Despite gloomy and overcast skies, Blaine High School’s winter sports coaches expressed sunny optimism regarding their upcoming seasons.
Daily practice started Monday, November 12 for wrestling and boys and girls basketball with competition beginning next week. With talented rosters and preseason improvement, all three coaches have good reason to be nothing but positive about the season ahead.
Here are some predictions for Borderite winter sports, including athletes to watch out for, opponents to prepare for and games to show up for:
Veteran head coach Craig Foster said he was happy to see a large turnout for wrestling this year, with 37 athletes on the roster, compared to the usual 25 or so. With five or six returning wrestlers who did well at the state tournament in Tacoma last year, and a host of others who have the potential to compete at the state level, Foster said the team is well balanced.
“Usually if you have some state-level guys you’re going to have a decent tournament team,” Foster said. “As far as dual meets where you have to fill 14 weights, I feel like our numbers make us fairly well balanced in that way too. We’re going to have a few weights that are green, young or inexperienced athletes, but for the most part we should be fairly experienced.”
That experience will come in handy against rival Mt. Baker. After finishing first in the Northwest Conference last year, Mt. Baker dropped to class 1A along with Blaine, which finished second.
“We have a great rivalry, we battle hard with them,” Foster said. “We might go on a run and beat them for two or three years, and then they’ve beaten us the last couple years. I think it’s neck-and-neck, a really even battle, which is good because they’ll keep us on our toes for the post-season.”
Some of the dominant wrestlers who will impact the mats this year include Caleb Johnson, Justin Belding, Kyle Gonzalez, Mike Antczak, Jon Stewart and Christian Sharp. Johnson placed fifth in the state last year, and will be competing in the 220 lb. weight class. Antczak, a heavyweight who competed twice at the state level as a freshman and sophomore in a weight class dominated by seniors, is expected to thrive as an experienced junior. Belding and Stewart put in a lot of training in the off-season, Foster said, and Gonzalez and Sharp are expected to have an impact in their weight classes as well.
The lone girl on the team, sophomore Olivia Adams, also has state tournament experience and wants to build on last year’s success.
Johnson, Belding and Stewart are the team captains.
All in all, the wrestling talent pool looks to be both broad and deep this year. “That skill and experience will be necessary to compete in a tough 1A class,” Foster said.
“I’m not selling 1A short,” he said. “They’ve got some great competition here. Mt. Baker won the whole Northwest Conference last year, and they’re in it with us.”
The wrestling team’s first competition is the Mariner Tournament Saturday, December 1 at Mariner High School in Everett.
With only 12 athletes on the varsity squad, and coming off a 4-16 season, the boys’ basketball team may feel like no one expects much of them this year. According to head coach Shaun Pike, they just might turn some heads.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year,” Pike said. “People are overlooking us, but that’s the way I like it.”
Pike added that a majority of last year’s varsity squad graduated, which he sees as a good thing because the new squad seems to be buying into a positive, energetic team outlook.
“We only have two, maybe three, guys who played any varsity minutes last year, so it’s a real inexperienced team in that respect,” Pike said. “But at the same time, everyone’s on board and working hard as a team. It’s tough to tell how it’s going to turn out, but they’re showing lots of energy and a full-team effort.”
Pike said he’s expecting fierce competition from Lynden Christian and Lynden, who were 1A and 2A state champions last year, respectively. Lynden Christian center Isaac Reimer, who was named last year’s All-State Player of the Year by sportswriters statewide, will be returning as a senior, making the Lyncs a formidable obstacle. With a good summer showing, Meridian is looking tough this year as well.
But the Blaine boys are showing some preseason vigor that bodes well for the season. “They’re hungry, ready to play and taking things to heart,” Pike said of his varsity squad. “They’re 100 percent energy, and that’s going to help us have a good year this year.”
Preseason standouts include shooting guard Gabe Trump, small forward Zach Rector, point guard Ivan Sanchez and shooting guard Jericho Trobadora. The first game is on the road Friday, November 30 at Seaville.
This year’s varsity girls’ basketball team has no seniors, three juniors – and a new coach. To say they’re young and inexperienced is an understatement, but the opportunity for growth is unprecedented. According to coach Ryan Pile, they’re off to a fast start.
“We’ve got 12 practices before our first game, and we’re trying to get as much as we can into those practices,” Pile said. “It’s a lot of learning, but so far the girls have taken it pretty well. It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come already over the last five days.”
With new terminology from a new coach, and plays that are new to most of the girls, the team has some adapting to do.
“They’re really young, so we’re going to rely on a couple of people who played c-team last year to get the minutes,” Pile said. “Three girls who are juniors were starters last year, and another girl got a lot of good quality minutes. She was the first one off the bench. I don’t have a fifth starter yet; I’m not sure who I’m going to use. Many girls on the team haven’t had varsity experience. It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt to the fast style of play that’s going to happen. We’ve gotta figure it out fast, and go with it.”
The lady Borderites face a relentless schedule, with the first three games (Concrete, Sedro-Wooley and Ferndale) in the space of a week starting Tuesday, November 27. Pile said he expected Ferndale to be a good test, but all six 1A teams will be battling fiercely.
“I’d have to say our biggest competition is going to be Nooksack and Lynden Christian because those are the teams we’ll be fighting for a playoff spot,” Pile said. “Baker is in there as well, but all six 1A schools have a fair shot at playoffs.”
Pile predicted that Mandy Hayes, Alexis McElwain, Taylor V’Dobic, Breanna Chau, Olivia Olason, Rhiana Breedlove and Mikayla Deming will be stepping up into leadership roles this season.
“So far it looks like everyone is having fun,” he said. “Being a new coach with a young team, I think it will work out that we can kind of grow together. If we can grow together, I think we can have a lot of success.”