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Top sports stories of 2020

| December 25, 2020 1:10 AM

As selected by Press sports staff

COVID-19

It began as somewhat of a curiosity.

Then an NBA player tested positive for COVID-19, and the league shut down.

Then college basketball shut down, taking with it the popular and lucrative NCAA Tournament.

COVID trickled down to the local high school level as well.

A few events were held in early March, then things were put on hold by local school districts, and eventually, the Idaho High School Activities Association.

The annual state high school all-star boys and girls basketball games at North Idaho College were canceled.

In mid-April, the IHSAA made it official, canceling spring high school sports tournaments in the state.

"It was a very reluctant unanimous vote," IHSAA executive director Ty Jones told The Press. "But when you look at everything that was involved with it, you knew it had to be done. I'd be lying if I said there weren't probably a couple of tears shed by some people (on the board), when you have to tell kids that they don't get to participate in things. That's what we did — we told thousands of kids today that your spring sports seasons are done. Our board did not take that lightly; they were aware that was a very tough decision."

All teams' seasons, as it turned out, ended in mid-March, with some teams not even getting to play even one game.

"It was definitely hard to hear, because due to my ACL tear my sophomore year I had already lost a season of track and a season of basketball," said Post Falls High senior Katie Fleming, who committed to play basketball at Wenatchee Valley College. "So finding out that my senior year of track was gone, too, was sad and something that can't be replaced."

A #BeTheLight event was held on a Friday night in mid-April, where folks loaded up in cars and drove through the parking lots and local high schools as the stadium lights shined on for the event, which began at 8:20 p.m. and lasted 20 minutes.

It was a therapeutic 20 minutes. Though all were asked to stay in their cars, for many, it was the first time they'd seen their classmates and others in at least a month.

The games returned in late May, but COVID still has had an effect.

Local American Legion baseball teams played a limited schedule, choosing not to compete at state.

Some area Little Leagues played a few games. One that didn't was Coeur d'Alene Little League, which sent a team to the Little League World Series in 2018, and had another team one game away from Williamsport in 2019.

Fall high school sports started on time for most teams in early August. COVID wiped out a few games, but the sports seasons were completed.

The winter high school sports season is underway, with COVID still affecting a few games. With coronavirus cases still high, many games this winter have been played before no fans; at some recent games, a few parents have been allowed in.

LAKELAND VOLLEYBALL

The Hawks had been a team on the rise in recent years.

In 2020, Lakeland put it all together, capturing its first state title in school history.

The Hawks won all three matches without dropping a set, sweeping Middleton in the state 4A championship match on Halloween night at Kimberly High.

"It's surreal, really; all the hard work has finally paid off," said Lakeland coach Kelsie Badger, in her third year as head coach, after two seasons as junior varsity coach at Lakeland, and one with the "C" team before that. "Just an overflowing amount of emotions. Happy, and so much joy for the girls."

"It was like a flood of emotions for me," said senior right side hitter Katy Ryan, one of three returning seniors from last year's Lakeland squad that placed fourth at state in its first trip since 2005. "It was just a relief; we earned it."

"The trophies will be in my bed tonight — sportsmanship and state," senior setter Abbey Neff said. "I'll be holding them tight."

Lakeland, which finished 13-6 — most of those losses coming against larger, 5A schools — also won the sportsmanship trophy in 4A.

After the Hawks won the Region 1 title, senior libero Olivia Cooper all but predicted a state title.

"I had a lot of people laugh at me for saying that," Cooper said after the Hawks won the state title. "But I believed it, and it happened."

Prior to this season, Lakeland's best finish at state in volleyball was second in 1988 in the A-2 division to St. Maries, while the Lumberjacks were on their run of 10 straight state titles, and 11 in 12 years.

COEUR d'ALENE CHARTER GIRLS SOCCER

The Panthers won their fifth straight state 3A title in October.

But it didn't come easy.

And not without some adventure along the way.

After playing through regulation, and one 10-minute overtime, Charter senior Sarah Hines connected on a goal in the 97th minute as the Panthers beat the Sugar-Salem Diggers 1-0 in the title game on a chilly Saturday night at The Fields at Real Life in Post Falls.

It was the Panthers' sixth state title in seven years.

"It's kind of a full-circle thing," Hines said. "I scored the winning goal my freshman year in the championship game, and then everyone came crashing down on me and hugging me again. It was a cool way to end it."

The match was 3 minutes from a shootout before Hines, in a scramble perhaps 2 yards from the net, scored to the right post past the Sugar-Salem keeper on an assist from Isabella Lucky.

"I didn't realize she (Lucky) was going to cross it," Hines said. "They came crashing and I thought the keeper was going to get it, and then it bounced off Kiley (Cutler), so I thought, 'Oh gosh,' I'd better knock this in. I just stuck my leg out and put it in."

The day before, a good half-foot of snow fell on the artificial turf at The Fields. Charter trudged through the blizzard and beat McCall-Donnelly 7-1 in the semifinals.

Volunteers cleared the snow off the field prior to Saturday's play in the 3A boys and girls tourneys on the two fields.

In the finale Coeur d'Alene Charter, which finished 16-1-1, outshot Sugar-Salem 33-1.

"We would have preferred to put a few more in the back of the net," fifth-year Charter coach Stacy Smith said. "But we had to be creative and had to be persistent, and it paid off. It took us a little bit longer than we would have liked, but it paid off."

DEREK BAYLEY

The former Lakeland High and Washington State star has a goal of someday playing on the PGA Tour.

This past summer, he got a taste of the Tour, playing in his first Tour event.

In late June Bayley, a Rathdrum native, birdied the final two holes to win the Reno Open at the Toiyabe Golf Club in Washoe Valley, Nev. And with the win in the Golden State Tour event he qualified for the PGA's Barracuda Championship, scheduled for July 30-Aug. 2 in Truckee, Calif.

"It's pretty ironic that my first professional victory comes with a PGA Tour exemption," Bayley said. "That's what added to all the pressure. It wasn't just winning the golf tournament, it was everything that came with it. That's why I had to buckle down. I'm convinced I would have been less nervous, had a PGA Tour exemption not been on the table. That's a big step in my career — to not only just get the experience, but to keep playing against the best."

Bayley, 24, finished with 48 points in the modified Stableford scoring format, which awards five points for an eagle, two for a birdie, zero for a par, minus 1 for a bogey and minus 3 for a double bogey or worse.

The $15,000 first prize marked the biggest check of his career.

One month later, he was one point away (in the modified Stableford scoring system, which awards points for eagles and birdies, and takes away points for bogeys and worse) from making the cut at the Barracuda.

A double bogey on the 14th hole in the second round proved costly.

"The 13th to 18th is the toughest stretch on the golf course," Bayley said. "I had an idea I'd have to finish strong. I was in a position to get into contention and right where I wanted to be going into 12 and 13. It was pretty disappointing to finish the way I did. It's a learning experience for sure, but it definitely stings. It's pretty disappointing."

POST FALLS WRESTLING

The Trojans won their third straight state 5A title, and fifth in six years, in late February at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

When Charley Hastriter of Meridian beat Logan George of Highland in the 220-pound championship match, that prevented Highland from passing Post Falls in the team standings. Post Falls finished with 213 points, Highland 209.

"I'd had enough time through the day to know that it was going to be close," Post Falls coach Pete Reardon said. "I just knew we had to keep fighting. I wasn't nervous, but it was more like, 'well, let's see what happens.'"

Post Falls had a pair of individual champions in senior A.J. De La Rosa at 145 pounds and junior Ethan Miller at 152.

Other Post Falls placers were freshman Zack Campbell (sixth at 98), junior Roddy Romero (second at 106), junior Ryan Graves (third at 113), senior Braxton Mason (fourth at 120), junior Lane Reardon (second at 126), junior Isaac Jessen (second at 132), junior Isaiah Laguna (third at 195) and junior Tyler Cook (fourth at 220).

The Trojans were also runners-up in 2017.

"There's great coaches all the way through the program," said Reardon, in his 11th season as coach. "It's more than just me. There's so many great coaches all the way through to the club level. We've also got great parents, and it's really humbling to be a part of."

LAKESIDE BOYS BASKETBALL

A season that began with tears ended with cheers.

In early March, Lakeside of Plummer-Worley capped an undefeated season by winning its first state title since 1997, cruising past the Cascade Ramblers 74-57 in the state 1A Division II high school boys basketball championship game at the Ford Idaho Center.

"It means a lot," said guard Talon Twoteeth, the lone senior starter on the team. "We've been working hard the last three years, and this year, it finally clicked."

Lakeside (24-0) averaged 75.0 points per game heading into the postseason, and blitzed the opposition pretty much all season — only two of the Knights' wins came by single digits.

In winning its three tournament games by an average of 20.0 points, Lakeside set 1A Division II tournament records for most points in a tournament (245) and average points (81.7). Lakeside broke the single-game scoring record in the division with 95 in the first round — though that record lasted just one day, when Mackay scored 96 in a consolation round game.

"It was an emotional season," said Lakeside coach James Twoteeth, who started on the Knights' state title team in 1997. "It was surreal. 24-0, that's what's crazy; I don't know how to explain that. I still think someone's going to pinch me and I'm going to wake up. It seems like a dream; it really does."

Twoteeth, father of Talon, said this year's squad followed a similar path to his '97 squad.

"It's kinda deja vu for me," said Twoteeth, in his third year as Lakeside coach. "They followed the same trajectory. Back when I was in school there was like 8 to 10 of us, and I see the same thing here. On the third year, they kinda clicked — same with us."

Junior Kenyon Spotted Horse had 22 points and eight rebounds for Lakeside. Twoteeth and junior Jayson "JJ" Hall added 12 points each, and Darren "Day Day" Higgins had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Four of Lakeside's starters were three-year starters. The Knights were one game from state each of the last two years, but couldn't knock off Genesis Prep. Until this year.

After the game, with the mic in his hand, James Twoteeth choked up when he spoke of this team, and this season. Tyler Ambro, a sophomore in the Lakeside program, took his life some three weeks before preseason practice.

"He was a really tough player," Twoteeth said of Ambro. "I didn't know what to think; I didn't know if they would show up. They showed up first day, said we're going to do it for him."

"With Tyler's death, it set us back a little bit, but it just encouraged us more. It gave us more of a reason to win," Higgins said. "My parents and Tyler's parents convinced me to play. I'm glad I did."

As Twoteeth spoke to the crowd, the Knight players sat on the bench, Hall holding a sign with Ambro's picture that read, "In Our Hearts Forever."

"Just letting everyone know that he's with us," Hall said.

With most of its squad back this year, including Spotted Horse, the 1A Division II Player of the Year, and Higgins, the MVP of the North Star League, Lakeside has moved up this year to 1A Division I, along with Genesis Prep, joining Wallace in the new Scenic Idaho Conference.

TIMBERLAKE GIRLS BASKETBALL

The Tigers have played in the state 3A girls basketball championship game seven times in the past 10 seasons.

But the most recent appearance, in February at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa, was Timberlake's first in the title game since 2017.

Junior forward Blayre Jeffs scored eight of her 10 points in the first quarter as Timberlake (20-4) built a 17-4 lead after eight minutes, and went on to beat Snake River 42-32 for the Tigers' third title in five years.

Due to the pre-determined bracket, Timberlake's toughest test came in the opener, a 45-40 win over Sugar-Salem in double overtime. The Tigers then blitzed Parma 66-35 in the semifinals.

"The first game was all about grit and will," Timberlake coach Matt Miller said. "And the second we played like us. This third game, we had to fight for it at the end. But state championships are never easy, no matter what. I'm proud of the kids for getting it done and good for them."

Taryn Soumas led Timberlake with 16 points, and Brooke Jessen added 14 points and 12 rebounds.

"It's something I've dreamed about since I was a little kid playing basketball," Jessen said. "I played with a lot of those kids from the 2017 team when I was younger."

Timberlake won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, then was third the past two seasons before winning the program's third title in Miller's 15 seasons in 2020.

"Everyone improved a lot this season," Miller said. "If you would have told me in November we'd be winning a state championship, I'd be questioning it."

DON LARSEN

The new year started off on a somber note.

Don Larsen, the longtime Hayden Lake resident who years earlier reached the heights of baseball glory in 1956 for the New York Yankees when he threw a perfect game and the only no-hitter in World Series history, died on New Year's Day in Hayden. He was 90.

Larsen's agent, Andrew Levy, said the former pitcher died of esophageal cancer in hospice care. Levy said Larsen's son, Scott, confirmed the death.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Don Larsen, who remained a welcome and familiar face at our annual Old-Timers' Day celebrations in the decades following his playing career," the Yankees said in a statement. "He will be missed."

"Don's perfect game is a defining moment for our franchise, encapsulating a storied era of Yankees success and ranking among the greatest single-game performances in Major League Baseball history," the Yankees said. "The unmitigated joy reflected in his embrace with Yogi Berra after the game's final out will forever hold a secure place in Yankees lore. It was the pinnacle of baseball success and a reminder of the incredible, unforgettable things that can take place on a baseball field."

During his playing days, Larsen got a taste of the laid-back lifestyle of North Idaho when he'd come to Spokane to play minor league baseball.

Following his playing days, Larsen and his wife, Corrine, moved to Hayden Lake in 1993.

No other pitcher has thrown a perfect game in the postseason, but in 2010 the Phillies' Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds during the National League Division Series.

"They can never break my record," Larsen would say of his game. "The best they can do is tie it. October 8, 1956, was a mystical trip through fantasyland. Sometimes I still wonder whether it really all happened."

COACHES STEP DOWN

Chris Carlson, who guided the North Idaho College women's basketball team to the 2011 NJCAA championship, stepped down in March after 16 seasons at NIC and a record of 356-158 with the Cardinals.

NIC won the Scenic West Athletic Conference tournament championship in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and also won the regular season title in 2006, 2012 and 2013.

For his career, Carlson has 471 wins between NIC and his eight seasons as head coach at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, including the Vikings' NWAC championship in 1999.

"When I look back, the national title was the crowning thing," said Carlson, 60. "Sometimes, I can't quite believe that we did it because it was kind of groundbreaking in the Scenic West Athletic Conference because we're still the only team in the conference to have won a national title. That five-year period was the best because we took three different teams to nationals and dominated the conference for that stretch of years. In the one year we didn't make it to nationals, we were ranked No. 1 for a good part of the season. During that stretch, we were on top of our game and things were flowing really good, and that was amazing."

In a 2020 sort of thing, when COVID-19 prematurely ended the conference tournament, Carlson went out a winner.

NIC beat Lower Columbia College in a first-round game. After the game, the NWAC put the tournament on pause, then resumed it a week later before pulling the plug for good, before NIC could play its quarterfinal game.

Until the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. earlier this year, Roy Albertson figured he still had a few more years of coaching football ahead of him.

Even at 72 years old.

But COVID-19 changed everything.

When the pandemic shut down schools, sports and nearly everything else in the country, and much of America hunkered down at home, Albertson did the same, with his wife Pat at their home in Spirit Lake.

Since March, Albertson had hoped to return for an 18th season as Timberlake High football coach.

But fears over the virus were still plenty as summer rolled around, and Albertson, at his age and with pre-existing medical conditions, is considered a high risk to become infected with the disease.

So he made the difficult decision this summer to resign as the Tigers football coach.

"I'm in the dangerous category. My family doesn't want me to take a chance on getting this," Albertson said. "Because when you're in the school, you're going to be around a lot of people, and they're going to be around a lot of people. And I've been in the hospital enough times."

In September 2017, his heart stopped beating while at practice at Timberlake. He collapsed, and assistant coach shocked him back to life with a defibrillator, and a triple bypass followed.

"When I was at Chewelah, I had a staph infection in my knee, and I was in the hospital for a month," he said.

"I thought it (the decision) over for quite a while. It was a tough decision to make, because I don't feel 72. I thought I could keep going."

Albertson has a career record of 179-107-1 in 29 seasons as a high school head football coach.

He was 108-64 in 17 seasons as Timberlake coach. The Tigers advanced to the state playoffs 16 times, and made it as far as the semifinals six times.

Before that, he was 57-20-1 in eight seasons as head coach at Chewelah.

In the 1970s, he was 14-23 in four seasons as head coach at Dayton in southeastern Washington.

After his stint at Dayton, Albertson was an assistant football coach at Kennewick (Wash.) High under the legendary Ed Troxel.

Marsell Colbert, who put Genesis Prep on the map with a dominant boys basketball program that captured a pair of state titles in Idaho's smallest classification (1A Division II), and more than held its own against much bigger schools, stepped down as coach and teacher in June to take another job outside basketball.

He cited "just some personal stuff" for his decision. He said it took "months" to come to this decision.

"I love Genesis Prep. That's my home, man," Colbert said. "But it was the right thing. I'm at peace with my decision. It was just one of those things where I had to step away. It's not a health issue; I'm as healthy as an ox. It was the right decision. Through prayer, and numerous discussions with close friends and family, I am at peace with my decision."

Colbert coached at Genesis Prep, a private school in Post Falls, for six seasons. His first year was the Jaguars' last in the church-based Mountain Christian League. Genesis Prep moved to the North Star League the following year when the program was sanctioned by the IHSAA.

The Jaguars were an immediate threat at the state level, finishing third in 2016, then romping to back-to-back state titles in 2017 and '18. Genesis Prep finished third at state in 2019, and fell short of a state berth this past season when the Jaguars lost to eventual state champion Lakeside in the District 1 title game.

Colbert was 110-34 at Genesis Prep, including 91-31 in its five seasons as an IHSAA-sanctioned school. The Jaguars won or shared four North Star League titles and captured four district titles.

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MARK NELKE/Press Post Falls volleyball coach Willow Hanna, wearing a mask per COVID-19 protocols, signals a service location during a match with Lake City.

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MARK NELKE/Press Coeur d'Alene High boys soccer coach Braden Ridgewell, left, and assistant coach David Bond mask up during the season opener vs. Post Falls in August.

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JASON ELLIOTT/Press Members of the Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy girls soccer team celebrate after beating the Sugar-Salem Diggers to capture the program's fifth-straight state 3A championship on Saturday at The Fields in Post Falls.

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Lakeland High product Derek Bayley eyes the fairway before teeing off in the PGA Tour’s Barracuda Championship in Truckee, Calif., on Thursday.

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In what has become a tradition, the state 5A wrestling champion Post Falls Trojans presented the championship trophy and banner to the young wrestlers of Team Real Life at TRL practice on March 3. The Post Falls state team members pictured are Keanyn DeGroat; Connor McCarroll; Mando Laguna; Raji Singh; Isaac Jessen, 2nd; Isaiah Laguna, 3rd; Ryan Graves, 3rd; Braxton Mason, 4th; Ethan Miller, state champion; Roddy Romero, 2nd; Tyler Cook, 4th; A.J. De La Rosa, state champion; Lane Reardon, 2nd; Zack Campbell, 6th; Luke Martin and Avery McSpadden. Also part of the state team but not pictured are Logan Carrick, Tommy Hauser and Dominic Monti. For more information on Team Real Life wrestling, contact Lonnie at 208-660-8579.

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The Lakeside boys basketball team celebrates its state championship on Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. A celebration is planned tonight at 6 at Lakeside High School.

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Photo by JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY Timberlake High’s girls basketball team poses with the trophy and the banner after defeating Snake River 42-32 in the championship game of the state 3A girls basketb

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ED BETZ/Associated Press Former New York Yankees picher Don Larsen tips his hat to fans during introduction ceremonies before an old-timers game at Yankee Stadium in New York in 2008. Larsen, who lived in Hayden Lake following retirement, died Jan. 1. He was 90.