By Ray Hamill — As always, it was a memorable winter on the local high school basketball courts with plenty of excitement, thrills and talking points.
The H-DN girls, in particular, left their mark on the 2022/23 campaign and the league teams were among the most competitive in the entire North Coast Section with more than half of the local programs ranked among the top 25 percent of schools in the section for the entire season, according to MaxPreps.
The Eureka Loggers secured a second consecutive Big 5 and Dick Niclai championship double, while the Ferndale Wildcats overcame adversity on the way to an impressive playoff run.
The Del Norte Warriors were surely among the most improved teams in the entire NCS, going from seven wins a year ago to a record of 20-9 this winter, while a proud McKinleyville Panthers program enjoyed one of its best seasons in a few years under the guidance of head coach Jacob Cheek.
The St. Bernard’s girls also enjoyed an historic campaign finishing 21-6 and setting a new program record for most wins in a single season on the way to a Little 4 championship.
The Arcata girls got hot at the right time, and after not even qualifying for the Dick Niclai Tournament they pieced together an impressive playoff run while peaking at the business end of the campaign.
Down in Miranda, meanwhile, the South Fork Cubs get the nod for most resilient team in the H-DN after finishing the season with just four players and battling all the way to the final buzzer in all of their games despite being overwhelmed in league play.
Perhaps the biggest story of all was the return of packed gymnasiums for the first time since pre-COVID days and that was a lot of fun to see.
All in all, it was a season the players and fans won’t easily forget and one that reminded us why we love H-DN basketball.
Here then are some end-of-season awards and our finalists for Humboldt Sports Girls Player of the Year. The winner will be announced this weekend.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
The Eureka Loggers
The Eureka girls have been setting the standard in the H-DN for the past two seasons, winning a second consecutive Big 5 and a third straight Niclai tournament championship this winter.
Under the guidance of head coach Cliff Napoleon, a senior-heavy Eureka team was the best in the H-DN on opening weekend and was still the best at the end of the season, finishing with a record of 26-6.
Junior Kaitlin Giacone was named Big 5 MVP after an outstanding season, and the roster probably featured five or six of the top-10 players in league this year.
HONORABLE MENTIONS — St. Bernard’s and Ferndale.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM
The Del Norte Warriors
The Warriors went from seven wins a year ago to 20 this year and were the only local team to knock off the Loggers.
Best Move of the Season
The H-DN opted to play this year’s Niclai semifinals at College of the Redwoods and it was a tremendous success, with local fans packing the gym to see a pair of boys and girls semifinals on back-to-back nights.
TEAMS TO WATCH OUT FOR NEXT YEAR
The St. Bernard’s girls also will lose just one starting senior, while returning both Madelyn Shanahan and Laila Florvilus, and that means they won’t just challenge for the Little 4 but could also contend for a first-ever Niclai title.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Matt Tomlin, St. Bernard’s
And speaking of the Crusaders, no team overachieved on their expectations this past season more than the SB girls.
Head coach Matt Tomlin worked his magic once again as the Crusaders dominated Big 5 opponents for much of the season, winning five of their opening six games against the larger schools, before making their mark in the Division-4 NCS bracket.
HONORABLE MENTIONS — Jacob Cheek (McKinleyville), Cliff Napoleon (Eureka), Justin Clifton (Del Norte) and Jamie Elsmore (Ferndale)
GIRLS PLAYER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS
Laila Florvilus, St. Bernard’s Sophomore
Kaitlin Giacone, Eureka Junior
Mariah Napoleon, Eureka Senior
Lili Nunez, Del Norte Junior
Camryn Pinard, McKinleyville Senior
Madelyn Shanahan, St. Bernard’s Junior
Nora Talty, Arcata Junior
Winner will be announced on Humboldt Sports on Saturday.