Finding local competition isn't an easy task for Blaine golfer Ryan Wallen.
Ever since he entered the Whatcom County golfing scene and stunned the state by firing a 68 on the first day of the 2010 Class 2A State Tournament, Wallen has been racking up Northwest Conference medalist honors with ease.
But he's aware his skill will take him further than the high school ranks, and that's all the motivation the Blaine junior needs.
So, instead of being satisfied with medalist honors, Wallen is more focused on competing against himself and the golf course.
"Every year at the start of the season I have my kids set goals, and I think Ryan takes that on as a challenge," Blaine coach Steve Barthlow said in a phone interview. "He sets some pretty high goals for himself to try to achieve. He did an awesome job, and I think it's good he challenges himself in that way."
Wallen made it known he wanted to lower his average score, win districts, claim first at the Birger Solberg Tournament and successfully defend his Class 2A state title during Barthlow's goal-setting exercise.
"It's huge," Wallen said of setting goals for himself. "That's kind of something that has been taught to me. Based on whether you achieve those goals, you can look at them at the end of the season and see what you need to practice on. I like setting goals high, because it gives you something to work for."
Wallen reached all but one of his goals - defending his 2011 state title.
Even though he placed second, he felt his performance warranted a first-place trophy.
"I felt like I actually hit the ball better than anybody else," Wallen said. "My short game just wasn't where it was all year. Tyler (Carlson) played really well, though. You have to give it to him."
The Blaine junior's accomplishments included a Northwest District Tournament win by five strokes, a win at the Birger Solberg Tournament, an average score in league matches of 72.7 - the best mark in the NWC and a second-place finish at the Class 2A State Tournament.
For another excellent season, Wallen is The Bellingham Herald's Boys' Golfer of the Year. Mount Baker coach Chad Hoidal, who helped the Mountaineers win their first district title in program history and played a hand in qualifying five golfers for state, has been selected Coach of the Year.
Despite winning a state title last spring and averaging a score of 77.7 during league play, Wallen said he wasn't too surprised with his ability to lower his average score by five strokes.
"I thought overall (the season) went really good, not only for me but for the team," Wallen said. "We have a really young team, and they improved a lot. As far as individually, I met every goal I had except for winning a state title. ... I wasn't really surprised (with my improvements). I've grown like six inches over the last year, and I put on a lot more muscle. My whole game is up a lot from last year."
Barthlow certainly saw the improvements in Wallen's game.
"I think he was definitely more and more consistent off the tee," Barthlow said. "He had the utmost confidence in his driver. Playing some of the tournaments, he'd hit with his driver while some of the other kids were using 3-woods or irons. He believes in his game. I've stated it before, but I think that's one thing that sets him aside from other golfers."
Wallen knows there's a whole lot more talent outside of his Whatcom County bubble.
"I'm always looking at the big scheme of things," Wallen said. "In high school golf there isn't a crazy amount of talented golfers. There's a lot of elite players out there and outside of the U.S. My long-term goal is to earn a college scholarship. It's one thing to go and win high school tournaments, but you have to keep going to be able to compete at the college level."
Wallen performance rate is skyrocketing in a manner that would make most college recruiters salivate, but even more so than his play or mental game, Barthlow said Wallen contains a special something unique to top-caliber golfers.
"I don't know (what makes him such a talent), but If I knew I'd bottle it and probably retire, "Barthlow said.
With his senior year still ahead, Barthlow will get one more year to figure it out.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY TEAM
BOYS' GOLF ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
2012: Ryan Wallen, Blaine
2011: Ryan Wallen, Blaine
2010: James Hiester, Bellingham
2009: Matt Rawitzer, Squalicum
2008: Matt Rawitzer, Squalicum
2007: Matt Rawitzer, Squalicum
2006: Matt Rawitzer, Squalicum
This is the seventh in a series of packages honoring the standout student-athletes of the 2012 high school spring sports season. The All-Whatcom County teams and Athletes of the Year are selected by the Sports staff of The Bellingham Herald. Here is a look at the dates this season's teams will run:
Girls' tennis: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
Boys' soccer: Heath Sowers, Ferndale
Softball: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
Baseball: Jordan Kreider, Lynden
Girls' golf: Brooke Branigan, Bellingham
Boys' golf: Ryan Wallen, Blaine
Girls' track and field: Coming June 16
Boys' track and field: Coming June 17
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.