By Ray Hamill — The 2019/20 local high school basketball season seemed to have a little bit of everything.
There were plenty of thrilling moments and some exciting leagues races, as well as some surprises along the way, some controversy, some stellar individual and team performances, and a North Coast Section championship for Ferndale.
Here then is a look back at the season that was, and a few worthy awards …
Team of the Year (Boys)
No one here could match the Warriors on their way to a Big 5 and Dick Niclai double.
They got robbed of a second home game in the NCS playoffs, but that doesn’t take from a season Del Norte fans will not easily forget.
This group of seniors have enjoyed a lot of success on the sports fields, and the manner in which they clinched the Big 5 in basketball with a dramatic 3-pointer at Arcata in the final week of the regular season was nothing short of spectacular.
Honorable Mentions: Ferndale, St. Bernard’s, Arcata
Coach of the Year (Girls)
Scott Betts, Fortuna
In his first year in charge of the team, Betts led the Huskies to a first Big 5 title in almost 40 years.
The Fortuna girls had talent, no doubt about it, but few teams were as well prepared for game after game, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s a credit to the coaching staff.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Gardner (St. Bernard’s), Doug Oliveira (Arcata), Michael Harvey (Eureka)
Comeback of the Year
The Mack boys completed a remarkable comeback in a game at Fortuna, sealing the win on a last-gasp buzzer-beater from inside their own half, but that wasn’t as impressive as what the school’s girls team achieved.
The Mack girls’ season was all but over with two weeks to go, but somehow they came to life with a fantastic run down the stretch, winning five of their final six games in the regular season to qualify not only for the Dick Niclai tournament but also for the NCS playoffs.
Player of the Year (Girls)
Jadence Clifton, Del Norte
Clifton was phenomenal again this season, showcasing just why she is the most complete player in the H-DNL right now.
No local boy or girl dominated the way she did this season, and the junior star is only going to get better.
Honorable Mentions: Charlotte Carroll (Fortuna), Saulele Tanuvasa (St. Bernard’s)
1 — The Eureka girls winning the Dick Niclai final, overcoming a seven-point deficit in the final minute for their first tournament championship since 2004.
2 — The Ferndale boys winning the NCS Division-VI championship, the team’s first since 2012.
3 — Jack Clancy’s half-court buzzer-beater to complete McKinleyville’s big comeback at Fortuna.
4 — Omar Banuelos’ 3-pointer to beat Arcata and clinch the Big 5 for the Del Norte boys.
5 — St. Bernard’s girls beating Eureka for the first time in five years.
Coach of the Year (Boys)
Marc Slayton, Del Norte
Slayton and his team were undefeated against H-DNL opposition this season, his first in charge of the program and a campaign the Warriors will remember for some time after claiming a Big 5 and Dick Niclai double.
For good measure, the Del Norte head coach also secured his place in league history, becoming the first coach here to have won both a boys and girls Niclai title.
Honorable Mentions: Steve Thrap (St. Bernard’s), Dan Albee (Ferndale), Dusty Scofield (Arcata)
Most Thrilling Ride
The Girls Big 5
No conference provided the same thrills as the Big 5 girls, with little to separate all five teams and any team capable of beating anyone else on any given night.
The Fortuna girls were worthy champions, but all five teams were competitive, and the conference ended with a three-way tie for third.
Team of the Year (Girls)
The Huskies ended a near 40-year wait for a Big 5 championship and they did so with some fundamentally sound team basketball, playing well collectively and consistently.
No team in the H-DNL played defense as effectively and that paved the way for their success.
All in all, it was a season the Huskies won’t easily forget, especially with the added success of their underage teams as well.
Honorable Mentions: St. Bernard’s, Eureka
Player of the Year (Boys)
Lane Thrap, St. Bernard’s
No one player has meant as much to his team in recent seasons as Thrap, who has been nothing short of sensational his entire career for the Crusaders.
The talented all-around multi-sport athlete will be missed on several fronts at St. Bernard’s, none more so than on the basketball court.
Honorable Mention: Omar Banuelos (Del Norte)
Fans of the Year
The Eureka fans’ performance at St. Bernard’s for the non-conference boys game in early February was one of the loudest and most impressive we’ve seen in this area in some time.
Fans make the occasion more special, and no group did that better this season than the Loggers’ faithful that night.
Teams to keep an eye on for next season
The Fortuna boys — with all their experienced juniors.
The St. Bernard’s girls — any team with Saulele Tanuvasa will compete.
The Ferndale boys — these guys are building momentum and will return most of their players.
Best Dressed Coach
Robbie Thompson, Eureka Boys
Who else could it possibly be?
Way too early MVP picks for 2020/21
Big 5 Boys — Brandon Bento-Jackson (Arcata)
Big 5 Girls — Jadence Clifton (Del Norte)
Little 4 Boys — Emmitt Albee (Ferndale)
Little 4 Girls — Saulele Tanuvasa (St. Bernard’s)