Top sports stories of 2019

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    Photo by NORM and KELLY SEE Ridge Lovett of Post Falls holds up four fingers after winning his fourth state wrestling title in February at Holt Arena in Pocatello.

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    Courtesy photo The North Idaho College men’s basketball team celebrates after winning the 2019 Northwest Athletic Conference tournament championship in March in Everett, Wash.

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    MARK NELKE/Press North Idaho College pitcher Madi Mott shows the championship trophy to her teammates after the Cardinals won the Northwest Athletic Conference softball tournament Monday, beating Edmonds 9-1 at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.

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    Coeur d'Alene's Jake Brown dives over the pylon for a touchdown against Rigby in the 5A Idaho State Championship game Saturday at the Kibbie Dome. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Photo courtesy IHSAA Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy won its fourth straight state 3A girls soccer championship in October.

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    Photo by NORM and KELLY SEE Ridge Lovett of Post Falls holds up four fingers after winning his fourth state wrestling title in February at Holt Arena in Pocatello.

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    Courtesy photo The North Idaho College men’s basketball team celebrates after winning the 2019 Northwest Athletic Conference tournament championship in March in Everett, Wash.

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    MARK NELKE/Press North Idaho College pitcher Madi Mott shows the championship trophy to her teammates after the Cardinals won the Northwest Athletic Conference softball tournament Monday, beating Edmonds 9-1 at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.

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    Coeur d'Alene's Jake Brown dives over the pylon for a touchdown against Rigby in the 5A Idaho State Championship game Saturday at the Kibbie Dome. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Photo courtesy IHSAA Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy won its fourth straight state 3A girls soccer championship in October.

Lovett, Post Falls High wrestlers dominate again

Trying to conclude a perfect high school career with a fourth state title, Post Falls High senior Ridge Lovett moved up three weight classes this year.

Part of it was for the good of the team; part of it is so he could challenge himself.

“We sent two guys to state at 132 (pounds) this year, so had I stayed there, somebody wouldn’t have been here,” Lovett said. “I wanted to wrestle the best, and that’s how you get better is pushing yourself.”

Lovett, who won at 98, 113 and 126 pounds his first three seasons, moved up to 145 pounds and ended up facing Centennial’s Ryan Wilson in the state finals, something he knew was coming in November.

“Him and I are good friends,” Lovett said of Wilson. “I had to wrestle up a little, and he’s a big, strong kid and he’s been wrestling tough. ”

Lovett closed out his high school career with a 2-1 decision over Wilson in the state title match, capping his high school career with a 169-0 record.

Lovett, now wrestling as a freshman at Nebraska, is the fourth wrestler in the state of Idaho to complete a perfect career, joining Marsh Valley’s Monte Lish (76-0), Chris Owens (123-0) and Sandpoint’s Jared Lawrence (133-0).

“Ridge has meant everything to this program,” Post Falls coach Pete Reardon said. “He’s put in tons of time over the years into the sport and his accomplishments. He loves his teammates and loves being a part of it. It’s a great accomplishment for him. To be undefeated, it’s amazing.”

Lovett was joined by fellow Post Falls state champions in sophomores Lane Reardon (120 pounds) and Isaac Jessen (126), junior A.J. De La Rosa (138) and senior Wyatt Shelly (170).

Post Falls won its fourth state team title in five seasons.

Coeur d’Alene was second with two champions — senior Payton Keough (132) and freshman Gunner Giulio (152).

Lake City was fourth with one champion — junior Caden Hess (106) — and brought home the school’s first trophy from state wrestling by finishing fourth.

In 4A, Lakeland senior Sam Edelblute won his third state title — this one at 126.

North Idaho College

The Cardinals made lots of news this year — some on the field (or in the gym), some off.

In January, NIC fired wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb in the middle of his 22nd season.

Whitcomb said he believes he was fired for speaking out over possible rights and security violations the college was allegedly committing against NIC students and employees, not for academic integrity violations as the college stated.

Among the concerns Whitcomb said he expressed was a lack of ADA-mandated access for a double-amputee wrestler inside Christianson Gymnasium. A video posted on the internet showed someone carrying the double-amputee up the stairs of the gymnasium, where the wrestling room is.

Whitcomb filed an intent to sue the college for alleged damages.

Under Whitcomb, NIC won four national titles and produced 18 individual national champions and 108 All-Americans. He was honored as National Coach of the Year twice and Region 18 Coach of the Year eight times. Whitcomb is a member of the NJCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame and NIC Hall of Fame.

As an athlete, Whitcomb won national titles for NIC in 1986 and 1987.

Assistant Brandon Richardson finished out the season as interim head coach.

Mike Sebaaly, head coach at Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland, Kan., the past five seasons, was named to replace Whitcomb as head coach.

In March, the NIC men’s basketball team rolled to its second straight Northwest Athletic Conference tournament title.

But shortly after the season, the NWAC began an investigation into the program, and found the following violations:

• using booster club funds to pay for housing during the summers of 2017 and 2018;

• using booster club funds without NIC Business Office oversight; and

• operating basketball camps in violation of NWAC rules.

As a result, the Cardinals were forced to vacate their two league championships, and are banned from postseason play for the next three seasons.

Head coach Corey Symons was not allowed to coach the Cardinals in their first 10 games of this season against NWAC foes.

NIC appealed the findings, saying some of the investigation’s findings were inaccurate, that the sanctions were excessive in relation to the findings, and that the probe appears to have been influenced by inaccurate allegations reported by a “biased and disgruntled former employee” just before the investigation.

Less than a month after the sanctions were announced, NIC athletic director Al Williams announced his retirement. Williams had been AD at NIC since 2003. Williams helped transition the Cardinals from the NJCAA to the regionally based NWAC, excluding wrestling, from 2014 to 2016.

In November, former Community Colleges of Spokane administrator Bobby Lee was hired as AD.

In May, NIC won the NWAC softball tourney title for the second straight year, beating Edmonds Community College 9-1 in the title game at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.

Pitcher Madi Mott, now at NCAA Division II Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla., led the Cardinals to both titles. NIC finished 38-9-1 this season. In 2018, NIC won its final 23 games and finished 50-3.

“Last year was pretty special, because it was the first,” said NIC coach Don Don Williams, who started the Cardinals’ program in 1998. “This year was different. We started slow, and had adversity, we had a whole new infield, and it took a lot of time to get us firing on all cylinders. It took a lot of trust, getting my players to trust the process. It was a slower climb this year than last year, but I’m so proud of the girls on what they did and how they accomplished it.”

Later, Williams left NIC to become head coach at NCAA Division I Southern Utah University in Cedar City.

“I’d always said I’d leave when it was a perfect fit at the perfect time,” she said. “I love the athletic director (Debbie Corum) and the vision she has for the program and what she stands for. And it’s a chance to compete at the Big Sky level, and thought it was a good fit for me.”

Williams coached 53 All-Region players during the Cardinals’ time in the NJCAA’s Scenic West Athletic Conference, winning Region 18 titles in 2006 and 2007. In 2007, Williams was named National Fastpitch Coaches Association Western Region Coaching Staff of the Year.

Williams’ career record at NIC was 694-475-3.

Shay Fuson, a former NIC player who was a Cardinals assistant coach the past six seasons, was named head coach, replacing Williams.

Coeur d’Alene Charter girls win fourth straight state soccer title

Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy scored three goals in a 12-minute span midway through the first half, and went on to beat Sugar-Salem 3-0 in the championship game of the state 3A high school girls soccer tournament in October at Middleton High.

It was the fourth straight state title for Coeur d’Alene Charter (18-1-0), and the fifth in six years.

“You could just feel it was going to happen,” Charter coach Stacy Smith said of the scoring spree. “We had the pressure, and they were just kind of frantic.”

Charter outscored its opponents 147-5 this season, with 14 shutouts. The Panthers are 72-4-2 over the past four seasons — all under Smith, a former Lake City assistant.

“I think I’m a little bit in awe,” she said. “I knew these were talented girls. Sometimes you wonder if a team is going to get complacent, and they didn’t. My seniors were just as hungry as they were when they were freshmen.”

“It has been a privilege to play for this team,” said senior Sandy Faulkner, a four-year starter in the midfield. “We are humble, and it also gives us an edge over other teams. We don’t expect to win, we just know what we have to do.”

“Even though we do have that background of winning state a lot, we know something unexpected could happen,” added junior Sarah Hines, a three-year starter at forward. “We have to prepare and fight and earn everything we get.”?

Coeur d’Alene Little League provides another memorable summer

Before the summer of 2018, Coeur d’Alene had never qualified for the Little League World Series.

In August, a Coeur d’Alene team nearly made it back to Williamsport, Pa., for the second straight year.

But Sprague Little League of Salem, Ore., scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to edge Coeur d’Alene 5-4 in the Northwest Regional championship game in San Bernardino, Calif.

Sprague scored the tying run when the runner dashed home from third when Coeur d’Alene thought time had been called. The Salem team scored the go-ahead run on an error.

About that controversial play ...

A Sprague player had doubled with one out, and advanced to third on a groundout to the pitcher.

That appeared to be it for the play, but with the Coeur d’Alene pitcher on the mound waiting for the next batter and the catcher away from home plate, talking to the umpire, the runner from third suddenly dashed home to tie the game.

ESPN’s cameras even missed it live.

“It all happened pretty quick,” Coeur d’Alene manager Robin Franklin recalled a few days later. “I was in the dugout, pacing as you can probably imagine (one out from Williamsport), and I just heard screaming and I looked up and saw the kid crossing the plate.

“My coaches indicated to me that it was a dead ball. I saw that the umpires had moved into a dead ball position. The home plate umpire had been talking to our catcher, so I went out and told him I thought it was a dead ball, and he disagreed, and I said ‘I don’t understand, you’re standing there with your catcher’s mask under your arm, dead ball, pitcher steps out in front of the plate and next thing you know, all heck breaks loose. There’s a lot of different opinions on what happened.”

Looking back, Franklin chose to take the high road.

“It all goes back to taking care of the baseball, and we just didn’t do it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

The core of this Coeur d’Alene team has played together for three years — a few of them for four years. As a 10U team, Cd’A lost in the state playoffs, then won the state 11U title last year and won again this year in the 12U division.

Franklin, 54, coached this group — which includes his son, Tanner — all three years.

“I think the thing I’ll remember is how close they were as a team,” Franklin said of this Coeur d’Alene group. “They never fought with each other, they never pointed fingers at each other, they were also very caring and literally like brothers to each other. That’s what I’ll remember the most.”

Rain shortens state softball tourneys in Kootenai County

On a bizarre May weekend which included a 26-hour rain delay, a shortened tournament and a farmer burning one of the infields to help it dry out faster, Lake City came up just short in its bid to parlay an undefeated regular season into a state title.

But amid all that craziness, and before the tears, came an “Oh my God” moment for the ages at Post Falls High.

Down to their last out in a de facto quarterfinal game against Eagle, Ashley Kaufman belted a game-tying two-run homer, and the Timberwolves went on to stun the Mustangs 4-3 in eight innings.

“I was originally thinking, get a base hit, a line drive, just get on base — just like we were taught by (head coach) Jesse (Lenz),” a teary-eyed Kaufman said moments after the dramatic blast. “It just happened, so I couldn’t be happier right now.”

But alas, Lake City was unable to carry that momentum into the semifinal game, where the T-Wolves managed one hit off Oakleigh Kearby of Mountain View in a 1-0 loss that ended their season.

“2019 was memorable,” Lake City coach Jesse Lenz said. “One of the best groups we’ve ever had, but even more, seven of the best people to lead this team (as seniors). We never say die.”

Lake City (26-1) finished third after losing in the semifinal game in the abbreviated tournament, where Saturday’s games were shortened to five innings, and the losers bracket was canceled.

Coeur d’Alene (12-9) also finished third, losing 15-7 in the semifinals to Rocky Mountain of Meridian after beating Highland of Pocatello 13-6 in the first round Friday morning.

For the Vikings, back at state for the first time since 2016, it was a trophy well-earned.

“It was a big bummer; I thought we were going to do much better (against Rocky), and I think the girls thought that as well,” first-year Coeur d’Alene coach Bobbi Darretta said. “But honestly, I’m so happy we made it this far; we had 11 girls in the dugout, and that’s all we have in the program. Walking in here, going home with what we did, after losing seasons the last couple years, I know it’s progress for our program, and it’ll just get better.”

Play was halted on Friday, the first day of the tournament, shortly before 1 p.m. Just prior to play resuming a little after 3 on Saturday, Highland and Rigby, losers of Friday’s two games, were on their way home, and numerous cell phones captured video of the flames coming from the field-burning truck as it circled the infield.

Because of daylight issues, the title game between Rocky and Mountain View was played under the lights at Ramsey Park in Coeur d’Alene.

Coeur d’Alene

football team plays a memorable state title game

At the end of a thrilling, emotional game in late November which saw 970 yards gained and 16 touchdowns scored, the state 5A football championship was decided by a play that needed only 3 yards to be successful.

Coeur d’Alene’s defense had come up big in clutch situations already in the playoffs, and the Vikings were confident they could make yet another big play. And they just about made the stop this time.

But Brigham Youngstrom of Rigby crashed over the left side and just across the goal line for a two-point conversion for the winning points in double overtime — a gutsy call by the Trojans — lifting Rigby to a wild 57-56 victory over Coeur d’Alene in a remarkable, draining title game before an estimated 5,000 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

It was a play, more than three hours into an exhausting contest, which left the Trojans in part celebration and part relief afterward, and the Vikings slowly trudging off the field at the end of an epic battle.

“It sucks,” said Coeur d’Alene senior wide receiver/safety Colbey Nosworthy, who was splendid in defeat with nine catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns. “Congrats to them. We went out there and battled for each other; we played our hardest. And obviously it feels bad to lose, but we all have no regrets. We played our hearts out.”

Rigby (10-1) rallied from 15 points down in the final four minutes to force overtime — scoring the tying touchdown and two-point conversion on the game’s final play — and went on to win its first state football title in its first title game appearance.

“It just came down to who had the ball last,” third-year Rigby coach Armando Gonzalez said. “That’s a credit to Coeur d’Alene — they didn’t lose that game.”

Coeur d’Alene (9-3) was playing in the state title game for the sixth time since 2010, trying to win its first state title since 2013, and sixth in school history.

“Both sides played their hearts out,” said Coeur d’Alene coach Shawn Amos, in his 23rd season as head coach of the Vikings, and coaching in his seventh state title game. “And they had the ball last, and they capitalized on it. Two really good football teams battling it out.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids, and Rigby, they did what they needed to do to win.”

St. Maries fall just short of state 2A boys basketball title

It was nearly the coast-to-coast trip of a lifetime for the St. Maries Lumberjacks on this early March afternoon at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

They had the guy they wanted with the ball, and one of the shots they thought they could get out of the play.

But a driving layup try from the left side by sophomore Eli Gibson bounced off the backboard, rolled tantalizingly on the rim for a moment before falling off at the buzzer at the end of regulation.

St. Maries then managed just two points in overtime, and the North Fremont Huskies won their first state title with a 45-37 victory over the Lumberjacks in the state 2A high school boys basketball championship game.

“A game of inches, isn’t it?,” St. Maries coach Bryan Chase said. “It was exactly what we wanted. We knew he could get to the rim in 5.9 seconds. He’s our best finisher, and we put the ball in his hands, and had Jackson (Pritchard) in the corner; one of them’s going to be open.”

“I thought it was going to go in … it just didn’t fall that time,” said St. Maries senior post Dan Howard, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“I thought it was going in,” North Fremont coach Shannon Hill said. “They beat us in football a couple years ago in the playoffs, and we were hoping to get a little back on them.”

“That kid will make that shot 99 out of 100 times,” said Chase, who has taken the Lumberjacks to state in each of his five seasons as head coach. “And it just hung on the rim.”

St. Maries (19-8), which erased a 10-point halftime deficit to force the game to overtime, was trying to win its first state boys basketball title since 1960, and was playing in its first state title game since 1987.

“It was pretty sad, coming up that short,” St. Maries senior Coy Sands said. “But to make it this far; no one thought we’d make it this far. It was just unbelievable to be here in the Idaho Center … crazy.”

Local golfers shine

Three local golfers had notable years.

North Idaho College golf coach Russell Grove was named the 2019 Pacific Northwest PGA Player of the Year.

Grove also won the award in 2017 and 2018.

In 2019, Grove won the Inland Empire Chapter Championship; tied for second at the Pacific Northwest PGA Professional Championship; tied for sixth at the Washington Open; tied for eighth at the Northwest Open; tied for 19th at the Oregon Open; tied for 20th at the Rosauers Open and tied for 71st at the national PGA Professional Championship, earning a spot in the PGA Professional Championship in the spring.

Reid Hatley of Hayden Lake was named the men’s Mid-Amateur Player of the Year by Washington Golf.

It was the fifth year in a row that Hatley has earned the honor. He won the Oregon Open, tied for sixth in the Northwest Open, and tied for 15th in the Rosauers Invitational, all competing against the region’s PGA club professionals. Hatley won the Washington Amateur and was fifth in the Mexican Amateur.

Derek Bayley, the former Lakeland High and Washington State standout, turned pro and qualified for PGA Tour Latinoamerica as well as the Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada). He alternated between the two tours throughout the year, later advanced to the second stage of qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour (the next step before the PGA Tour), and is mulling his options for next year.

Chapman shines at state 5A track meet

Lake City sophomore Angelyca Chapman won the 5A 400 meters and was part of two winning relay teams while shining at the 5A and 4A state track and field meets at Eagle High.

Chapman also finished second in the 5A 200 meters as she was overtaken near the finish. She ran the anchor legs on the winning 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams — both of which set school records.

“I didn’t expect to do this well until my senior year,” Chapman said. “Since I’m doing this well now, I’m excited to see what the next few years will bring.”

Also winning state titles were Coeur d’Alene senior Nate Burch (110 hurdles, 14.19 seconds) and Post Falls senior Tyler Trengove (high jump, 6 feet, 8 inches).

Chapman’s win in the 400 in 57.39 seconds was one of the highlights of the meet and helped Lake City (54 points) finish in a tie for fourth in the 5A girls team competition.

Timberlake’s Hunt breezes to state 3A cross country title

Timberlake High senior Logan Hunt ran away from the competition to win the state 3A boys title in 15 minutes, 48.36 seconds at the Portneuf Wellness Center in Pocatello in early November.

Hunt became the second individual champion in Timberlake program history, joining Frank Lagrimanta (2005 and ’06).

“It’s really cool to be a part of that,” Hunt said. “Four years of training went into this, and it’s cool to be a part of this.”

“It’s been a while,” said Timberlake coach Shawn Lawler of the title. “With the three permanent sites, they’ve got course records at each and Logan blew away the record (set by Cd’A Charter’s Landon Chang, 16:39.9 in 2016). We’re very pleased to have an individual championship for the kids.”

Kootenai football cancels season due to low numbers

For an eight-year stretch roughly a decade ago, Kootenai High of Harrison Flats was the bell cow in North Star League football.

But the numbers just didn’t add up for the Warriors football program this fall.

In 2018, the team had 14 players — four seniors — with 10 projected to return when the team started practice on Aug. 12.

Then two transferred to Lake City, another to St. Maries and two opted not to turn out.

That equaled the cancellation of the football season on the Harrison Flats for the school in 1A Division II, Idaho’s smallest classification.

“We had eight kids that we thought were coming back and two decided not to play,” said Kootenai football coach Doug Napierala, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, girls basketball coach and track and field coach. “We had six kids at practice, and this year’s freshmen class is all girls. We’ve been trying and trying to get any of the other boys in school to play, and been failing.”

Kootenai had been the last North Star League to qualify for the state playoffs, in 2013, capping a run of eight straight appearances since 2006. Kootenai advanced to the state 1A Division II championship game in 2008 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, finishing the season 11-1.

The past five seasons, the North Star League combined with the Whitepine League to form the White Star League in football. Even with two playoff berths up for grabs each year, no North Star teams advanced to the playoffs in those five seasons.

Kootenai advanced to the semifinals in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

Kootenai had 54 students in the high school during the 2018-19 school year according to its website. In comparison, 26 attended the junior high.

“It’s tough right now,” Napierala said. “We’ve got kids in the school, but a lot of them don’t want to play football for whatever reason. We’ve tried, and we just don’t have the numbers. We should be able to field a junior high team this fall and gain some freshmen next year. We’re only losing one senior this year, so it looks good for the possibility of bringing it back next year.”

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