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Posts Tagged ‘Comeback’

Natalie Hollrigel and the CHS defense stepped up impressively in the second half Saturday, keying a Wolf comeback against a highly-touted rival. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The Vegas odds-makers are not happy.

But Kyle Nelson is.

Blowing up pregame predictions, the Coupeville High School girls soccer team stormed back from two goals down Saturday, against a team which hadn’t been scored on in four straight games, and forced a 2-2 draw.

The tie, coming against a Mount Vernon Christian team which arrived on Whidbey boasting a 5-1 record, and having outscored foes 27-2 across the last five games, felt like a win as the Wolves exited the pitch.

Seeing his team dominate play, especially in the second half, reinforced Nelson’s belief his squad shouldn’t solely be judged on its 0-5-2 record.

With one or two exceptions, Coupeville has been highly-competitive in all of its games, while playing without its top scorer and starting goaltender for much of the season.

With Genna Wright likely gone for the season (she injured her knee in the season opener) and Mollie Bailey returning to the net Saturday — but just for a half — it’s required everyone on the roster to step up.

And the growth Nelson was hoping to see in a relatively young team is arriving.

“We’re finally getting to where we want to be,” he said.

“Our play in the middle third of the field has been solid, and now, after getting in some more practices, and working on our play in the final third, we’re seeing definite progress.”

Mount Vernon Christian hadn’t been touched since a season-opening loss to Cedar Park Christian, and the Hurricanes came out looking like a team intent on winning its sixth-straight game.

Two goals midway through the first half, the second off of a penalty kick which caught a gust of wind and shot over Bailey’s shoulder, staked MVC to a 2-0 lead.

Without Wright as the tip of its spear, Coupeville has struggled to score at times this season, amassing just five goals through its first six games.

But this time the Wolves broke through, as sophomore Eryn Wood beat a pair of defenders, then popped a shot into the right side of the net with three minutes to play in the opening half.

Her first high school goal, it gave the Wolves a genuine spark heading into the locker room, and it showed when CHS returned to the pitch.

Coupeville owned every second of the game’s second 40-minute stretch, peppering the Hurricane goalie with shot after shot, while Bailey’s backup, Samantha Streitler, only had to turn away a shot every 20 minutes or so.

But as many shots as the Wolves were firing, Mount Vernon was doing a nice dance of “dodge the tie,” with its goaltender deflecting shots on both sides of the net.

Her luck finally ran out thanks to her teammates love of physical defense.

Or maybe extra-physical, as the Hurricanes twice wiped out Wolf sophomore Sophia Martin as she careened towards the goal, ball on her foot.

The first time, the ref shrugged his shoulders and walked away with nary a whistle, but the second time the bodies hit the floor, a yellow card came out and Coupeville was awarded a penalty kick.

Taking the in-close shot was the ever-stone cold Avalon Renninger, who slightly arched one eyebrow, let the smallest of smiles slip to just the corner of her mouth, then drilled the snot out of the ball.

It curved past the flailing MVC goalie, found the back of the net, tied the game up, and made a little history.

It was Renninger’s team-leading third goal of the season, and the ninth of her four-year career.

That breaks a tie with big sis Sage, and moves the younger sister into sole possession of fifth-place on the CHS girls soccer career scoring list.

Not content for just a two-goal comeback and a tie against a strong non-conference foe, the Wolves kept their collective foot jammed on the gas pedal, driving it through the floorboards.

But, despite two sizzlin’ Renninger shots, packaged around a booming ball off the foot of Audrianna Shaw, it wasn’t to be.

With the game in stoppage time, the most-irritating of all time in a soccer game since only the ref knows how long he’ll let the “last two minutes” go on, MVC made its first sustained run in nearly 38 minutes.

A ball took a bad hop (for Coupeville) and a Hurricane shooter got away just long enough to fire off one final shot in a bid to drive a stake through the heart of Wolf Nation.

Streitler was in place to make the nab, but she never had to, as the ball sailed harmlessly past on the right side, and the final whistle mercifully tweeted.

Since it was a non-conference game (and soccer…), players exchanged handshakes instead of taking things to overtime and/or penalty kicks.

But, from the way they walked off the field, it was hard not to feel like the Wolves were the better team on this day, regardless of record, and the true winners.

It keeps alive a remarkably successful run against Mount Vernon Christian, as Coupeville girls soccer has gone 5-1-2 against the Hurricanes across the last decade.

Something to keep in mind, because if CHS drops back from 1A to 2B next school year, as expected, they would rejoin their old stomping grounds, the Northwest League.

The current first-place team in that league? MVC.

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Lauren Rose and Co. have stayed well-stretched and highly-efficient on their current five-game winning streak. (John Fisken photo)

   Lauren Rose and Co. have stayed well-stretched and highly-efficient on their current five-game winning streak. (John Fisken photo)

Find a way.

Beset by illness and a schedule from Hell, the Coupeville High School varsity girls’ basketball squad could have crumbled a long time ago.

Instead, the Wolves have embraced every obstacle and kicked off the post-Makana Stone era in style, soaring to a 9-3 record and #14 in the state’s latest RPI rankings for 1A schools.

Friday night, still firmly stuck on the road trip which will never end, the Wolves rallied late against a very tall Mount Vernon Christian team, turning a five-point deficit entering the fourth quarter into an electrifying 34-29 win.

The victory was Coupeville’s fifth straight, and leaves them 6-1 with two games left on what will be an unprecedented nine-game road trip.

The Wolves have played 10 of 12 away from Whidbey this season, but have thrived, posting an 8-2 mark outside their own gym, with their only road losses coming to 2A Blaine and 1A power Bellevue Christian.

CHS will play five of its final six, including its final four league games, at home, yet still end the regular season having played 13 of 20 on the road.

By the time they host Klahowya Jan. 24, it will have been 44 days between home games for the Wolves.

And yet, there have been virtually no complaints from coaches and players (in public at least), as they have used the uneven schedule to pull together as a team, one tightly-knit group against the world.

Along the way, Coupeville has become quite proficient at staging rallies, forcing the situation in the late going and escaping time and again with victories which provide a strong psychological boost.

“It’s all about finding a way to stay within striking distance, ramping up the defensive pressure and making the plays down the stretch to pull out the win,” said CHS coach David King.

Friday presented its own unique challenges, as Mount Vernon Christian only has one gym, meaning the varsity girls had to sit through three other games (JV boys, JV girls, varsity boys) before taking the court for a 7:45 tip.

But, while they trailed by four at the half and five after three, the Wolves didn’t seem affected by the long wait. Instead, they were right where they wanted to be, lurking and waiting to pounce.

“I could talk about the steady game play, all game long. With this being our best effort game for the full 32 minutes,” King said. “That story would be a good read.

“Or I could talk about the three or four hustle plays that energized the Coupeville cheering section and team,” he added. “These plays show how invested each player is in helping us play to win.”

Trailing 26-21 entering the final eight minutes, the Wolves unleashed a “very disruptive man press” and completely shut down the Hurricanes.

Sparked by its stand on the defensive end of the floor, Coupeville started to knock down shots, with five players combining to carry the load on a 13-3 game-ending run.

Kailey Kellner dropped in five of her team-high 10 down the stretch, while Mikayla Elfrank and Kalia Littlejohn came up huge in the spotlight.

Elfrank broke a 29-29 tie with 18 seconds to play when she drove into the key and drilled a four-foot jumper, before Littlejohn closed out the win at the free throw line, where she had ice water flowing through her veins.

The Wolves closing surge was helped out by hustle plays, and none might have been bigger than the one pulled off by sophomore Sarah Wright.

After a missed shot, the ball skipped around madly and Wright, coming from the weak side post, threw her body airborne, snagging the loose ball and throwing it back into play as she crashed along the baseline.

The play gave CHS another offensive opportunity and thoroughly deflated the Hurricanes.

From the start, the Wolves were looking up at MVC, which starts two six-footers. Coupeville countered with aggression and passion.

“The preparation and execution of our defensive game plan couldn’t have gone much better than it did,” King said. “We worked on fronting their posts and getting a heavy dose of weak side help.

“Besides the post play our guards executed their portion as well. Making it hard for a post entry pass and then giving help on the high post,” he added. “This was our best defensive game all season.”

No Hurricane topped eight points on the night.

Coupeville bounced out to a 10-8 lead after one quarter, with Lauren Rose and Kalia Littlejohn both draining long three-balls.

Elfrank and Tiffany Briscoe added buckets, with Briscoe’s set up on a nifty play from Wolf point guard Mia Littlejohn, who wrapped the ball around the defender and dropped a beautiful bounce pass right onto her teammates fingers.

The Wolves struggled a bit in the middle two quarters, when they were outscored 18-11. King liked his squad’s ball movement, but the rim was unforgiving.

Still there were major bright spots in the game’s mid-section, including a sensational play by Kalia Littlejohn.

Doing what she does, “disrupting and harassing the player she is guarding,” Littlejohn knocked the ball loose.

“It took a high bounce; what she did next was pure instinct,” King said. “Instead of trying to go up and corral the loose ball, she went up, saw a teammate out in front of her and tapped it ahead before the MVC player could get to the ball.”

Mixing big, splashy plays with small, but very important ones, Coupeville played strongly across all aspects of the game. The Wolves controlled the boards, made off with 14 steals and committed just 10 turnovers.

“We did a great job of protecting the ball,” King said. “We have been playing consistent and steady the last three games.”

With illness and the game’s non-league status, Coupeville went to the end of its bench, getting valuable floor time for all 12 girls suited up.

“And ALL 12 contributed to the win,” King said. “Kalia, Mia, both Lauren’s (Rose and Grove) and Kyla (Briscoe) played defense the right way and caused issues for MVC.

“Our posts, led by Tiffany (who had her best game of the season) and Lindsey (Roberts), along with Sarah, Allison (Wenzel) and Ema (Smith), did a fantastic job all night in the post,” he added. “Kailey and Mikayla are hybrids and brought their defensive presence in the post and on the guard play.”

Kellner, fighting through illness, paced the Wolves with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Kalia Littlejohn filled up the stat sheet with eight points, two rebounds and six steals.

Elfrank sank five points, while Mia Littlejohn (3), Rose (3), Tiffany Briscoe (3), Grove (1) and Roberts (1) also scored.

11 of 12 Wolves snagged a rebound, with Grove (6), Roberts (5) and Elfrank (4) providing support to Kellner.

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Chelsea Prescott, half of the Killer P's (with fellow big hitter Morgan Pease), had a big opening-day performance Wednesday. (John Fisken photo)

   Chelsea Prescott, half of “The Killer P’s” (with fellow big hitter Morgan Pease), had a big opening-day performance Wednesday. (John Fisken photo)

You can’t stop Morgan Pease, and you certainly can’t contain her.

Sequim found that out the hard way Wednesday, as the Coupeville Middle School 8th grader blistered them with nasty spikes and ferocious serves one on top of another, sparking the Wolves to a come-from-behind-win.

Led by Pease and fellow big-hitter Chelsea Prescott (aka “The Killer P’s”), CMS volleyball roared back to claim a 23-25, 25-21, 15-12 win in its season opener, thwarting a much-larger school.

At the high school level, Sequim is a solid 2A school, while Coupeville lingers near the bottom of 1A in terms of student body size.

It carries over to middle school, as evidenced by the nonstop flow of Sequim players who poured out of an overfilled bus to start off the afternoon.

But, while Coupeville didn’t have as many bodies, the ones who were wearing black and red played with heart and passion.

While the Wolves fell in the opening set, they earned a few appreciative thumbs-ups from high school coach Cory Whitmore, who kept one eye on the match and one eye on his own work while camped in the bleachers.

At one point Prescott ripped a spike for a winner which drew an appreciative eyebrow raise from high school stars Hope Lodell and Mikayla Elfrank, who were helping ref.

Meanwhile, irrepressible Wolf spark plug Genna Wright was busy flying everywhere, dropping tips for winners and firing aces at the service stripe.

She and Emily Fieldler had a hot hand on serves in the early going, while Pease picked up several aces in the late going.

The turning point of the match came early in the second set, with Coupeville trailing 3-2.

Pease, using every inch of her superior height, exploded off the court and demolished the ball, blasting it off of a Sequim rival’s elbow.

The sound on impact was not unlike that of a gunshot going off, and Elfrank waved her flag excitedly and pointed it at Whitmore, as both chuckled in unison.

From that moment on, Sequim got a little jumpy, visibly backing away every time Pease wound up, and the Wolves took advantage.

Prescott pulled off the play of the night late in the second set, going airborne, then reaching back over her head to snag a wayward ball and spin it over the net for a winner a moment before she went to her knees.

While “The Killer P’s” were en fuego, CMS got big games from everyone on the floor, with Savannah Smith pulling off a gorgeous drop shot in front of grandpa (and Coupeville football legend) Steve Smith.

Heidi Clinkscales and Kylie Chernikoff also chipped in with strong play.

JV nabs big win:

While the varsity had to stage a comeback, the 8th grade JV rolled from start to finish, claiming a 25-12, 25-17, 15-10 victory.

Catherine Lhamon busted things open early in the first set with a run of six straight points at the service stripe, while Lacy McCraw and Madelyn Vondrak led the Wolf hitting with several winners apiece.

Coupeville’s serving was a major difference at the JV level, with Lhamon, McCraw, Vondrak and Jaimee Masters all collecting aces, while Sequim had considerable trouble merely getting its serves in play.

Coral Caveness had a strong return of service that split two defenders and landed for a winner as well.

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We win, son. We win. (Renae Mulholland photo)

We win, son. We win. (Renae Mulholland photo)

They danced with the devil and escaped.

After rolling through most of its schedule ten-running foes left and right, the Central Whidbey Little League Majors softball squad came dangerously close to taking its first loss of the season Tuesday night.

Not so fast.

Rallying for six runs in its final at-bats, the Coupeville Crush sent the game to extra innings, then pulled out a stunning 19-18 come-from-behind victory in Oak Harbor.

Central Whidbey was actually down to its final out, but the Crush sluggers found some magic left in their back pockets to wiggle away and improve to 13-0 on the season.

Kylie Van Velkinburgh ripped a three-run, two-out single back up the middle in the top of the sixth, then came around to score the tying run when she successfully stole home.

Having knotted the game up at 17, the Crush blanked a stunned Oak Harbor squad in the bottom half of the inning, as Central Whidbey hurler Izzy Wells struck out the side.

Starting the seventh with a runner on second (thanks to softball extra-inning rules), Coupeville immediately plated them when Jill Prince smacked an RBI triple over the head of the right fielder.

She then came home herself on an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of teammate McKenna Somes.

Oak Harbor scraped out a run in the bottom of the seventh, before the Crush slammed the door.

Wells gunned down back-to-back hitters, then Prince smoothly fielded a ground ball and stamped on first to end the season’s most improbable win.

The Crush have three regular season games left, starting with a home game 6 PM Thursday against Anacortes at Rhododendron Park.

After that, they’ll play in the Bill Sparks Tournament starting June 3.

“I’m excited about the tournament as we will see three new teams, one from South Skagit and two from Sedro,” said Crush coach Mimi Johnson.

It’ll also be a family reunion, as Johnson’s niece pitches for one of their tourney rivals.

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Ray Cook

   Ray Cook (blue shirt) and Madeline Strasburg are joined by part of the 2014-15 CHS girls hoops team — l to r, Makana Stone, Kacie Kiel, Wynter Thorne and Hailey Hammer.

Maddie Big Time

Maddie Big Time (Robert Bishop photo)

They were the biggest of big-time performances.

As we usher in the 48th class inducted into the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame, we’re focusing on an athlete who always lived up to the nickname Big Time, and two performances which were otherworldly.

The afternoon Ray Cook whiffed 21 batters and a basketball game in which Coupeville came from eight down with 58 seconds to play share the stage with one of the most electrifying figures in sports entertainment — Maddie Big Time, AKA Madeline Strasburg.

After this, both performances and our one-of-a-kind athlete will be found at the top of this blog, enshrined under the Legends tab.

First up we’re honoring Cook, who is already in the Hall for his body of work.

Today we’re paying tribute to his performance as a high school junior in the 1976 district baseball title game.

The best strikeout-tossin’ hurler in CHS history, hands down, Cook had already racked up games with 17 and 16 K’s.

This time out, though, he threw an unbelievable 13 innings (nearly the equal of two regular seven-inning high school games), setting school records for K’s and innings that haven’t been touched in 40 years.

The closest anyone has come was Brad Miller, who sent 19 batters back to the bench crying in a 1995 game.

The 13 innings from one pitcher? A modern-day coach would be nationally lambasted.

The ’76 title game win propelled Coupeville to state, and the 21 whiffed batters sent Cook, already a legend, into Wolf immortality.

In terms of one-time “wow factor,” his work on the mound is matched by the best comeback I ever witnessed in person.

It was a Saturday in late 2014 (Dec. 13 if you’re checking the calendar) and the CHS girls’ basketball squad, at the time repping the smallest 1A school in the state, was hosting Sequim, a larger 2A school which came to town bearing a snazzy 3-1 record.

The Wolf girls would win a league title that season, but, on this day, they stunk for a good chunk of time.

Wolf coach David King was speechless at the half, his players were visibly frustrated, and it was a wonder the game wasn’t more of a blowout.

But, somehow, Coupeville hung around, just long enough for the magic to happen.

And when it hit, it was so unbelievable it still seems like a fever dream to this day.

Down 39-31 with 58 seconds to play, things were beyond dire.

Key the greatest minute in Wolf hoops history.

Kacie Kiel dropped in a free throw, Wynter Thorne knocked down a jumper (her first points of the day), then Makana Stone jumped in front of a Sequim pass and took it back for a layup.

The visitors looked rattled and promptly shanked the front end of a 1-and-1 off the rim, but CHS couldn’t take advantage.

At a time when EVERY single play was going to have to go Coupeville’s way, the Wolves, down by three, threw the ball away with eight ticks on the clock.

A trickle of fans headed for the exits (trying to beat the “crushing” Cow Town traffic, maybe?) but Stone wasn’t having it.

Bellowing “no fouls! no fouls!,” the soft-spoken junior forced a turnover in the back-court, then found Kiel curling into the deepest part of the right corner.

So far out in the weeds she was practically sitting in the bleachers, the Wolf senior, an ever-smiling assassin, drilled the bottom out of the net with an impossibly high, arcing three-ball that set off pandemonium.

Overtime was pointless, but sweet.

Sequim’s players were already crying on the bench before the extra period even tipped off, and Coupeville held the visitors scoreless for five minutes to put the cap on a 42-39 win.

Afterwards, the visiting coach sat on the floor, motionless, his back against the scorer’s table, looking like someone who had just witnessed the end of the world.

Around him, Coupeville players went bonkers, and the die-hard Wolf supporters (the ones who didn’t ankle to the exits early) joined them, led by leather-lunged super fan Steve Kiel, who hit levels of screaming joy never before witnessed.

Wins come and wins go, but this one? My goodness.

So let’s give a shout-out to coaches David and Amy King and the eight Wolves who played in the game — Stone, Kiel, Thorne, Monica Vidoni, Hailey Hammer, McKenzie Bailey, Mia Littlejohn and Julia Myers.

Now, there should have been another Wolf on the court that day, but Strasburg was battling back through an injury and was instead an unpaid, but highly-enthusiastic assistant coach.

When she was healthy, which was most of the time, Maddie Big Time was a three-way terror (volleyball, basketball, softball) who delighted in rising to the occasion.

If she hit a home run, it wasn’t going to be a little poocher that rolled around in the outfield, it was going to be a majestic moon shot that left the prairie and headed down South to land at the ferry dock.

Want a spike, a teeth-rattling, knee-buckling laser that had to be perfectly flawless or else the entire match would end on the spot?

Cue Strasburg, who would come barreling in, screaming like a banshee as she elevated and decimated.

And basketball? She was like lightning in a bottle.

At one point, she hit half-court three-point bombs in consecutive games, from the same exact spot on the floor, at the same exact moment (final play of the third quarter) … 17 days apart.

Always among the most personable and free-wheeling of athletes, Maddie was a delight in every way, on and off the court, truly unforgettable.

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