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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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Natalie Hollrigel and the CHS girls soccer squad are deep into a four-game road trip. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Fear the wrath of the Hurricanes.

Mount Vernon Christian might be just a 1B school, but its girls soccer squad is a fearsome foe, something Coupeville was reminded of Saturday afternoon.

Playing their third game in a four-game road trip, the Wolf booters weren’t able to generate much offense against a very-effective MVC defense, falling 3-0.

The non-conference loss drops Coupeville to 1-5-1 on the season.

The Hurricanes, who haven’t given up more than a single goal in a game, are flying high, posting a 5-1 record.

MVC has outscored its first six opponents by a combined score of 21-5.

The Wolves are having a bit more trouble with their scoring differential, having been shut-out in four of seven games.

Playing, and losing, during back-to-back weekends, has dinged the ol’ win/loss record a bit.

“Saturdays do not seem to agree with us,” said CHS coach Kyle Nelson. “We were half a step slow today, and ultimately that cost us.”

Coupeville returns to the Island to wrap up its longest road trip of the season, visiting Langley this Tuesday, Sept. 25, to face South Whidbey.

CHS is 1-2 in North Sound Conference play, and a win against the Falcons (1-1 in league, 3-3 overall) would propel the Wolves up the standings.

The Island rivalry clash kicks off at 6 PM at South Whidbey High School.

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   Jean Lund-Olsen’s fingers tell the tale — two JV games Friday, two wins for Coupeville. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The small gym was hoppin’.

While the varsity basketball teams lit up the Coupeville High School gym Friday, the Wolf JV squads took turns winning thrillers against visiting Mount Vernon Christian across the hallway.

The CHS boys pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 38-36 win, evening their record at 1-1, while the girls emerged from overtime with a 24-22 victory to climb to 2-1 on the season.

Girls fight back:

Trailing 13-7 at the half, the Wolves steadily chipped away at the lead, cutting away three points in both the third and fourth quarters.

After losing its lead, MVC hit a late bucket to re-tie the game, then had a chance to win in the final three seconds.

Wolf frosh Chelsea Prescott read the play nicely, though, intercepting the in-bounds pass and sending the game to overtime, where one perfect play won the night.

Running a play it had recently installed, Coupeville used a “soccer-style” pass from pitch vet Tia Wurzrainer to Mollie Bailey to set up the only bucket of the extra period.

The wild finish capped what CHS coach Amy King termed a “back-and-forth, soccer-style game,” in which the ball was frequently loose, bodies were frequently crashing into one another, shots kept popping back out of the cylinder and there were “a million steals.”

Prescott racked up the best numbers in the scoring column with 10 (she also had five blocks and four steals), while Avalon Renninger (6), Nicole Lester (4), Bailey (2) and Wurzrainer (2) also tallied points.

Boys win a back-and-forth affair:

Both squads took turns surging, with Coupeville up 12-7 after one, down 20-19 at the half, then tied at 25-25 heading into the final eight minutes.

Once there, the Wolves got a pair of crunch-time three-balls from freshman Alex Jimenez, one of five CHS players to score in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore Mason Grove paced Coupeville with a game-high 16, netting five three-point bombs and a crucial free throw, while Ulrik Wells pounded down low for seven points.

Jean Lund-Olsen (6), Jimenez (6), Daniel Olson (2) and David Prescott (1) all chipped in to round out the scoring attack.

“The young guys really stepped up for us tonight,” said Coupeville coach Chris Smith.

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   Ema Smith fights through the Mount Vernon Christian defense. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

   Allison Wenzel keeps a watchful eye on the defender as she drives the ball up-court.

As a work in progress, the Coupeville High School girls basketball squad is going to hit a few bumps in the road this season.

Having lost four starters, the Wolves are not the same team which cruised to a third-straight league title last year.

They are young, talented, but still developing. And that was showcased Friday night.

At times, the Wolves looked very good, especially on defense, where they shut-down visiting Mount Vernon Christian for a seven-minute stretch in the second quarter.

But then, at other times, the Wolves looked tentative, and, unfortunately, one of those times came during the game’s closing minutes.

Losing the grip on a lead it had held for two-plus quarters, Coupeville went cold from the field down the stretch, watching as a 26-26 tie turned into a 35-29 loss.

The non-conference defeat drops the Wolves to 0-3 heading into a game Saturday with Flinders Christian, an Australian traveling team.

That game, which will be played at South Whidbey High School, tips at 11 AM.

Coupeville, which had held the lead from the first moments of the second quarter, finally fell behind, briefly, with seven minutes left in the game.

The Wolves responded strongly, though, getting a free throw from Mikayla Elfrank and a bucket from Lindsey Roberts to knot the game at 26.

The game-tying layup came courtesy sophomore guard Scout Smith, who retrieved a loose ball and pegged a sizzling pass that dropped onto Roberts fingertips in mid-stride.

It brought the crowd to its collective feet, led the MVC coach to call a timeout, and seemed to signal the start of a strong finale for Coupeville.

It wasn’t to be, though, as the Hurricanes hit on back-to-back three-point plays to bust the game open.

The first came on a lurching layup and ensuing free throw, courtesy of a ticky-tack foul call, while the second was an admittedly pretty dang impressive three-ball.

MVC had shooters willing to air the ball out, and they won the battle from behind the arc 15-0, thanks to five three-pointers that splashed home.

The first was a gut-wrencher, with the ball hitting the bottom of the net with 0:00.1 of a second left on the clock in the first quarter.

Coupeville refused to bend a knee in the game’s final moments, though, as Ema Smith and Kalia Littlejohn came hard after Hurricane ball-handlers as the game clock ticked down.

Ema Smith, making her season debut, had a particularly strong series of plays in the final 45 seconds, twice forcing jump balls before knocking down a long jumper that was a half-step away from being a three-ball of its own.

While that shot was a dagger, her teammate, Sarah Wright, had the most entertaining basket of the night.

The Wolf junior stopped and popped a shot early in the second quarter which bounced around, hitting every single side of the rim multiple times.

All 10 players eventually stood and watched as the ball bounced, bucked, popped and then, after an eternity, splashed through, giving Wright an opportunity to justifiably fist-pump as she back-pedaled.

While the Wolves didn’t get a break-out scoring performance, they did share the work, with Elfrank topping the charts with nine points and 11 rebounds.

Roberts and Littlejohn knocked down five points apiece, while Ema Smith (4), Wright (4) and Kyla Briscoe (2) rounded out the attack.

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   Ethan Spark scored a game-high 21 Friday, netting five three-point bombs in a Wolf win. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

“They want it pretty bad.”

As he basked in the glow of his first win as a varsity basketball coach Friday, Brad Sherman wanted to make one thing clear — in his eyes, all the credit goes to his players.

Having inherited a senior-heavy roster, the former Coupeville High School hoops star has unleashed the current Wolves on defense, and it’s paying immediate dividends.

Harassing visiting Mount Vernon Christian every inch of the floor, CHS turned a close game into a rout in the second half, then coasted home with a 49-37 win.

The non-conference victory evens Coupeville’s record at 1-1.

The Wolves got strong offensive work from Ethan Spark and Hunter Smith, who combined to score 41 of their team’s 49 points, but it was defense which turned the tide in this one.

The kind of defense where it looked like five rabid dogs attacking as one, poking passes, rejecting shots, forcing turnovers and mental errors and being a royal pain in the tush to anyone unlucky enough to be wearing a Hurricanes uniform.

“I really liked our intensity on defense,” Sherman said. “We were flying all over the place, applying ball pressure and closing down the passing lanes, just making it very hard for the other team to run any kind of offense.”

Coupeville’s starting five – Smith, Spark, Cameron Toomey-Stout, Joey Lippo and Hunter Downes – are all seniors, and have yet to see a Wolf boys hoops squad post a winning record during their tenure.

Friday night, those recent struggles seemed far away, though, as the Wolves fed off a boisterous crowd, and vice versa.

There were times, with the joint rocking, where the excitement level hit the kind of highs it did back when Sherman and his classmates were soaring to success in the early 2000’s.

Whether it was Lippo rising up to reject a shot, Downes swinging his elbows while rebounding, begging any fool to get too close, or Spark making off with steals, the Wolves were in shut-down mode.

And that was most evident when Smith and Toomey-Stout, All-Conference defensive backs on the football fields, continually broke up passes in mid-sprint.

Even when they didn’t get an outright steal, balls were repeatedly jarred free and MVC, which had a distinct height advantage, got more and more gun shy and frustrated.

Adding to their intensity on defense, the Wolves chose the right moment to showcase their offensive attack, closing each of the first three quarters with a substantial run.

The first came after Coupeville fell behind 6-1 midway through the first quarter.

Mixing four free throws — two each from Smith and Spark — and a pair of buckets, Coupeville closed the period on an 8-2 tear, grabbing its first lead with less than a tick on the clock.

The go-ahead bucket came courtesy Lippo, who ripped a rebound free from a Hurricane, spun and rose up to swish a sweet fall-away jumper that tickled the twine with 0:00.3 to play.

The two teams traded baskets to kick off the second quarter, with MVC taking its final lead of the night at 16-14.

After that, the final three minutes of the half were a thing of beauty (if you were a CHS fan, at least).

Smith hung in the air for an impossible amount of time before hitting a jumper on his way down, before Spark … um … lit the spark with the first of what would be five three-point bombs.

Just to make sure MVC knew the jig was up, Smith rattled home his own three-ball, and, as it splatted through the net, he became only the 42nd male Wolf player (in 101 years) to reach 500 career points.

But, wait, there’s more!

Dribbling out the final seconds of the half, Smith sucked in all five defenders, who were dead certain he was driving to the hoop.

Instead, he whistled a pass right onto the fingertips of junior Dane Lucero, who banged home the quarter-capping layup for his first-ever varsity points.

If MVC went into the locker room still holding out hope, with the margin just 24-18, that vanished, hard, in the third.

Spark, who earned praise from his coach for his off-season dedication to working on his shooting, went ballistic, raining down three consecutive treys, each shot getting deeper and deeper into the darkest corner of the court.

As each ball hit, flipping the net skyward with a happy little sigh, the crowd, which has been somewhat dormant at times in recent years, went progressively more berserk.

The loudest scream might have come for two boom-boom plays to cap the third.

Downes and Smith, who combined for many a touchdown as quarterback and receiver, connected again, with Downes yanking a ball free, then lofting it three-quarters of the court.

His target caught it in perfect stride, flipped it up for a layup … then promptly stole the in-bounds pass and scored again.

With everything clicking, Coupeville stretched the lead out to as many as 18 points twice, the final one coming at 47-29 when sophomore Jacobi Pacquette-Pilgrim netted a free throw for his first varsity point.

While an 8-2 MVC run to close the game tightened the score just a bit, the Hurricanes left the court heads bowed, looking very much like a team which just got bushwhacked.

For Coupeville’s players, and its fans, the early-season win set off a celebration, and, for Sherman, a never-ending string of congratulatory handshakes.

Spark finished with 21 to pace the Wolves, while Smith popped for 20.

With 509 career points, he passed Jason Bagby (499) and David Lortz (502) Friday to move into 41st on the all-time CHS boys hoops scoring list.

Downes chipped in with three, Lippo and Lucero knocked down buckets and Pacquette-Pilgrim’s free throw capped the scoring.

While Coupeville’s seniors led the attack, sophomores Jered Brown and Gavin Knoblich also saw valuable floor time.

The Wolves now get a week to rest up, not returning to action until Friday, Dec. 8, when Sequim comes to town.

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