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Archive for the ‘Hall o’ Fame’ Category

Aram Leyva joins big bro Abraham and cousin Derek in the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Same family, different playing styles, similar results.

Cousins Aram and Derek Leyva followed a trail of success blazed by Aram’s big brother, Abraham, but will be remembered for what they personally accomplished.

The duo were as talented as any soccer players ever to wear the red and black for Coupeville High School, and only a pandemic shutting down state schools could slow them down on the pitch.

Derek, who tallied 38 goals in just two seasons at CHS, finishes as the #2 scorer in Wolf boys soccer history, denied a senior season in which he likely would have passed Abraham, who hit the back of the net 45 times between 2014-2016.

While he might not have the career record, Derek does hold the CHS boys single-season mark, having made rival goalies look silly while recording 24 goals during his sophomore season.

No slouch himself, Aram rang up 29 goals of his own across three seasons, before he too lost his senior campaign to the pandemic.

Derek Leyva owns the Wolf boys soccer single-season scoring record.

On the pitch, Derek was a burst of silky lightning, often flying past defenders, then snapping their ankles with quick cut-backs, all while flicking the ball along like he was operating a yo-yo.

Let’s face it – I’m not a soccer expert.

I don’t always understand the subtle nuances of the beautiful game, or always properly appreciate the sport, but that didn’t stop me from responding to most of his eye-popping plays with a long, slow “Damn … Derek!”

And he wasn’t just a star on the pitch, returning to the same field to captivate people with his play on the football gridiron as well.

We knew Derek had a leg capable of launching the ball, regardless of the sport, so seeing him make his debut as a kicker felt right.

But, surprise!

He also had other skills, whether as a receiver on offense or operating as a defensive back, and it would have been nice to see him get more than the handful of games he ultimately played.

One game, or a series of them, didn’t matter, however.

Derek is that rare Coupeville athlete who operates on a higher plain, and we should appreciate whatever exploits we were allowed to enjoy.

Derek Leyva, on his way to ringing up another goal.

Same with Aram, who was a rough ‘n tumble dude while in action, in the best way possible.

Early on, he competed in track and field, and messed people up on the basketball court, but it was soccer, the family sport, where his star shone brightest.

Aram has a light touch with the ball, and can flick shots into the corner of the net, an inch away from a madly-scrambling goalie, just like his brother and cousin.

But he can also — and this is my favorite part of his game — run right over multiple defenders, carving a path of destruction as he rumbles to pay dirt.

Every time Aram took the pitch, the Wolf captain seemed to seek out contact, the harder the better.

The first time he backs down from a rival team, regardless of what pampered private school they hail from, well … that will be the first time, cause it never happened during his CHS days.

There’s a photo of Aram from back in his youth league days, and in it, he’s flinging two defenders airborne as he bulls his way to the ball, an unstoppable force of fury who happens to be smiling as he makes the turf rumble.

It’s kind of beautiful.

Aram Leyva, a pitch powerhouse.

It would have been great for the Leyva lads to get one more go-round in CHS uniforms this spring, Derek’s silky speed and Aram’s bone-crunching fury meshing together to decimate anyone stupid enough to stand in their way.

It didn’t happen, which is too bad, but a lost season does nothing to detract from the legacy they leave behind.

Future Wolf soccer players, both those who played alongside them, and those who will arrive in years to come, should aim to play like the duo. That is the route to success.

For today, we honor what they accomplished by inducting them into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, where they’ll join Abraham.

After this, take a gander at the top of the blog, under the Legends tab, and you’ll find all three Leyva men right where they belong.

They earned enshrinement with every eye-popping goal, every perfectly-placed pass, every brilliant play, every rugged display of “this is my frickin’ pitch, and YOU need to move!”

The gold standard for CHS soccer? Without a doubt.

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A vibrant star on the soccer pitch and basketball court, Mia Littlejohn is our newest inductee into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

You bought a ticket, she put on a show.

Across two years of middle school athletics, and three years of high school action in Coupeville, with heapin’ helpins’ of travel ball tossed in, Mia Littlejohn never failed to entertain.

She was feisty, she played at times like she had a chip on her shoulder and at other times like she had wandered in off of a playground in Jersey, and she brought the heat to all of her sports.

On the soccer field, she was a goal-scoring dervish who also could step back and set up her teammates with precision passes.

On the basketball hardwood, she was a run ‘n gun floor leader, a point guard who slashed away, charging right at the heart of the defense.

Come up on her, and she’d wheal and deal, peppering passes to all directions.

Back off, even for a split second, and Mia would turn her defender’s legs into jelly, putting some shake and bake on her moves as she filled the basket up herself.

She has an older brother, Zepher Loesch, who played with the same wild abandon, and a lil’ sis, Kalia Littlejohn, who often matched her in making the flashbulbs pop with electrifying play.

Mia never finished her run in Coupeville, opting to transfer to Oak Harbor for her senior year, where she graduated in purple and gold, instead of red and black.

But, while the move denied her the chance to add to her CHS stats, wandering up the Island should do nothing to diminish the impact she had while playing for the Wolves.

It’s why we welcome her today to the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, acknowledging Mia’s skill, her passion, and her style of play – a freewheeling, pedal-through-the-metal flow which few have matched.

After this, if you look up at the top of the blog, under the Legends tab, you’ll find Miss Littlejohn rightfully perched where she should be.

Mia was already drawing “oohs” and “ahs” long before she hit the hallways of CHS.

She grabbed attention for her exploits as a middle school hoops sensation, a travel ball soccer ace, and, for a hot moment, as a key player on a Central Whidbey Little League softball squad which went undefeated and advanced to the state tourney.

Once in high school, she never slowed down, landing on the varsity soccer and basketball squads from day one.

On the pitch, she spent her freshman and sophomore seasons as a pass-first player, rolling up assists in great gobs, while still finding time to hammer home eight goals across the two campaigns.

Mia holds the single-season and career CHS girls soccer scoring records.

Mia’s junior season was something else, though, as she went on a goal-scoring blitz like none ever seen at CHS.

By the time she was done, and off packing ice on her scoring leg to get it to cool down at least a little, she had found the back of the net an astonishing 27 times.

That stands as the school single-season record, girl or boy, and is 12 more goals than any other Wolf girl has ever notched during a single year.

Selected as the Olympic League co-MVP, Mia finished her junior season with 35 career goals, a total which endures as the CHS girls top mark.

As good as she could be on the soccer pitch, I personally think basketball was her best sport.

On the hardwood, she always played with a little something extra.

Some will say it’s because basketball is my favorite sport, while soccer … isn’t.

But put her on the hardwood and Mia could be truly special at times.

She ran the point with precision, while also scoring a fair amount, finishing with 317 points in three seasons, putting her #35 on the Wolf girls all-time career scoring chart.

Not bad, considering Mia’s prep career coincided with those of the program’s #3 (Makana Stone), #19 (Lindsey Roberts) and #30 (Kailey Kellner) scorers, putting a premium on getting buckets.

Mia got her points in a variety of ways, spinning and popping jumpers while on the move, dashing into the paint to dare the big girls to try and catch her, or converting breakaways.

She was an opportunistic defender, and lived to bat balls away, to slide up behind a rival and pick their pocket, or just to jump down their throat as they came up-court, arms waving, screaming like a banshee.

That was where the Jersey in her game came to the forefront, as she made rival players crack, then danced away, big grin on her face.

Mia was always talented, but, most of all, she was entertaining, all day, every day.

When you pulled up a seat to watch her play, in any sport, there was never a doubt you were going to get your money’s worth.

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Emma Mathusek, serene superstar. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Emma Mathusek was a quiet superstar.

I’m not talking about her personality — she has always been outgoing, full of rah-rah spirit, and an exuberant, entertaining presence  — but how she approached her sports.

Whether it was volleyball or softball, or basketball back in her younger days, Emma was the kind of athlete every coach wants and hopes will land on their team.

She had skills for days, but always seemed content to fit her strengths into whatever her teammates and coaches needed.

Others chafe if they’re not looked at as the star.

Emma, who is straight laid-back chill, bopped along to a different rhythm than most, always seeming far more interested in team success than piling up personal stats.

Already ready to rule the world. (Photo courtesy Erin Martin)

You saw it on the volleyball court, where she anchored the Wolves while playing libero, sacrificing her body to scrape balls off the floor, time and again, and then some more.

The big hitters up front get the gaudy stats, and a lot of the buzz, but they never get the chance to go airborne if Emma isn’t holding down the last line of defense.

I don’t know as much about volleyball as some, but I’ve watched enough matches to appreciate an unsung warrior when I see one.

And that’s what Emma has been for the past six years – a warrior.

She sold out every dang time, every play, every moment she was on the floor, and very few balls got past her during that time.

The harder other teams hit, the harder she played.

Her team might win — and she was part of a very-successful run by the Wolf spikers in recent years — or they might lose, but Emma played with the same conviction, the same intensity, regardless of whether her team was two sets up or two sets down.

I always thought it was too bad she gave up basketball midway through her prep career, but that could be because it’s my favorite sport, and she was my favorite kind of player – a fighter and a scrapper.

But, you have to do what makes you happy, and know the fans will survive either way. If she was happier not playing, so be it.

And anyway, we still had her for one more sport, and she sparkled on the softball field.

A dynamic softball player from the very beginning. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Put Emma on the diamond, and she gave you speed, a soft glove, a slammin’ bat, and, once again, the willingness to adapt to whatever role she was asked to play.

She patrolled centerfield in her prime, and frankly, at times, there was little need for Coupeville coaches to put players in right and left, as she sprinted from foul line to foul line to snag rapidly-falling balls.

At the plate, Emma was a contact hitter who sprayed the ball in all directions, while often showing a surprising amount of pop.

While it wasn’t unexpected that homer-happy teammates like Veronica Crownover and Sarah Wright terrorized opposing pitchers with frequent round-trippers, Emma rocked one of the most-impressive home runs I have seen a Wolf hit.

The tater was delivered May 1, 2019, and it will live in Wolf lore for a long time, for how far away it sailed, when it was hit, and what it meant.

Emma’s shot, which cleared the fence like a 747 taking off, was a game-tying two-run blast which fueled what would turn into a wild, come-from-behind, 20-18 win over visiting Granite Falls.

The Tigers had come to Cow Town struttin’ and full of swagger, seemingly on the brink of clinching the North Sound Conference title.

Then Emma, with some help from her teammates, knocked Granite Falls to the canvas – she also had a long two-run single to go with her home run – and dared the Tigers to get back up.

They did not. Ever.

Jacked up after delivering a KO, one in which freshman hurler Izzy Wells whiffed the most-dangerous hitter in the league to slam the door shut, Coupeville stormed all the way back to win the league title.

After that came a great postseason run in which the Wolves finished 2nd at districts, advanced to state for the third time in program history, then drilled big baddie Deer Park while there.

Granite? They never made it out of districts, the back half of their tail-spinning season including a second loss to Coupeville, this one a killer in the playoffs.

The Wolves, however, made it to the premier event for Washington state high school softball sluggers, and it was Emma – the unsung star – who ruled the big stage.

Playing three games in one day in Richland, she ripped off six hits, including three doubles, putting a remarkable cap on her junior season.

While the COVID-19 pandemic stole her senior softball campaign, the legend Emma quietly built can’t be diminished.

You can talk about stats. You can talk about big hits and big catches on the diamond, or big dives and big hustle plays on the court.

Or you can just stand back and appreciate a young woman who every single moment she was in a Wolf uniform looked like she was having the time of her life.

She played her heart out, and her joy, the way she embraced her teammates and sacrificed for them, won’t be forgotten.

Today we induct Emma Mathusek into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, and, after this, she’ll live up at the top of the blog, under the Legends tab.

Want to find her? She’ll be the one high-fiving all the other inductees, a perfect teammate to the end.

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Ashleigh Battaglia is the newest member of the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

She’s joined there by Mica Shipley.

Whether competing with the CHS squad, or on their own, the duo soared to great success. (Photo courtesy BreAnna Boon)

The debate is settled, at least for me.

Cheerleading is a sport, and cheerleaders are athletes.

It has been ever so.

There have been 16 cheerleaders previously inducted into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, a mix of multi-talented athletes from Amanda Fabrizi to Rose Bergdoll to David Torres.

Today, we welcome the 17th and 18th Wolf cheer squad vets to our digital clubhouse, with the CHS senior duo of Mica Shipley and Ashleigh Battaglia joining the elite.

After this, when you look at the top of the blog, under the Legends tab, you’ll find the high-flying spirit superstars right where they belong.

Mica and Ashleigh have been at the forefront of Coupeville cheer for years now, whether as fast-rising newcomers or as experienced captains.

During their time at CHS, the Wolf spirit program has returned to competitive cheer, adding new moves, new stunts, and a new energy to their work on the sidelines.

Leading the return to the competition mats, Mica and Ashleigh spurred the Wolves to a 3rd place finish at the state tournament as juniors, then led their squad all the way to nationals in their final season on campus.

There was a time period, back when Hall o’ Fame coach Sylvia Arnold led the CHS program, when Coupeville competed on a regular basis, bringing home banners and trophies, including a state title.

Now, after a stretch of years in which the school chose not to compete, the Wolves are back in the thick of vying for team glory, with current coach BreAnna Boon encouraging the change.

What’s been the biggest surprise is not that Coupeville has been successful in its first two years back in competition, but that the Wolves have soared so high, so fast.

I believe a large part of the credit for that rebirth goes to Mica and Ashleigh.

To truly grow a program, you need captains who lead through words and action, with sweat and work, with an unshakable belief in themselves and their teammates.

Few have put in the time and effort that this all-star duo have.

As individuals, they are talented, strong young women, both with different skill-sets, but both utterly committed — walking, talking, backflipping testaments to never backing down and never giving in.

Together, as friends, leaders, and athletes, they show their classmates, their teammates, and the world, how much Coupeville teens can accomplish.

Whether meshing as part of the Wolf team, or going off on their own to compete in high-caliber cheer events, Mica and Ashleigh have earned our respect and admiration.

Witness the work they put in to their sport, the long, physically-demanding practices, the constant chase of perfection in events in which even the slightest of errors can be devastating, and you see two of the best we can claim as our own.

Through fall and winter cheer seasons, through off-season work and through countless performances, the duo have shined a positive light on their town, their school, their families, and, ultimately, themselves.

CHS cheer is better for Mica and Ashleigh having worn the Wolf uniform, and, as they prepare to head out into the world to write the next chapters in their story, I have no doubt both will succeed at whatever path they choose.

Look at their drive and work ethic, than add in that both of them have always come across as intelligent, outgoing young women who embrace family and friends with great passion, and it’s a pretty easy prediction to make.

As they have progressed from middle school to high school, Mica and Ashleigh have grown in confidence, refined their skill as athletes, and embraced their opportunities.

But their star quality, the special light which both project to the world, has always been there, since day one.

They have devoted time and effort, and given their all, to cheering for their classmates, to stoking the fire of spirit, and to making Coupeville a better place.

Today, we return the favor and cheer for the cheerleaders – two young women of remarkable class, accomplishment, and promise.

Hall o’ Famers in every way.

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Gavin Knoblich, born to be a star. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Gavin Knoblich was as solid as they come.

Some athletes blaze hot for a bit, arcing high into the skies, while sometimes crashing back down.

But there is something to be said for the guy who shows up game after game, practice after practice, season after season, the very definition of steady.

In the moment, those players sometimes get overlooked a bit.

Take a step back and look at the whole picture, though, and their worth is magnified tenfold.

Five years from now, 10 years, 20 years, Wolf fans will reflect on what the lanky, affable Knoblich quietly accomplished, and they will know the truth – he was one of the best we ever had.

This was a kid who got stronger, and taller, and more talented, as he worked his way through CMS and then CHS, but two things never, ever changed as he grew into a man.

First, he never failed to give us all he had.

Gavin wasn’t always the one who got to amass the big stats, but he was utterly indispensable.

He did the dirty work, he fought for every moment, he always backed up his teammates, he was the glue every team has to have.

And secondly, he did it all while remaining the same genuinely nice guy from start to finish.

Gavin could flex with the best of them, if he wanted to, but look at sports photos over the years, and he’s smiling in almost every single one, whether it’s a portrait or he’s on the rampage.

Put him on a football field, and he used his length and soft hands to become a top-notch receiver, pulling in passes over the outstretched arms of defensive backs who couldn’t control him.

Touchdown, incoming.

When the Wolves went on defense, Gavin hit with intensity, wrapped people up, refused to let foes escape or evade.

He was a genuine two-way terror, but one who also, after big wins or tough losses, always had the grace to immediately go hug mom Mariah and pose with lil’ sis Ryanne for photos.

Gavin’s prep sports career carried over to the basketball court, where he was a rebounding machine with an often-sweet touch on his jumper.

He could stroke it from three-point land when given the chance, but, again, he often sacrificed the spotlight to set up those around him.

That he made the extra pass, always looked for the open teammate, jumped into the fray to fight for loose balls and absorb elbows swung at his head, marked him as a valuable part of the Wolf attack.

And that selflessness carried over to the final stop on his sports arc, the baseball diamond.

No matter the position he played, Gavin was a rock for the CHS hardball squad.

But it’s somehow appropriate that his most enduring moments came when he was buried under the protective gear of a catcher, crouched behind the plate, joking with the umpire, then whipping throws to second to nail dead-on-arrival runners.

“They run, I gun. They lose, I win. Every time.”

Gavin was on the receiving end of some of the more memorable throws in recent memory, whether he was pulling in lasers from Joey Lippo, or Kyle Rockwell, or a dozen others.

Some times, though, the CHS catcher was the one rockin’ the arm.

During one tense battle with Chimacum, a 1-0 Wolf win to move into first place, every play mattered twice as much as normal.

Or, at least it seemed that way.

At one point, Coupeville hurler Matt Hilborn cracked off a third strike, only to have the ball hit Knoblich’s mitt at an odd angle and skid away.

The Cowboy hitter dropped his bat and tried to get his feet churning, looking for a free base, but, behind him, Gavin shocked the world.

Exploding out of his crouch, Knoblich scrambled to the backstop, snared the ball on a hop, whirled and launched a moonshot of a throw (all while rocking/falling backwards, thus greatly increasing the difficulty of the maneuver).

Up, up, up, the ball went, then it plunged out of the sky, plopping right into the outstretched glove proffered by Wolf first baseman Julian Welling, arriving a half-second ahead of one extremely-agitated runner.

The umpire pumped his fist, the Wolves went crazy, and Gavin?

He turned around, picked up his discarded mask, smiled at his mom in the stands, then went right back to work.

Like a boss.

I feel for Gavin, who, like the other senior athletes in the CHS Class of 2020, won’t get a final season this spring.

Life isn’t always fair, whether it throws a pandemic at us, or a war, as it did for many who saw prep sports careers end early after Pearl Harbor.

But today, tomorrow, or years from now, when Wolf fans look back and remember Gavin, they won’t fixate on what could have been.

Instead they will remember what was.

And that image will be of Gavin, fighting to his last ounce of sweat, always, while never forgetting to enjoy the moment and share it with those who love him the most.

I have no doubt he made his mom, and dad Clint, proud.

It’s a sentiment likely shared by his coaches, his teammates, and those who watched him play.

I can’t give Gavin his senior baseball season back, but I can give him this moment, as we induct him into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame.

After this, if you pop up to the top of the blog, you’ll find Gavin camped out under the Legends tab.

He earned it every step of the way, with his spirit and his attitude, with big plays and with small moments.

He won’t be forgotten.

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