Prep Sports: The season 2020-2021 season that could have been

As the COVID pandemic emerged I found it difficult in the immediate to spend too much time wondering about the “what ifs” in prep sports. But it was hard not to go there, particularly with Sequim High’s 2020 spring sports teams, who along with their counterparts across the state will forever have a blank or asterisk in the record books, with something to the effect of “Canceled due to coronavirus.”

It’s the season that so much promise, with (for the first time!) a Sequim boys track team looking to defend a state championship, a girls tennis team looking for a school-first repeat title, state contenders with golf and boys soccer programs, and strong lineups on both fastpitch and baseball diamonds.

These thoughts were drawn into sharp relief one day chatting with track coach Brad Moore, who, like other prep coaches, saw participation numbers drop off significantly but still saw some impressive efforts from freshmen, sophs, juniors and seniors alike — but none of whom got a chance to vie for a district or state title.

Technically, he mused, the Wolves’ boys are still defending 2A champs for the past two years.

Some Sequim High teams fared better than others in their shortened, postseason-less 2020-2021 seasons. A number of them I suspect would have made some serious deep runs in the playoffs.

Following this weird, whatever-it-was season, I posed the question to SHS coaches: Given a “true” full season with a league schedule, districts and a state tourney, how would have things shaken out for your team? I didn’t get responses from each coach, but here are some thoughts from those who did:

Fall sports

• Cross Country

How they fared — At the Olympic League finals, SHS junior Riley Pyeatt raced to a second-place finish behind Port Angeles senior Lauren Larson in another classic match-up of the two (they faced each other 14 times over three seasons in league, invitational and postseason meets, with Larson ahead of Pyeatt 10 times but the pair splitting the most recent four match-ups). Sequim’s girls did not place at the league meet, with four runners competing. The SHS boys, behind freshman phenom Colby Ellefson (seventh at league) and senior stalwart Eli Gish (19th), placed eighth out of 11 qualifying teams at the league final.

Coach’s take — Assistant coach BJ Schade: “We really felt like Riley would have been in contention for a state championship. Of course, having Lauren (Larson, Port Angeles standout) to compete with in both championships was great, as she would also have been a favorite to win a state title.

“For everyone on the team, a longer season would have benefited them in learning the events and improving their fitness. Cross country season caught a lot of the kids by surprise and it really showed in the level of fitness that they came in with. We didn’t see a lot of improvements in times from 2019, as many of the kids just didn’t have the training or focus for such a short season.”

• Volleyball

How they fared — Besides a pair of losses to Kingston and league powerhouse North Kitsap, the Wolves were unbeatable, winning nine of 12 matches in the regular season — all but one in three-set sweeps. They capped the season with a three-game rout of 3A Central Kitsap. Six Wolves were named to the all-league first or second team, led by first-teamers Kendall Hastings, Amanda Weller and Kalli Wiker.

Coach’s take — Head coach Jennie Webber Heilman: “First, without COVID, we would have been able to have open gyms all last summer which especially helps the incoming freshmen. Instead we got a seven-week season and the first two weeks I could only put six girls (three on each side) on a court at a time. So it was more like a five-week season.

“I am confident we would have earned a spot in districts and would have made the state tournament. The varsity girls worked so well together and always supported each other in a positive manner and it showed in their excellent team play on the court. This season we had the most all round, consistent, toughest serving varsity team that has played volleyball for Sequim High. That would have been a great asset at districts and state.

“We would have been able to attend two tournaments which would help to improve our team play. Plus, the girls always have a great team bonding experience too. I would have so much enjoyed having opportunity to coach these girls at the district and state tournament. It is sad they did not get that opportunity.

“Our last match with Central Kitsap, who we defeated in three games, was a state-caliber match for us. Our girls played their very best in that match knowing that would be their last chance to play, especially for the seniors. I cannot hardly imagine how much better our team would have been having a regular season.”

“I had an awesome team this year, one of the most team oriented group of girls ever, even with all the COVID difficulties. They were always positive, working hard every day and just so very happy to be playing again. Several times the girls commented they couldn’t believe they were getting to play volleyball, and yet they could not attend school.”

• Girls soccer

How they fared — The Wolves won two of their first three games, then dropped to 2-5 — including a pair of one-score losses to rival Port Angeles — before coming on strong with a pair of wins and 4-5 overall mark.

Coach’s take — Head coach Derek VanderVelde: “I like to say we lull people to sleep the first part of the season. I really think we would have made it to districts, (though) I really don’t know how far we would have gone. What really impacted the impression we were trying to make (with players), was all the stops and starts (because of COVID regulations). We taught the players to try to just enjoy being out on the field. That was tough, made it an interesting year.”

• Boys tennis (traditionally a fall sport, played this year with other winter sports … in the spring)

How they fared — Led by another phenom freshman (Garrett Little), the Wolves racked up a 7-2 league mark, with the only losses coming to Bainbridge and north Kitsap. Little capped an undefeated year (13-0) with a singles title at the league tourney, with teammates Henry Hughes and Dustan Koch taking fifth in doubles.

Coach’s take — Head coach Mark Textor: “If this would have been a normal season with playoffs I feel as if our doubles team of Hughes and Koch had an excellent chance of advancing to the district level and Garrett Little had a good shot at placing in the top three at districts and playing in the state tournament with a good shot to get some wins.

“Our team finished third overall in the league standings and I feel as if that is about where we would have finished in a season with a normal schedule as well.”

Spring sports

• Girls tennis

How they fared — The defending state 2A champions from 2019 (state doubles champs Jessica Dietzman and Kalli Wiker) never got a chance to try for the school’s first repeat titles after the pandemic canceled all spring sports in 2020. This time around, the Wolves had Wiker back along with a dominant doubles team in McKenna and Kendall Hastings, both of whom went 14-0 and took Olympic League titles. They also had significant depth with singles player Olivia Preston (14-2, third in league) and doubles squad Allie Gale and Melissa Porter (fourth in league).

Coach’s take — Head coach Mark Textor: “Realistically I think we’ve had a very good chance to be district champions and a very good chance to be state champions. This team was strong than either of those two (state title) teams (in 2007 and 2019).

“The Olympic League is a good tennis league; frequently our league does very well at the state tournament. At least (this year) we had a season and we got to play a lot of tennis.”

• Boys soccer

How they fared — Sequim had strong 2019 season (league champs, 15-2-2 overall) and senior-loaded team in 2020 that never saw the pitch, but the 2021 version seemed to keep that momentum rolling. The Wolves won their first nine games before losses to Kingston and North Kitsap. They lost a 2-1 heart-breaker in the league championship to class 3A Bainbridge.

Coach’s take — Head coach Ken Garling: “I think if we had a full season the boys would have had a chance to play in districts this year. I also think we would have had a solid chance of moving on to state as well. We set some goals prior to the season starting and one of them was to win our division. The second goal was to win our league. We were successful in the first part by taking first in the North division. We came close to the second part by almost winning our league against a very talented Bainbridge Island team.

“Even though we all knew this season was a ‘modified’ season we still came out and played hard and had some fun along the way. I am very proud of this team for all their hard work. We are looking forward to next year with a full schedule and a chance to make it to state.”

• Track & field

How they fared — Despite a low turnout (single digits by season’s end), Sequim’s girls went 6-2 in meets and earned a third place finish at the league, while the boys struggled and finished eighth overall at the league meet. Riley Pyeatt set a school record in the 400, earned three individual league titles and a third with the 4×400 relay team. Freshman teammate Jolene Vaara was the league’s 110 hurdles champ. Logan Laxson starred for the boys with a league title in the long jump; teammate Mirek Skov, a sophomore, was second in pole vault.

Coach’s take — Assistant coach BJ Schade: “Riley would have been in contention for a state championship. On the track, it seemed like we were just able to introduce a lot of the kids to new events and then the season was over. Even a senior like Logan Laxson was just starting to find his form on his last long jump of the season, and Jolene Vaara won a league hurdle championship with only a couple of weeks of hurdling. Maybe they would have been in contention for a medal had we had a full season and state championship meet.

“We are really thankful to everyone who put in the work to make these seasons happen with the difficult health restrictions and we are all looking forward to full seasons next year.”

• Boys, girls golf

A Sequim High first for golf?

How they fared — Sequim High’s boys golf program, one of SHS’s most consistently dominating teams in the past decade, seemed lined up for another deep run at the state 2A title. Under a first-year head coach, the Wolves ran their consecutive league match winning streak to 50 and looked every bit as deep as the teams that placed runners-up at the 2018 and 2019 state 2A tournaments. On the girls’ side, newcomer-turned-ace Hannah Wagner was Sequim’s top finisher in the league tourney after placing ninth overall and helping Sequim take fourth out of 12 teams. Jessica German, JoNell Hill and Delaney Nucci gave the Wolves a strong core that went 6-2 and place the best among the 2A schools at the league final.

Coach’s take — Boys’ head coach Sean O’Mera: “I think we would have been serious competition for the state title. Ben (Sweet), Dominic (Riccobene) and Garret (Hoesel) would have made state, possibly another two. I truly believe we would contend for a state title.

Girls head coach Tim Lusk: “With a little more time we could have gotten to districts and even the state level. Hannah … is a heck of an athlete.”

Winter sports

• Girls basketball

How they fared — Other than a pair of losses to rival Port Angeles _ the last one coming in the league title game — Sequim simply tore through the league, averaging a margin of victory of 31.5 in their 11 victories. Jayla Julmist earned all-Olympic League first team honors after averaging a double-double, with teammates Melissa Porter, Kalli Wiker and sister Jelissa Julmist earning second team honors.

Coach’s take — Head coach Linsay Rapelje: “I truly believe we’d be going to state …. “I felt like we just got better and better. And I think PA (Port Angeles) would place at state.”

• Boys basketball

How they fared — With a roster short of experience, Sequim struggled to find consistency. The Wolves picked up three wins (going 3-9 overall) and played tough in postseason losses to Port Angeles and Bremerton.

Coach’s take — Head coach Greg Glasser: “The biggest change for us would be our line-up. We had a few seniors that ‘opted out’ for one reason or another, which forced some of our younger guys to step up. I am satisfied with the fact that we had a season and we were able to give some much needed experience to the kids that are coming back and we were able to give our two seniors a partial season.

• Wrestling

How they fared — Low turnout handcuffed the Wolves in league matches so focus was turned toward individual growth for a young boys team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, and match-ups for older girls wrestlers. Petra Bernsten earned the Olympic League’s girls MVP.

Coach’s take — Head coach Chad Cate: “A real season would have been incredibly beneficial in our rebuilding process. At the end of six weeks of practice my wrestlers, especially my new ones, began turning a corner in how well they were performing. Of course the challenge of an inexperienced team is to get to a competitive state as efficiently as possible while doing everything necessary to instill the fundamentals. This can take quite a while for someone without experience. What I love about my group of wrestlers is how eager they were to be competition-ready. They did everything I asked of them.

“The trouble with not having the second half of the season is that they didn’t have the opportunity to take the six weeks of learning and start catching up with their competition. Every team that we faced commented on the aggression and tenacity of the Sequim wrestling team. A second half of the season, plus the opportunity of the postseason, would have been exhilarating for this young and aggressive team.

”The funny thing is that typically there is a sense of relief at the end of the season. So much hard work and personal sacrifice goes into coaching. But I felt no such relief this season. After practice on the last day I just sat alone in my office feeling robbed. We had finally found our stride on the wrestling mat and I was no longer having to coach basic concepts. The wrestlers were in shape and eager to work hard, eager to work aggressively and were learning about why this sport is so special to anyone who has ever dared to endure it. They were pushing past their comfort zones and getting the opportunity to learn how tough they are both mentally and physically.

• Boys swimming

How they fared — A team hit hardest by low turnout, the Wolves boasted just one swimmer: Colby Ellefson. The freshman practiced in Sequim and competed alongside Port Angeles swimmers once a week.

Coach’s take — Head coach Britt Hemphill: “A full season with Colby (he’d be a) districts qualifier in the 200 and 500 free … likely top-15 in 500.”

• Bowling

How they fared — Sequim’s bowling squad placed fourth out of five teams, with Anastasia Updike leading the way individually with a seventh place finish at the league final, and teammate Madison McKeown (11th) not far behind.

Coach’s take — Head coach Randy Perry: “(We) would have had at least two go to districts and possibly state. As for the team we would have not done very well … I used this season to get ready for next year with six or seven returning I prepped them for next year.

“It was a fast season and the girls were loose and basically I kept it very fun and relaxing for them. We have had enough going on in the past year, so I wanted to keep it fun without any pressure.”