Was it just me, or did the high school winter sports season pass by more quickly than a Britney Spears marriage?
It’s almost a shame to see basketball, wrestling and boys swimming end so quickly. From the start of the first official practices in late November until the end of the state basketball tournaments this weekend, we’re talking about a span of 109 days.
Of course, that’s 106 days longer than Spears’ first marriage to Jason Alexander, so maybe we shouldn’t complain.
The end of winter sports, naturally, marks the appearance of my latest self-chosen awards column. There’s lots to get to, so I’ll stop writing about overrated pop singers and their love lives.
• Most Valuable Player: It’s a really close call, but I’ve got to give the nod to Peninsula wrestler Casey Larson, who finished up an extraordinary career on Feb. 16 at Mat Classic XXV.
Larson is a three-time state medalist — eighth as a sophomore, fourth as a junior, second as a senior — and he finished 35-6 during his final year with the Seahawks.
The News Tribune honored him as an All-Area selection at 152 pounds, a division that featured several standouts from the South Sound, including Enumclaw’s Justin Mitchell, North Thurston’s Marcus Ulloth and Orting’s Beau Gore.
Peninsula coach Mark Nickels summed up Larson’s career succinctly following the Mat Classic.
“I just let him know how proud we are of what he has done and what he has meant to the program,” Nickels said. “From the get-go, he has done everything right.”
Other considerations: Taylor Talen, Gig Harbor girls basketball; Evan Indahl, Gig Harbor boys swimming; Caleb Riggs, Peninsula boys swimming.
• Outstanding freshman: This category has a pretty clear-cut winner, and it’s Peninsula boys basketball player JaQuori McLaughlin.
I’ve been hearing about McLaughlin for about two years — his dad, Jason, runs the Gig Harbor-based Gym Rats program — and the terrific crop of freshmen who entered the Seahawks’ program in 2012.
JaQuori certainly wasn’t perfect as a ninth-grader — he can improve his ballhandling and instincts against more experienced defenders — but he’s got a buttery-smooth jump shot and is smart enough to pass when opponents choose to double-team him.
Other considerations: McKenzie Alton, Gig Harbor girls basketball; Griffin Doane, Gig Harbor boys swimming.
• Best team: Based on how they finished at crunch time, there’s no denying coach Mike Kelly’s swimmers at Gig Harbor deserve this distinction.
Sure, the Tides didn’t quite reach the Class 4A podium as a top-four finisher, but that’s really due to the quality teams they faced at the state championships rather than anything the Tides did wrong.
Kelly’s program has been a model of consistency the past five seasons, placing in the top 10 at state each time, including this year’s fifth-place finish.
Next season has the potential to be just as good with one of the state’s best returning freestyle sprinters in Erik Nielsen, and guys like Kellen Furrer, Jackson Curtis and Griffin Doane growing a year wiser and stronger.
Other considerations: Peninsula wrestling, Gig Harbor girls basketball.
• Best coach: It would be easy to recognize Gig Harbor’s Bob Boback, who had a serious reclamation project on his hands when the Tides started the season 0-7. The team wound up finishing the regular season on a 9-4 surge, and it qualified for the girls bi-district tournament. Boback was named the 4A Narrows League’s Coach of the Year.
But I’m going across town for my choice.
Steve Jacobson won only three games in his first season as Peninsula’s girls coach, but year two showed drastic improvement. The Seahawks finished 10-10, and they weren’t far away from winning more than the two league games they managed to get.
They also beat Gig Harbor for the first time in Boback’s 16 seasons, and Jacobson’s influence has extended beyond basketball skills.
When Auburn Mountainview senior Aly Carr sustained a season-ending knee injury, the Seahawks arranged to have her take the floor for her final home game and receive the opening tip.
That’s a big reason why Peninsula won its league’s sportsmanship award.
• Best victory: Evan Indahl nearly went his entire high-school swimming career without winning a state title. The Gig Harbor senior was the top seed in two events after the state preliminary heats, but he saw his shot in the 200-yard individual medley go up in smoke when Stadium’s Logan Rysemus clicked into fifth gear.
Indahl wasn’t going to be denied in the 500 freestyle. He let Kamiak’s John Stupey set the pace for 300 yards, and then Indahl let his superior endurance and finishing kick take over. His reaction at the finish line was pure elation, arms flailing and splashing.
“It was unreal; I have no words to describe that feeling,” Indahl said. “Everything just fell into place so perfectly.”
Other considerations: Peninsula boys basketball upsets Decatur; Gig Harbor girls basketball upsets Yelm; Gig Harbor swimming defeats Stadium for Narrows dual crown.Sports Editor Neil Pierson can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_neil.