By Ray Hamill — The polls closed on Tuesday evening and the results are in. North Coast sports fans have spoken, and in some cases they’ve spoken quite emphatically.
In a landslide victory, Arcata MMA fighter Cass Bell has been voted the first annual Humboldt Sports Male Athlete of the Year, as well as being honored as our 2019 Sportsperson of the Year.
Bell was a decisive winner in our poll, pulling in a remarkable 50.5 percent of the votes (722 out of 1,428) from a pool of nine nominees.
The former Arcata High wrestler is 5-0 as a professional MMA fighter and went 3-0 in 2019, most recently beating Pierre Daguzan by unanimous decision at Bellator’s Salute to the Troops in Hawaii in late December.
After Bell, there was little between the rest of the field, with just 52 votes separating the remaining eight nominees.
Former Eureka standout and current Oregon senior offensive lineman Jake Hanson was second with 8.1 percent of the votes, followed by St. Bernard’s senior Will Omey, who is coming off an outstanding season as quarterback of the school’s state championship winning football team and received 7.5 percent of the votes.
Arcata’s Merek Sears and Eureka’s Isaak Gutierrez rounded out the top five.
Ray Hamill’s Male Athletes of the Year
1 — Jake Hanson
2 — Cass Bell
3 — Will Omey
Hanson, for my money, was the most impressive North Coast athlete in 2019, starring once again for one of the top college football teams in the country and coming within inches of reaching the college football playoffs.
The former Eureka Logger, a four-year starter at center for the Ducks, is expected to be drafted as high as the second or third round in next April’s NFL draft and will close out his collegiate career in Wednesday’s Rose Bowl.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
The 2019 high school graduate closed out a record-breaking prep career for Del Norte basketball last winter and was even more impressive playing volleyball this past fall at Sierra College, one of the top community college programs in the state.
And HumboldtSports.com readers agree, with Sanchez a runaway winner in our poll, receiving 33 percent of the votes cast (408 out of 1,228).
In 2019, Sanchez was MVP of the Big 5 in basketball and was named to the all-NorCal team in community college volleyball.
She was also named Humboldt Sports female athlete of the year for the 2018/19 high school year.
Coming in second in our poll is a local star with a very bright future, Arcata freshman cross country runner Ai-Lan McGoldrick, who took the H-DNL by storm this past fall.
McGoldrick, who won every league race by a sizable margin and is one of numerous talented freshmen runners on the North Coast, received an impressive 17.5 percent of the votes.
Rounding out the top three with 13.7 percent of the votes is former Fortuna pitcher Hailey Dolcini, who enjoyed a fantastic sophomore season playing softball at Fresno State.
Rounding out the top five are two former Eureka Loggers, Kaylee Murphy and Makaila Napoleon.
Ray Hamill’s Female Athletes of the Year
1 — Hailey Dolcini
2 — Kaleya Sanchez
3 — Ai-Lan McGoldrick
No local female athlete achieved more at a higher level in 2019 than Dolcini after a standout spring pitching for Division-I Fresno State, where she quickly established herself as the ace on a deep staff.
Sanchez also continues to impress me every step of the way as she moves on in her sporting career, while who knows how good McGoldrick can yet be?
COACH OF THE YEAR
In what was a close call, St. Bernard’s and Humboldt Eagles head coach Matt Tomlin edged out Del Norte’s Nick White for North Coast coach of the year honors.
Tomlin and White each led their high school football teams to a state bowl game appearance in 2019 and both had outstanding seasons with their respective programs.
Tomlin and the Crusaders won the 6-AA title, the coach’s second state championship in five seasons, and he also led the Humboldt Eagles 19U baseball team to the final four in American Legion summer baseball, as well as winning a league title with the St. Bernard’s baseball team.
All in all it was a good year for the long-time multi-sport coach, who also has won an NCS title in girls basketball.
White, meanwhile, is coming off a phenomenal season in football, his first in charge of the Del Norte program after spending several years on the sideline as an assistant.
And what a first year it was, as he led the Warriors to a first-ever NCS championship in the sport and a first-ever state championship appearance.
No team captured the imagination of the local community the way White’s did in 2019.
Between them, Tomlin and White received almost 40 percent of the votes cast, with Tomlin edging out his Big 4 rival 200-188.
Rounding out the top three is another worthy candidate, long-time youth football coach and local sporting legend Dale Cash, who continues to coach and inspire young minds, as he has done for much of the past half century.
Cash received 10.3 percent of votes cast.
James Washington was fourth, followed by Ryan Bisio.
Ray Hamill’s Coaches of the Year
1 — Matt Tomlin
2 — Nick White
3 — Michelle Bento-Jackson
When it comes to football, there really was little if anything to separate the top two coaches here, with Tomlin and White each fantastic in 2019, but I’d also include HSU women’s basketball coach Bento-Jackson among the best coaches on the North Coast.
She and her players may get largely overlooked here, but Bento-Jackson has built a consistently competitive program at HSU in a high-profile sport, not an easy thing to do.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Del Norte Football
No team captured the heart of its community more this past year than the Warriors on their march to a state bowl appearance, and the North Coast voters agreed.
The Warriors received 213 of the 1,019 votes cast (20.9 percent), while the St. Bernard’s football team was second with 18.6 percent.
After a Big 4 championship, a first-ever section title and a first-ever trip to a state bowl game, 2019 will not easily be topped in Crescent City.
Del Norte also won two of the three Six Rivers Youth Football championships in 2019, so the tradition appears to be alive and well in the county.
Rounding out the top three teams of the year in our poll is the McKinleyville High softball team, which wasn’t that far behind the top two with 17.5 percent of the votes.
The Panthers enjoyed an historic season, securing a first-ever local treble in the sport with championships in the Big 5, the H-DNL tournament and the NCS.
Rounding out the top five teams of the year are Fortuna boys basketball and the McKinleyville 9/10 Little League All-Stars.
Ray Hamill’s Teams of the Year
1 — Del Norte Football
2 — St. Bernard’s Football
3 — Fortuna Basketball
I agree with the voters here too. St. Bernard’s won a state championship while Del Norte didn’t, but the Warriors caught the attention of their local community like no team up here has in some time, with an estimated 6,000 fans showing up for the state bowl game in Crescent City, a ridiculous attendance for the North Coast and a figure that may not be topped here for some time.
I’m also including Fortuna boys basketball in my top three after an exhilarating campaign for the Huskies last winter and one that thrilled the local community.
Along with McKinleyville softball, the Fortuna boys were among the most fun teams to watch this past year.