By Ray Hamill — This year’s local high school basketball season will be remembered for many reasons, including some history-making exploits and some achievements for the ages, not to mention the impact the pandemic had, particularly on the scheduling.
But for my money, what impressed me most about the season was the exceptional coaching we witnessed around the league, all of which was particularly noteworthy in the face of the unique challenges they all faced in the midst of the pandemic.
Of the H-DNL’s 18 varsity teams, 12 featured new head coaches this past season, but the transition was seamless for most of those programs with several of them thriving in the face of COVID.
Five head coaches in particular stand out and all of them were considered for Humboldt Sports Coach of the Year honors, and honestly all five would be worthy coaches of the year in any given season.
For the girls, Ferndale head coach Terra Albee had a phenomenal year in charge of the Cats, instilling a team-first mentality in her players and overseeing a roster that epitomized team basketball as much as any other in the H-DNL this winter.
And that paid huge dividends with the Cats claiming a Little 4 and North Coast Section double.
At Eureka, girls coach Mike Harvey closed out his coaching career with a bang by leading the Loggers to a Big 5 and Dick Niclai double for only the second time in program history.
Local fans expect a school the size of Eureka to lead the way every year, but the Loggers have struggled to compete with the best teams in a competitive Big 5 for much of the past two decades and Harvey’s accomplishments should not be overlooked.
Winning two Niclai titles over the past three years — only the second and third ever for the program — as well as a first outright league title in 18 years turned a corner for the Loggers, and the long-time local coach walks away leaving the program in good shape and with some much-needed momentum.
For the boys, meanwhile, three head coaches are coming off very impressive campaigns — St. Bernard’s Issac Gildea, South Fork’s Taylor Morrow and Arcata’s Kellen Maynard — and all three deserve a ton of credit for what they achieved this past winter.
Gildea and the SB boys had one of the greatest ever seasons for an H-DNL team, winning an NCS and NorCal championship double, the first time a local high school boys team has ever done so.
And he did it in his first full season.
Morrow also oversaw an achievement for the ages in South Fork, leading the Cubs to a first Little 4 championship in almost three decades, and doing so in dramatic fashion.
The South Fork coach is one of the best up-and-coming coaches in any sport here on the North Coast.
Maynard was equally impressive in his first year in charge of the Tigers, especially considering he only took over as head coach right before the season tipped off.
COVID almost cost the Tigers a shot at the Big 5 right off the bat when a shorthanded roster lost its opener in what was a very tight race for the championship.
But Maynard rallied his players and they won seven straight league games in clutch fashion on the way to an outright conference title and followed that with a Niclai championship.
A few other coaches also deserve a special mention for what they achieved this season and for keeping their teams in contention despite the difficulties they all faced, including Doug Oliveira (Arcata girls), Cris Rice (Del Norte boys) and Cindy Semore Clancy (McKinleyville boys).
As for who is our choice for coach of the year? Well, you’ll have to keep reading.
Top six stories of 2021/22
6 — Arcata boys rally to win the Big 5
The Tigers winning seven straight league games on the way to the Big 5 championship was an impressive achievement in the face of a COVID-ravaged schedule that changed everything, especially with two other quality teams contending for the pennant.
5 — Two NCS champions for the H-DNL
It’s not every year the H-DNL wins a pair of NCS championships, but that happened this winter with both the St. Bernard’s boys and Ferndale girls claiming section crowns.
It had happened just four times prior, in 1989, 1997, 2012 and 2015.
4 — Double delight for Eureka girls
For just the second time ever, the Loggers won a girls Big 5 and Dick Niclai championship in the same year, while claiming just their third ever title in the latter.
3 — Top Cats stun the Big 5 champs
The Ferndale girls have plenty to feel proud of after this past season, including a Little 4 and NCS championship double and a deep playoff run.
But beating Big 5 champion Eureka — a school with eight times the student population of Ferndale — will stand out as one of the stories of the season.
2 — A thrilling championship for the Cubs
It’s nice when you win a league championship for the first time in 29 years, but it’s especially memorable when you rally from a 15-point deficit on the way to beating your biggest rival in overtime to achieve it.
Feb. 4 is a day South Fork fans won’t easily forget any time soon.
1 — Historic playoff double for the Crusaders
The St. Bernard’s boys set a standard that can never be topped in H-DNL basketball, becoming the first-ever local boys team to win both an NCS and NorCal state championship in the same year.
They were the last team standing in the state in their division.
Team of the Year (Girls)
The Ferndale Wildcats
It was a phenomenal season for the Wildcats, who claimed Little 4 and NCS championships, as well as a couple of early-season tournaments.
The Ferndale girls played unselfish team basketball as effectively as anyone on the North Coast and it paid off big time for them.
Team of the year honorable mention — Eureka
Team of the Year (Boys)
The St. Bernard’s Crusaders
This year’s Crusaders will go down in H-DNL history after winning Section and NorCal championships, but it was the way this group of players responded to the late-season disappointment of seeing the league crown slip away in heartbreaking fashion that set them apart.
They learned from that moment and used it to catapult them to six straight playoff wins, including back-to-back road wins against the top two seeds in NorCal.
Team of the year honorable mentions — Arcata, South Fork (and all the St. Bernard’s fans!)
Player of the Year (Boys)
The junior standout is coming off another outstanding season, and his court vision, defense, clutch play, shooting and leadership makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches.
If you focus on trying to stop Bento-Jackson from scoring, he’s just as adept at finding an open teammate.
Not surprisingly, Bento-Jackson is receiving plenty of interest from college programs and he should only continue to get better.
It should be fun to watch him play as a senior next year.
Player of the Year (Girls)
Tanuvasa is not just the player of the year for 2021/22, but she is arguably one of the best talents we’ve seen here on the North Coast in some time.
The St. Bernard’s junior was unstoppable all season long and was named MVP of the Little 4.
Just like with Bento-Jackson, Tanuvasa is also only going to get better, and likewise it should be a lot of fun watching her to continue to evolve as a senior next year.
Coach of the Year
St. Bernard’s Boys
Of the five stellar coaching performances in the H-DNL this season, Gildea was the last coach standing, finding a way to inspire his team to great heights and three big playoff comebacks, including two on the road against the top two seeds on the way to the NorCal championship.
St. Bernard’s basketball is in good hands.