County sports continue to shine in 2014

Whatcom County once again proved to be the home of champions in 2014.

No fewer than 12 high school teams claimed state titles this year, though surprisingly the Lynden football team was not one of them. Though the Lions made it back to the Class 2A Gridiron Classic for a fourth straight year, Northwest Conference foe Sedro-Woolley ended their hopes of claiming their seventh crown in nine years.

Three Sehome teams were able to continue their dynasties, as the girls’ track and field team claimed its fourth straight title, the girls’ cross country team won its eighth in nine years and the boys’ cross country team claimed its fifth in seven years. The Lynden Christain girls’ basketball team gave legendary coach Curt De Haan a nice retirement gift, winning the program’s 10th state title, while Bellingham’s girls’ golf team won its 12th title in 13 years and the boys’ golf team won its second in five years.

There were also some new champions, such as the Lynden Christian volleyball, Squalicum girls’ soccer and Sehome girls’ tennis teams all won their first state championships, while the Blaine wrestling team claimed its first since 1990.

The High schools weren’t alone in tasting success, as the Bellingham Slam basketball team and Bellingham Bells baseball team both won league titles last summer. During the winter, Bellingham sent its first female Olympian to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, to compete in the new Olympic sport of freeskiing halfpipe.

A look at Whatcom County’s top 10 sports stories of 2014, as ranked by the Sports staff of The Bellingham Herald:

1. Mikey likes titles

Feb. 22

With his teammates pressing against the railing at the Tacoma Dome and cheering, “Mikey, Mikey, Mikey” during the final seconds of his match, Blaine senior wrestler Mikey Antczak not only won the Class 1A 285-pound state title with his 5-1 victory over Chewelah’s Dustin Olson at Mat Classic XXVI, he locked up the Borderites’ first team title since 1990. Antczak beat the defending state champion in the semifinals, and the door was opened for his heroics on the team side when Forks’ 220-pounder lost his championship match just before Antczak took the mat for the final match of the season. The Borderites ended up out pointing Forks 110.5 to 109. Blaine’s Jon Stewart also made the championship match at 160 pounds. Kyle Gonzales (106 pounds), Riley Fritsch (126), Anthony Frey (132), Caleb Frey (138), Christian Sharp (152 and Tristan Hunter (170) also medaled for Blaine.

2. A legend retires

March 18

One of the most successful coaches in Whatcom County history retired when Lynden Christian girls’ basketball coach Curt De Haan stepped down after 34 seasons. During that time, he led the Lyncs to 772 wins — the most wins by a high school girls’ basketball coach in state history — and compiled a .838 winning percentage (772-149). He also led the junior varsity program for four years from 1976-80, compliling a 71-1 mark. He led the varsity program to the state tournament 31 times, had 30 seasons with 20 or more wins and had a pair of undefeated teams in 1996 and 2008. He capped off his coaching career in style by coaching the Lyncs to an eight state title on March 8. Despite all the wins, player and coaches said they remembered more the lessons in life he taught them. De Haan remains as Lynden Christian’s athletic director and helped select his coaching replacement, former Lynden star Brady Bomber.

3. Finally Storming to a title

Nov. 22

After two years of falling short in the semifinals, the Squalicum girls’ soccer team finally got the trophy it coveted, by claiming the Class 2A state title — the first in program history. After losses to Sumner and crosstown rival Bellingham the previous two years, the Storm finally got over the semifinal hurdle with a 3-1 win over Ephrata, thanks to a quick start on Sarah Byron’s header in the fifth minute and a goal from Kim Dorr less than a minute later. A day later, the Storm got to pose with the gold soccer ball following a 2-1 win over Shorecrest. The Storm had to battle back from only its third deficit all season, thanks to second-half goals from Kim Hazlett and Dorr. The win not only exorcised Squalicum’s semifinal demons 22-0-1 season that saw the Storm outscore opponents by an average of 3.9 goals to 0.5 on its way to Northwest Conference and Class 2A Northwest District titles.

4. The 18th time is the charm

Nov. 15

Every year since 1997, Kim Grycel has guided her Lynden Christian girls’ volleyball team to the state tournament, and in 15 of those first 17 trips, the Lyncs have managed to bring home some hardware. But it was never the big trophy. That all changed this year. Riding the player Grycel called her “best ever,” the Lyncs stormed to the first state title in program history. Junior outside hitter Kara Bajema had 14 kills and 13 digs in the championship match, as LC dispatched with rival King’s 25-15, 25-22, 25-20 at the Yakima Valley SunDome to get onto the celebration. Madison Weg had 11 kills and 14 assists in the match, while Carli Tjoelker added 14 assists. Lynden Christian beat Bellevue Christian in the semifials earlier in the day to get to the title match for the first time in the program’s history, and that followed up wins over Kalama and Leavenworth Cascade in the first two rounds, as LC finished the season with just two losses.

5. A perfect Storm

May 31

The Storm girls weren’t the only soccer team from Squalicum to claim a Class 2A state title in 2014, as the boys got there a few months earlier. Unlike the girls’ title, the boys’ championship was the second in program history, but much like the girls, the boys proved there was simply nobody better in 2014. Riding a senior-laden, talent-heavy roster, Squalicum beat Capital 4-0 in the championship game, capping off a gallop through the state tournament that saw the Storm outscore its four opponents by a combined score of 19-0 and end the season without allowing a goal in its final 16 games. Freshman Tyler Huges broke a scorless tie in the 43rd minute with his first of two goals that opened the floodgates, as Zach Wallace would add a header and Gabe Guidroz would score his team-leading 11th of the season. Like the girls, the boys finished the season without a loss (21-0-2), as they too claimed NWC and district titles.

6. Championship Lyncs

March 8

In what proved to be the its final game under the direction of legendary coach Curt De Haan, the Lynden Christian girls’ basketball team pulled away from upset-minded King’s to claim the program’s 10th state title and its first since 2008 with a 55-40 victory. After jumping out to an early lead, the Lyncs watched the Knights trim their advantage to as little as two points late in the third quarter, before pulling away in the fourth. LC got seven points each from Courtney Hollander and Sally Vlas, who stepped in to replace three-year starter Mikayla Lancaster after she went down with a knee injury in the state quarterfinals. Leading scorer Kara Bajema added six points for LC in the title game. The Lyncs suffered only two losses all season, and got to atone for one of them by beating Cashmere 31-26 in the state semifinals, one day after beating Granger 63-40 in the quarterfinals, as LC also claimed NWC, district and tri-district titles.

7. Storm’s Sweet 16

Nov. 8

Squalicum made a surprising coaching change following the 2013 football season, bringing in Nick Lucey, a man with college coaching experience at New Mexico State, Simon Fraser and Washington State. Lucey, the son of a longtime coach, didn’t take long to make his mark on the Storm program, as he guided the team to its first state playoff appearance and a school-record nine wins. After finishing third in the ultra-competitive Northwest Conference behind only the two teams that would eventually meet for the Class 2A state championship — Sedro-Woolley and Lynden — the Storm went to Everett and dismantled Archbishop Murphy 44-16 win to clinch the program’s first trip to state in its 16 years of existence. Just making it to state wasn’t enough, though, as Squalicum ripped Orting 45-7 in the first round before falling to top-ranked and defending state runner up Tumwater in the state quarterfinals.

8. Record-setting Mariners

May 31

Everywhere one looked at the Nordstrom Tennis Center last Memorial Day weekend, there seemed to be a girl wearing green and gold on a tennis court. The Mariners swept the bid from the Class 2A Northwest District Tournament, following a dominating regular season, and kept thing rolling at the state tournament in Seattle as they set a state record by earning 40 points to run away with the 2A team title. It was an all-Sehome final in the doubles draw, as Lizzie Friesen and Simone Hall beat Maddison and Taylor Harris in three sets, while Natalie Knops and Emily Webster finished sixth. On the singles side, Lauren Smith advanced to the championship match before falling to Yakima West Valley’s Chloe Goyette in straight sets. Ali Morrow placed fifth, while Andrew Clawson advanced to the quarterfinals before suffering two straight losses. The Mariners’ team title marked only the second in Whatcom County history, joining Lynden’s from 2008.

9. Golden smile

Feb. 20

Angeli VanLaanen, a 2004 graduate of Bellingham High School who grew up on the slopes at Mt. Baker Ski Area, became just the fourth Bellingham-born athlete to compete in the Olympics at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. VanLaanen, who has since moved back to Bellingham after living in Colorado and Utah to train, was the first female Bellingham Olympian and the city’s first Winter Olympic representative, when she competed in the new Olympic sport of freesking halfpipe. Making VanLaanen’s story even more remarkable is that she returned to the slopes only a year earlier after being forced off the slopes for three years so she could receive treatment for Lyme disease. VanLaanen cemented her spot on the U.S. Ski Team by winning the final qualifying event in early February. At Sochi, VanLaanen made it through qualifying, but fell on her third trick on her first run on the final. She ended up 11th, but said it didn’t take anything away from her Olympic experience.

10. Ring up the Bells

Aug. 18

The Bellingham Bells celebrated their first West Coast League championship since the league’s inception in 2005, as they claimed a series-clinching 3-2 win over defending champion Corvallis. The Bells finished the season 41-18, marking only the fourth time in the history of the college summer league that a team finished with more than 40 wins. After winning the West Division title with the league’s best record, the Bells swept Yakima Valley in two games to advance to the championship series. They then fell to Corvallis in the championship series opener, but rebounded to win Game 2 4-1, setting up the clincher in Game 3. Reliever Moises Cera got the win, as he came on with Corvallis threatening to add to the two runs they pushed across in the fourth inning. Shortstop Chris Baker started a three-run rally for Bellingham in the bottom half of the fourth, and that proved to be all the Bells would need.

Other noteworthy stories from 2014

• Lynden takes defending champion Pullman to overtime in Class 2A boys’ basketball state title game.

• Steve Card selected new athletic director at WWU.

• Bellingham, Squalicum name new football coaches.

• Bellingham sweeps Class 2A team golf titles.

• Mount Baker advances to Class 1A softball state championship game.

• WWU sophomore Bethany Drake and Katie Reichert finish 1-2 in javelin at NCAA Division II Track and Field National Championships.

• Sehome wins Class 2A girls’ track title for fourth straight year.

• Bellingham Slam wins third straight IBL championship.

• WWU opens new on-campus soccer field.

• Bellingham coaching legend Mal Walton dies.

• Bellingham hosts Trail Half Marathon National Championship.

• Sehome sweeps Class 2A state cross country titles for second straight year, and Emily Pitts wins third individual state title.

• Lynden football makes it to the Class 2A state title game for fourth straight year, but loses to Sedro-Woolley.