Posts Tagged ‘Hall of Fame’

Alita Blouin, talented and tough. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

She’s one tough young woman.

Coupeville High School senior Alita Blouin has natural athletic talent, a strong inner drive, and a rock-solid support crew in her family and friends.

But what has always impressed me over the years, as she has gone from the world of youth sports to high school games, is her toughness.

Not that she goes out and slugs rival players in the face or anything like that — though maybe don’t get between Alita and a loose ball or you just might taste her elbow.

A shooter supreme. (Andrew Williams photo)

Alita’s toughness comes in several forms.

One, in being able to fight back through injuries, whether it’s a busted ankle or a balky back.

Nothing keeps Alita down for long, and, each time, she returns to the floor just as committed and just as scrappy.

But her toughness also shines through in how she approaches each aspect of being an athlete.

Some players bring effort in games. Others turn up the intensity in practice.

Few have been as competitive in warmups as Alita, however.

Way back, a long time ago — OK, it was during her 8th grade volleyball season — I wrote about a small, but very important, moment I noticed during pregame exercises.

As CMS went through warm-ups before a volleyball match, the spikers started to run laps around the floor.

Alita, a team captain, was out in front, serious and locked-in. No coasting.

At which point, one of her teammates, Lucy Tenore, who is considerably taller, and has a much-longer stride, tried to pass her friend.

Alita was not playing that. At all.

Lucy, smile growing bigger and bigger, tried a second time, then a third, but couldn’t get by.

That’s because Alita, legs pumping, elbows ever at the alert, fended off her teammate at every turn, her face locked in a death mask of concentration.

Lucy, fully laughing at this point, finally relented, only to see Alita kick it up a notch to a sprinter’s run to finish the final curve, one eye looking over her shoulder just in case anyone else wanted to get foolish.

June and Shawn’s daughter brought that same intensity to the floor every night as she played volleyball and (when her body allowed it) basketball.

Hanging out with the parental units. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

As a libero, Alita was invaluable, capable of filling up the stat sheet, but worth far more to the Wolves as a leader, joining Maddie Georges at the forefront of the CHS attack.

The duo earned a major honor at the end of their prep volleyball careers, invited to play in the 1B/2B/1A All-State games.

It was a fitting reward, and a testament to what both brought to the Wolf spiker program.

In a perfect world, Alita would have been able to suit up for Coupeville’s basketball team all four years.

While injuries prevented that, with a broken ankle suffered during pregame player introductions her junior season a nasty surprise, when she was on the floor, she made the net jump like few others.

Alita can rain down three-balls from anywhere on the floor, yet also showed a willingness to slice through the paint and tangle with the tall trees camped around the basket.

She was only on the floor for 23 high school hoops games — two as a junior before the injury, and 21 as a senior — yet still rattled the rims for 215 points.

That puts Alita #56 on the all-time CHS girls scoring chart, for a program launched in 1974, and her 204 points this past season marks the first time a Wolf girl topped 200 in a season since 2016.

Toss in appearances on the honor roll, and the fact she was elected Homecoming Queen as a senior, and Ryan’s big sister has left a substantial mark on her soon-to-be alma mater.

Royalty, on and off the court. (Angie Downes photo)

Talent, toughness, inner drive — Alita has it all, and wherever she goes after high school, one thing is for certain. She will be a winner at anything she does.

Now, as she and her classmates work their way towards graduation, let’s take a moment to bestow another honor on her.

Today, in a move which you could see coming a long, long time ago — at about the moment she hip-checked Lucy Tenore into the stands — we welcome Alita Blouin to the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame.

After this, you’ll find her hanging out at the top of the blog under the Legends tab, a fitting destination.

When entering the digital shrine, however, don’t try and pass Alita.

Cause she don’t play that.

“You can compete with me. You can’t beat me!” (Brian Vick photo)

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Maddie Georges, the best at what she does. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Maddie Georges always sets others up for success.

Across her four-year run as a varsity high school athlete, the Coupeville senior has always put team first.

Part of it is the positions she plays — setter in volleyball and point guard in basketball.

But Georges rises above the constraints of her role, putting her own distinctive spin on each play, each game, each season.

Like others from her generation, she didn’t get her full time on the floor, as a worldwide pandemic carved away games and practice time.

Instead of focusing on what could have been, though, or complaining about also having to fight through injuries, Georges seized every moment she was given.

An All-State volleyball player and an All-League basketball star, she proved to be one of the best to ever wear a Wolf uniform.

Facing off with high-powered La Conner, Georges won this tip battle. (Jackie Saia photo)

On the volleyball court Georges flicked passes left, right, forward, and over her shoulder, mixing up her set-ups to keep the defense always on edge.

What she didn’t do was confuse her own teammates, as she almost always placed her big hitters into position to spray kills, slicin’ ‘n dicin’ hapless rivals.

Coupeville’s primary stumbling block the past couple of seasons has been La Conner, which has collected four straight 2B state titles.

Few teams have toppled the Braves, but, led by Georges, the Wolves came as close as any Northwest 2B/1B League program.

Regardless of the score or opponent, Coupeville’s primary setter never conceded a point, keeping the offense flowing while also racking up great gobs o’ service aces, and even a few kills when the moment dictated.

Georges put a bow on her high school volleyball career by joining Wolf teammate Alita Blouin at the All-State event after her senior season, following in the footsteps of older brother Alex Evans, an All-State baseball player back in the day.

Sharing All-State honors with Alita Blouin. (Suzan Georges photo)

On the basketball court Georges was a cold-blooded assassin, capable of drilling three-balls from all angles, while also a master at crashing to the hoop for hard-earned buckets.

She finished her hardwood run as the #24 scorer in CHS girls’ hoops history, rattling the rim for 407 points.

And yet, if Georges was a bit greedier, she could have been much higher on the list, which launched in 1974.

It’s to her credit that she never simply accepted life as a gunner, however.

Put in charge of Coupeville’s offensive attack, Georges was a largely pass-first player, always looking to get others involved and keep the defense guessing.

A strong passer, a deceptively talented rebounder, and a master at drawing offensive charges after scrambling back into position, she played the complete game, making her team far better for it.

Everyone enjoys hearing the ball splash through the net, but the smart player, the complete player, knows when to rain down shots, and when to sacrifice for the growth of the team.

Georges, always, was the smart player.

Putting a cap on a stellar prep hoops career. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

As she wraps up her high school days, putting a final stamp on academic life this spring, Georges should be in the mix when the school tallies its Athlete of the Year votes from coaches.

Before then, though, let’s take a moment to give her a different honor.

With no spring sports on her schedule, now is a perfect time to welcome the selfless one to the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame.

After this, when you slide past the Legends tab at the top of the blog, that’s where you’ll find Georges, fulfilling a destiny I foretold years ago.

A mere young gun, but already a hardwood killer. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

From her days as a precocious young star to her time as a seasoned vet, she has been at the forefront of Coupeville athletics seemingly since her arrival in the world as a baby already rockin’ legendary red hair.

Georges was a softball sensation during her little league days, and could have been a tennis ace, if she had ever given in to my pleas.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Celebrate Maddie for what she chose to accomplish, and how she chose to reach those goals.

Serene on the outside, even when rolling massive side eye at her fan section from time to time, but fiery on the inside, with a burning passion which few can match, she is a great example to young athletes coming up behind her.

Play for the name on the front of the jersey and walk away at the end knowing you truly gave everything you had.

Every school, every town, every team needs a Maddie Georges, but you don’t always get what you deserve.

We did, as Coupeville hit the jackpot with her.

She’s something special, both as an athlete and a young woman, and I hope she knows what a positive impact she made.

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Suzanne Marble (second from right, back row) built La Conner into the premium volleyball program in the region. (Photo property WIAA)

It’s a nice parting gift.

Suzanne Marble, who retired after winning seven state titles in a 30-year run as La Conner High School volleyball coach, is being inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame.

With everyone playing catch-up thanks to the pandemic, the WIAA is honoring both the Class of 2021 and Class of 2022 at the same time, with the event set for May 3 in Renton.

The 11 inductees from the two classes include administrators, contributors, athletes, coaches, and officials.

Marble fills the coach slot for the class of 2022, while Phil Lonborg, who coached five sports in his career while working at Timberline and River Ridge, is the ’21 selection in that category.

The WIAA Hall of Fame includes such heavy hitters as professional athletes John Stockton, Ron Santo, and Kate Starbird, as well as the state’s winningest football coach, Sid Otton — best known for being my 9th grade health teacher at Tumwater High School.

Marble, a graduate of Mead High School in Spokane, led La Conner to 574 wins, bringing home state titles in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2022.

The Braves are four-time defending 2B champs, as there was no state tourney in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions.

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Nezi Keiper, Superstar. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The first time I saw Yetlanezi Keiper play a sport, she was busy making a boy seriously rethink his life choices.

Clad in a Coupeville Middle School football uniform, she had unloaded on a dude who thought he was going to block her, sending her rival sprawling to the grass.

Standing over him, long hair flowing from beneath her helmet, Nezi’s face was a study in calmness.

She wasn’t outwardly mad, but she also wasn’t going to smile at the fellow player she cut in half and left to (metaphorically) bleed out on a muddy patch of grass.

It was one of the most striking moments I have witnessed in three decades of on and off writing about prep sports.

Not because Nezi was a girl, dominating in a sport where girls are rarely made to feel welcome.

But because, in that moment, it was obvious she was a truly special athlete.

She showed no fear.

She asked for no quarter.

She was going to kick your butt on every play.

End of story.

Young Nezi, dominating the gridiron. (Sarah Saunders photo)

Now, over the last six years, as Nezi moved through middle school, then left football behind and played soccer and basketball during her high school days, I’ve seen a different side of her.

In her dealings with others, close friends or casual acquaintances, she remains one of the kindest people you will meet.

And one of the strongest.

Plus, and this is huge, she always answers my messages, sending me tidbits of info after games while bumping along the backroads of America in a school bus.

Whether her team wins big or gets roughed up on the scoreboard, Nezi is solid gold as a sideline reporter.

For someone such as myself, who can be a bit obsessive about wanting to get stories printed the same day a game is played, she has been invaluable.

Being hailed on Senior Night. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

On the field or court, she has never wavered, never made me rethink that first appraisal of her inner fire.

She is relentless as a soccer defender, taking on the best goal scorers in the region time and again, always making sure they will remember the time they unwisely chose to tangle with her.

Nezi is not a dirty player, by any means.

In fact, she goes out of her way not to hurt others and often shows concern for the physical well-being of those she clashes with.

But she is not going to back down. Like ever.

Capable of clearing the back line with a booming kick, Nezi believes every 50/50 ball belongs to her, and legs churning, she will not surrender her patch of turf, no matter how quick or large the foe may be.

If a collision is required, she never shies from contact.

But, at the same time, she’s just as likely, if not more so, to strip the ball and send it flying far away from her net before the shooter realizes they’ve lost control of the play.

“Get outta here!” (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

When she’s on the hardwood, Nezi brings the same style of play to basketball as she does to soccer.

A ferocious rebounder, when she plants herself under the hoop, good luck on moving her from her appointed position.

One of my favorite photos from Coupeville Sports is one of Nezi going toe-to-toe with a much-taller South Whidbey hoops player during her 8th grade season.

She will not be moved. You can try, but it ain’t happening, skippy.

The Wolves went undefeated that year, and Nezi was a major contributor on both ends of the floor.

Other players may have been set up to be scorers, but she showed a deft touch with the ball in her hands and could sting rival defenses.

But, as on the soccer pitch, Nezi was an absolute rock on defense and that was where she rightfully earned her fame.

Locked in from the line. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

So, here we are in early December, and she doesn’t graduate until June, and yet I’m skipping ahead of the normal schedule a bit. As you’ll see in a few moments.

Nezi chose not to play basketball this season, focusing on school, work, and life, and while her absence saddens me, it’s not about me.

If she’s happy and fulfilled, good on her. That’s what matters.

There are rumors in the air Nezi might pick up a tennis racket this spring and cap her high school days on the court or migrate to track for one go-round.

I hope it’s true, either way.

But if it’s not, Nezi deserves the peace of being allowed to make her own decision, so I’ll go be quiet in the corner after this.

As I do, however, I want to take a moment to put an official stamp on things.

Whether she still has high school sports highlights to craft or not, Nezi long ago punched her ticket to the Coupeville Sports Hall o’ Fame.

She is a special athlete, and an even better human being, and putting her in our digital shrine makes the joint a lot classier.

So, let’s do this now, and not wait until summer.

After this, when you slide past the Legends tab at the top of the blog, that’s where you’ll find Nezi hanging out.

Was there ever a doubt?

No, no there was not.

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Nolan Ryan, American folk hero.

I used to have a Nolan Ryan t-shirt back in the day, not surrendering it until it finally fell to pieces.

Like the man whose image was emblazoned on it, that shirt lasted a VERY long time, and I miss it greatly.

Does the modern generation even know who Nolan Ryan is?

They should, because the dude is the real deal.

He was born in 1947, made his Major League Baseball debut at 19, played 27(!!) seasons, retired in 1993, and went into the Hall of Fame with 98.8% of the vote in 1999.

That year’s induction class, with George Brett and Robin Yount joining Ryan in Cooperstown, is the high-water mark for my own personal relationship with the diamond game.

Those three, who soared so high in the ’80s, when I was an impressionable teenager, were larger than life figures — old school folk heroes who looked like real dudes, not steroid-inflated cartoons, and their exploits still seem so much bigger than many who have followed them.

Ryan, in particular, was the guy.

He was old man strong, going bald and doing his arm curls in his dad shorts while drawling good-natured wisdom to his own sons in the TV clips we saw.

Then, every fourth or fifth day, he took the ball, went to the mound, and buzzed fools until the game was over.

Pity the manager who dared to think about pulling him early.

Nolan Ryan pitched like the rancher he was — you do the damn job, and you don’t ask, expect, or want, anyone else to come moseying along talking about “hey, do you need some help?”

He threw two of his MLB-record seven no-hitters after age 40(!!) and struck out 5,714 batters — almost 900(!!) more than his closest challengers, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.

Today, starting pitchers get pats on the head and orange slices for going five innings, then managers run 300 relievers through the game.

Ryan, death grip on the ball, wasn’t moving off the mound.

Not when Bo Jackson cranked a ball off his face, leaving the hurler (and his uniform) splattered in blood, as shown in the photo above.

Today everyone hyperventilates at the sight of a single crimson drop. Ryan retired 17 more hitters, without changing his uniform.

And not when Robin Ventura, a rock-solid third baseman in the ’90s, charged the mound one August day after being plunked.

Stop. Hammer time.

Ventura was 26, Ryan 46, and the rancher collared the upstart, pulling him in with one arm and raining blows down on the interloper with the other.

There are a ton of fake “fights” in MLB history, and then there is the one where Ryan, who was nearly wrecked after being bum-rushed by man-mountain Dave Winfield 13 years earlier, upheld his vow to protect himself at all costs if the situation ever repeated.

Enter Ventura, exit Ventura — ejected from the game, forever to be remembered more for getting beat down by an old man than for his own strong 16-year MLB career.

And Ryan? He wasn’t even ejected, cause no ump wanted to mess with the old man, either.

So, what’s this all about, other than me getting misty-eyed over a long-gone t-shirt?

It’s about how you all need to go to Netflix and watch the 2022 documentary Facing Nolan.

It’s a reverent look at the kind of baseball player who rarely exists in the modern game, but it’s also a love story.

Between Nolan and Ruth, his wife of 55 years, a champion in her own right, and the true power figure in the family.

Between Nolan and his children and grandchildren, who tease him about his old TV commercials and bring out the softer side in a tough man.

Between Nolan and the state of Texas, and Nolan and ranching.

And between Nolan and the game he played for three decades; a game he dominated in a way few others ever have.

It’s a great film, about a true American folk hero, a man who did his job one 100 MPH fastball at a time, then went home to his family and the ranch, content.

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