By Ray Hamill — It was, to say the least, a thoroughly disappointing end to the school sports year for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to celebrate in 2019/20.
The first two-thirds of the year, in fact, were as thrilling as any for the H-DNL, with some history made along the way and several fantastic achievements.
This weekend, Humboldt Sports will be taking a look back at the high school sports year, handing out our end-of-year honors, including naming our athletes, coaches and teams of the school year, as well as our prestigious Effervescence Award.
It should be noted that only multiple-sport standouts were considered for our athlete of the year awards, and all honors are based only on the sports that were played this year.
Here then is the first part of our look back at the 2019/20 year in local high school sports …
Play of the Year
McKinleyville freshman Jack Clancy had a night he won’t ever forget when he nailed a half-court buzzer-beater at Fortuna in boys basketball to cap a 23-point comeback for the Panthers in late January.
It was the team’s only league win and without doubt the highlight play of the year in the H-DNL.
Breakthrough Performance of the Year
There are two that stand out as the breakthrough performances of the year.
First, the Arcata girls tennis team made some H-DNL history by taking home a first-ever NCS pennant for the league in the sport, boys or girls, when the pairing of Aimee Reiner and Keona Gutierrez placed second at the NCS Division-II girls doubles tournament in November.
Two months later, the St. Bernard’s girls basketball team defeated Eureka, 53-50 for the program’s first win over the Loggers in 10 games, a run that stretched back to 2015.
Breakthrough Team of the Year
Fortuna Girls Soccer
All in all, it was a fantastic year for Fortuna girls sports, with a pair of teams breaking a long championship drought.
Including the girls soccer team, which won a first-ever league title for the program in a quarter of a century of competing.
Top Stories of the Year
Unfortunately the most impactful story of the local prep sports year was the spring shutdown, something we have never seen the likes of before.
Other stories, however, served to inspire rather than leave us deflated.
2 — Del Norte hosting a state bowl game in football.
3 — St. Bernard’s state football championship win.
4 — Eureka girls wrestling team places third overall at NCS.
5 — Fortuna girls basketball wins a first Big 5 championship in almost 40 years.
6 — Fortuna soccer’s H-DNL double, and the boys’ NCS title.
7 — Del Norte’s Big 5 and Dick Niclai double in boys basketball.
8 — The Eureka girls’ thrilling Dick Niclai championship win.
9 — The Ferndale boys’ Division-VI NCS championship win in basketball.
10T — Long-time St. Bernard’s basketball coach Steve Thrap retires.
10T — Long-time Eureka football coach Jason White retires.
Honorable Mentions — Del Norte’s Danika Scott wins NCS wrestling title; St. Bernard’s girls win NCS in soccer; Ferndale wins Little 4 in football; Arcata girls go undefeated in Big 5 volleyball; Ian Bennett and Collin Stockwell qualify for state cross country championships.
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR (Girls)
Del Norte, Senior
Scott was a double H-DNL individual winner this past year, taking the league title at No. 1 singles in tennis, and topping that with a league and NCS championship in wrestling.
The latter was achieved in thrilling fashion, when the Warriors senior pinned the No. 3 wrestler in the nation for the 235-pound title in one of the highlight moments of the year in local prep sports.
All of the athletes considered in this category are multiple-sport stars.
2 — Saulele Tanuvasa, St. Bernard’s. A Little 4 MVP in both volleyball and basketball.
3T — McKenzie Emmons, Fortuna. First-team all-league selection in two sports.
3T — Keylei Carroll, Eureka. A league MVP in soccer and an all-league honorable mention in basketball.
5 — Hailee Henry, McKinleyville. All-league in volleyball and an all-league honorable mention in basketball.
Honorable Mentions — Cameron Heenan, Rayn Tripp and Rian Heenan (McKinleyville), Josie Peterson, Mackenzie Finck and Marayah Tomlinson (St. Bernard’s), Malia Guilbert (Eureka), Jadence Clifton (Del Norte) and Naschewen Hunsucker (Hoopa)
No group of fans showed more support for their team this year than the Del Norte football faithful.
An estimated 5,000 of them showed up for the state championship showdown in Crescent City in December, an incredible number and a testament to how this team captivated the local community in 2019.
An honorable mention in this category goes out to the Eureka fans, who were among the loudest we’ve seen in some time for a boys basketball game at St. Bernard’s in late January.
Surprise of the Year
No class of athletes had a bigger impact in their respective sport this past year than the freshmen girls did in cross country, especially those from Arcata.
An incredibly talented and deep class dominated the older opposition all season and placed six in the top nine at the league championships, led of course by the sensational Ai-Lan McGoldrick of Arcata.
Ironman Award (Boys)
The Hoopa senior displayed a lot of grit and determination in 2019/20, and also was arguably the comeback player of the year.
Mabry missed much of the football season and the entire basketball season after he was involved in a serious car accident in the fall, but fought his way back to the field of competition to play baseball, appearing in the Warriors’ only game before the shutdown.
And that earns him our Boys Ironman Award.
Defensive Team of the Year (Girls)
Under the guidance of first-year head coach Scott Betts, the Huskies won a first Big 5 title in almost 40 years, and they did it with outstanding consistency on the defensive side of the ball.
Defense is half of just about every sport, and no local prep team did it better this past year than the Fortuna girls.
Our look back at the year in prep sports will continue in Part II and Part III of our three-part series, with several more awards, including our coach of the year, our top games of the year, and our Girls Ironman Award.