County puts fresh spin on sports successes in 2013

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 28, 2013 

In many ways, 2013 was not all that different than 2012 when it comes to sports in Whatcom County.

The Lynden football team won yet another Class 2A state title, beating Tumwater in the state championship game for a second straight year.

The Western Washington University men's basketball team returned to the national stage.

The Bellingham girls' golf and Sehome boys' and girls' cross country teams continued their dominance by adding to their respective 2A state title collections.

Even the Squalicum girls' soccer team made a run back to the 2A state semifinals.

But 2013 was not an exact carbon copy of its predecessor. In some ways it was even better.

Many would consider the Lions' 2A football title a surprise after they graduated arguably the most talented class of student athletes the county has ever seen and returned only three starters.

Lynden also was joined in the Tacoma Dome on the first Saturday in December by Mount Baker, which itself returned only three players on each side of the ball but found a way to earn its first trip to a football state championship game in Class 1A.

WWU may not have repeated as national champions in 2013, but the Vikings also sent not one, but two other teams to the NCAA Division II national semifinals, as the men's basketball team was joined by the Western women's basketball and soccer teams.

Sehome not only swept the 2A state cross country team titles again in 2013, but it also swept the boys' and girls' track and field team titles in the spring, marking the first time in Washington Interscholastic Activities Association history that one school has owned those four titles in the same year, according to coach Kevin Ryan.

For the second straight year, Squalicum was joined in the 2A girls' soccer state semifinals by a city rival. This time it was surprising Bellingham, who met the Storm in a classic to decide which would play for the state title.

The year did have its share of heartbreak, too, as the Lynden and Lynden Christian boys' basketball teams made it back to the 2A and 1A state semifinals, respectively, only to see their hopes for title repeats end there.

But 2013 also saw a Whatcom County man fulfill a dream nine years in the making by breaking a Guinness World Record for padding in a 24-hour span, the retirement of a WWU legend, the county's high school Class of 2013 send 16 student athletes on to compete at the NCAA Division I level, Meridian alum Andrei Lintz earning a spot on the Seattle Seahawks' training camp roster and a Bellingham High alum begin the qualifying process to become just the fourth Bellingham-born athlete to compete in the Olympics.

It's certainly been a year that will be hard to forget. So before we hang the new 2014 calendar in a couple of days, let's take a look back at the biggest stories that made 2013 so memorable.

TOP 10 WHATCOM COUNTY SPORTS STORIES

Selected by vote of The Bellingham Herald Sports staff:

1. THREE-PEATS NO REPEAT

The record books will show that the Lynden football team won its third-straight Class 2A state football title and its sixth in eight years, but this was a completely different team. After the graduation of a strong senior class that was the backbone of the title runs in 2011 and 2012, the Lions returned just one starter on offense and two on defense. Making matters worse, Lynden lost its starting quarterback midway through the season to injury. But spurred by a stingy, hard-nosed defense, the Lions finished the regular season unbeaten and then started to get on a roll in the postseason, trouncing Kingston and Sumner in the first two rounds before out-slugging Ellensburg in a bitterly cold state semifinal. The defense again set the tone with a first-quarter fumble return for a touchdown in the title game, and Lynden held on for a 38-28 win over Tumwater to cap off Lynden's unbeaten season.

2. BLUE HEAVEN

Whatcom County basketball fans were treated to a first when the Western Washington University men's and women's basketball teams each finished ranked atop their respective NCAA Division II West Region polls and the NCAA granted the Vikings the right to host both regionals at Sam Carver Gymnasium. The home-court advantage paid off, as both teams cut down the nets with regional championship victories over GNAC rivals on a memorable night and headed off to the Elite Eight. For the men, it was their second-straight trip to the national quarterfinals, but their dream of a repeat national title came to an end with a 107-97 loss to eventual-champion Drury in the national semifinals. The women made their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2000, and they also advanced to the national semifinals before falling 66-54 to eventual champion Ashland.

3. CITY SOCCER SHOWDOWN

For the second straight year, the Squalicum girls' soccer team made it to the Class 2A state semifinals, and for the second straight year the Storm was joined in the Final Four by a Bellingham city rival. Bellingham, which was the last 2A team out of the Northwest Conference to make the postseason, went on a surprising run just to get through the 2A Bi-District Tournament and earn a trip to state. The Red Raiders then scored three goals in a 15-minute span to come back against Ridgefield in the first round and knocked off Archbishop Murphy to set up the all-city semifinal with Squalicum. Brooke Baker scored with five minutes remaining in the game to lift Bellingham to a 2-1 victory in a hard-fought rivalry game. The Storm found itself in the third-place game for the second-straight year, but managed to rebound to claim third while Bellingham finished second to repeat champion Sumner.

4. NEARLY TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

The Mount Baker football team really didn't know what to expect in 2013 after returning only three players on each side of the ball off a team that was the first in school history to make it to the state semifinals. It didn't take long for the Mountaineers to prove that this year's team was capable of getting back to the Dome. With a loss to 2A state champion Lynden its only blemish during the regular season, Mount Baker won the NWC 1A title and breezed through the first two rounds of the state playoffs to get back to the semifinals and even took an early lead in the game. But top-ranked Cascade Christian came back to tie the game and send it to overtime where the Mountaineers came up with a key defensive stop and Alex Tyska booted a 28-yard field goal to boost the team to its first state title game. Freeman ultimately proved too much with a 31-13 victory, ending the Mountaineers' hopes for a 1A title.

5. NINE YEARS AND 151.87 MILES

Nearly nine years earlier, local paddler Brandon Nelson began a quest to break the Guinness World Record for distance traveled paddling a canoe or kayak in a 24-hour period. He worked to design a boat for the event and made an attempt in 2006 only weeks after his mother died after battling cancer. He ended up paddling 147 miles, which he thought broke the old mark by nearly 10 miles. But Nelson was not given the record because a California paddler went 150.34 miles only days before Nelson's attempt. Seven years later, Nelson decided to take a much lower-key shot at that record, which still stood at 150.34 miles, on Aug. 20-21 at Lake Padden. Spurred on by the paddling community, Nelson battled a stomach illness, dehydration and "caffeine psychosis," as well as three falls of his surfski in the early-morning hours to paddle 151.87 miles. The record was certified by Guinness on Sept. 5.

6. CITY SCHOOLS WOW STATE

On a weekend that will be remembered for and Interstate 5 bridge collapsing into the Skagit River, the Bellingham city schools made quite a showing at the Class 2A State Track and Field Championships. Girls from the three city schools combined to win nine of the 18 events - Sehome's Emily Pittis in the 1,600 and 3,200, Hannah Tarleton in the 300 hurdles, Brianna Keane in the 800, Squalicum's Gina Flint in the discus and shot put, Bellingham's Alyssa Porter in the 100 and relay wins by Bellingham in the 4x100 and Sehome in the 4x200 and 4x400 - while the boys won five - Squalicum's Patrick Gibson in the 1,600, Sehome's Conner Johnsen in the 3,200, Reed Henderson in the 800 and Dylan Anderson in the pole vault and a relay win by the Squalicum 4x400 team. Sehome won both team titles, while the Bellingham girls (second) and Squalicum boys (fourth) each had strong finishes.

7. RED RAIDER REIGN

In an annual rite of spring just about as dependable as the trees blooming, the Bellingham girls' golf team claimed yet another Class 2A state title. This year's win marked the school's fifth straight and its 11th title in 12 years. Brooke Brannigan led the way by placing third individually for Bellingham. Teammate Jenn Paul was just one spot behind, while Audrey Orem and Madi McNeelly gave the Red Raiders four players in the top 10 and a 78-point margin of victory over second-place Fife. Brannigan and Orem are now freshmen for the Western Washington University women's golf team, and Paul, who is now a senior, has signed a letter of intent to join them next year. Bellingham was not the only Whatcom County team to succeed, as Willy Scholten finished fourth in the Class 1A boys' tournament to lead Lynden Christian to a second-place finish, and Blaine's Ryan Wallen finished second individually.

8. SWEEPING REPEAT

It wasn't all that surprising to see the Sehome girls' cross country team repeat as Class 2A state champions and win its seventh title in eight years. The Mariners, after all, were returning the core of their team, including two-time state champion Emily Pittis, and welcomed a new crop of freshmen standouts to the mix. What was surprising was that the Sehome boys' team joined them in repeating after that team graduated four key pieces off its 2012 title-winning team and suffered a number of injuries early this fall. But led by a seventh-place finish by Kirby Overman, Sehome managed to claim the boys' title, beating out second-place Squalicum 102-128. The Sehome girls, meanwhile, got second- and third-place finishes from Emily Pittis and Ellie Rowan-Arnett, respectively, and placed all five scoring runners in the top 16 to beat out second-place Bellingham 31-88 for a repeat sweep.

9. VIKINGS PLAY SOCCER, TOO

Following in the footsteps of the basketball teams eight months earlier, the Western Washington University women's soccer team advanced to the NCAA Division II national semifinals for the first time in school history. The Vikings, who had a nice mix of talented veterans and underclassmen, rolled through the regular season with a 16-1 record. Despite losing to Seattle Pacific on penalty kicks in the GNAC title game the Vikings got to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and avenged the loss to SPU with a 2-0 victory. When the top seed in the West Region fell earlier in the day, Western got to host the regional final, where it beat Cal State San Bernardino 1-0, and a national quarterfinal, where it beat St. Edward's 2-0. In the national semifinal, Kristen Maris evened the score with less than a minute remaining to send it to overtime, but defending champion West Florida won 2-1.

10. KILLING IT IN VOLLEYBALL

In one of the better years the county has seen on the volleyball court in recent history, five volleyball teams advanced to their respective state tournaments. Ferndale surprised by winning the tough Class 3A Northwest District Tournament title to advance to the 3A bracket. Sehome finished second to Burlington-Edison in both the NWC standings and the 2A Bi-District Tournament but advanced all the way to the state semifinals before ultimately bringing home the fourth-place trophy. Squalicum and Lynden also made it through to the 2A State Tournament, and despite first-round losses, met each other in the seventh/eighth-place match, with Squalicum coming out on top in four games. In the Class 1A State Tournament, Lynden Christian scored a hard-fought win over Connell in the first round, but fell in the quarterfinals. The Lyncs rebounded to bring home the fifth-place trophy.

CHRONOLOGICAL LOOK AT OTHER TOP COUNTY SPORTS STORIES

? Defending champs Lynden (2A) and Lynden Christian (1A) lose in boys' basketball semifinals

? Longtime WWU athletic director Lynda Goodrich retires

? Lynden baseball makes it back to Class 2A state quarterfinals

? Lynden Christian advances to the Class 1A state semifinals in boys' soccer

? Sehome's Avery West wins Class 2A boys' singles tennis title, while Andrea Clawson and Lauren Smith win 2A girls' doubles crown

? The Class of 2013 produces 16 student athletes that either received scholarships or walked on to NCAA Division I programs

? Meridian alum Andrei Lintz earns a spot on Seahawks training camp roster before being part of final round of cuts

? Civic Stadium gets new turf for start of football season, despite delays

? Ferndale alum Jake Locker starts the NFL season strong with the Tennessee Titans before injuries derail him

? Bellingham High alum Angeli VanLaanen begins her quest for spot in 2014 Winter Olympics in freestyle skiing halfpipe

Reach DAVID RASBACH at david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2271.

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