburg, last season’s state runner-up, will definitely have a new look after graduating four all-CWAC seniors and losing junior Reaghan Naboychik to a knee injury. Selah will lean on the senior leadership of Addison Scott and Sydney Wells.

Prosser tied for third last season and returns two all-league seniors, although Grace Meirndorf is slowly returning for a long illness.

Three of the five CWAC teams have new coaches — Ellensburg’s Jesse Stueckle, East Valley’s Mikel Brewer and Grandview’s Orejeona Jeffrey.

GIRLS SOCCER: Selah and Ellensburg were the top teams in 2019 and they will square off on Saturday in a noon match at Sozo Sports Complex.

While the Vikings graduated three-time CWAC offensive MVP Isabelle Moultray they do return first-team forward Chloe Andrews and two other all-leaguers from a squad that went unbeaten in league and earned a fourth-place state trophy.

Not only does Ellensburg return five all-leaguers but they have a fully healthy Dylan Philip, an all-leaguer as a freshman who scored four goals in Tuesday’s season opener.

All teams will take a break from league play during the first week of March and will play two or three matches against CBBN teams.

CROSS COUNTRY: The CWAC has two of the state’s best juniors — Ellensburg’s Kate Laurent and Selah’s Cooper Quigley, who in 2019 were the fastest sophomores at the Class 2A state meet.

Laurent placed fourth at state as the Bulldogs captured the team title, which included a podium finish by freshman Rylee Leishman. Quigley finished sixth in the boys state race and earlier this month ran a 4,000-meter time trial in 13:58.

The league will use the 4K distance for all its meets and conclude the season with a championship race.

GIRLS SWIMMING: Selah’s Katie Ramos ranked among Valley leaders in four events as a sophomore in 2019, and teammate Isabella Vick placed in the top three at district in two freestyle events as a freshman.

The Vikings should have some stout relays with Ramos and Vick joined by Gabrielle Young, who was third in the district breaststroke as a freshman.