by Jack Kintner
Jamboree shows off talent
Nine of the 10 Whatcom County prep basketball teams showed up at Lynden high school last Saturday for the season-opening jamboree. Meridian, otherwise occupied in the state football tournament, was the only no-show among major county high schools.
�We end up playing schools here that we won�t see in the regular season,� said boys head coach Dan Rucker. �So we drew two Bellingham AAA schools, Squalicum and Sehome.�
Blaine acquitted itself well in the two 10-minute exhibitions it played considering that this year�s flu bug went through the team like a scythe last week, keeping five players out of practice and therefore ineligible for the jamboree. All players (even the cheer squad) must be at 10 practices before the jamboree to be eligible to participate.
Blaine played Sehome first, or rather outplayed them. In a hint of things to come this season, the back court trio of Ryan Alexander, Jake Gilmore and Brendan Mulholland took the taller and older Mariners to school, consistently out-hustling them and forcing turnovers. Sehome managed five points in the closing seconds to tie Blaine at the end 23-23.
In the second game Blaine stayed up with the more adept Squalicum storm for much of the short exhibition contest but never quite solved six-foot-two-inch guard Dustin Jones� consistency, sinking long twos and occasional threes from the corner, shooting with all the consistency of a well-oiled machine. Nonetheless, the skeleton team of Borderites ended within three at 21-18.
Rucker didn�t show a thing to his coming opponents, preferring instead to have 10 minutes of run and gun offense and see how the uniforms fit. Just the same, he said he was happy with the way three-fifths of Blaine�s varsity measured up against the city schools. �We looked solid tonight,� he said with a mile-wide grin.
Blaine�s home opener is a week from tonight against Nooksack, last year�s AA state champs. The JV team gets underway at 5:45 p.m. and the varsity tips off at 7:30 p.m.
In addition, the schedule includes three non-league opponents this year and a Christmas tournament, and all these games are on the road. First is the traditional opener with Steilacom, this year Saturday at their turf.
Next is at Ferndale on Wednesday, December 17, and finally a road game at Bothell the day after Christmas followed by the Oberto Classic at the University of Washington�s Hec Edmundson Pavilion. That field�s full of AAA and AAAA schools.
Finding a backcourt defense
With backcourt sneak thief Linsey Taylor the only departure from last year�s team that took third place in the state tournament, this year�s girls� team needs to either find ways of replacing her skills or of living without them.
Enter Kristina Francis. If she had a nickname it would be The Magician. Where Taylor was a bundle of relentless energy, Francis is all focus and stare-em-down intimidation.
Blaine dropped the first 10-minute exhibition game 22-19, due in part to unexpected back-court pressure from Sehome�s duo of Megan Busch and Jaime Hubka. There were also some rough spots for the officials and coaches who, like the players, needed to get the kinks out before the season really begins.
At one point the Sehome assistant charged onto the court yelling for a time-out only to shrug and tell the bewildered ref, �Never mind� when he blew his whistle. No technical was called for her intrusion, but that�s the kind of game it was, mistakes here and there with people saying �oops� a lot.
Blaine kept it close on Jessica Summers ability to force her shots through Sehome�s double and triple-teaming, and, when asked, to politely but firmly bury her free throws in the bottom of the net.
After a break, Blaine faced off against Squalicum for the match of the evening. It was more a defensive cat-and-mouse affair, Blaine sticking with its man-to-man defense and taking advantage of Squalicum�s attempts to do the same. Like Rucker, head coach Patrick Green showed little if anything of his offensive agenda to his future opponents watching from the stands but was happy with what he saw in this �run around and get loose, don�t keep the stats� kind of afternoon.
So with an offensive plan that was more ad-hoc than anything, Blaine found itself up by three near the end of the contest. A couple of converted turnovers gave Squalicum the lead with just seconds to go, and a final lost offensive rebound after a Blaine miss seemed to ice the game for the Squalicum girls.
Storm senior guard Kami Irwin brought the ball up and just before she crossed the mid-court line Francis made her move, flicking the ball aside like a poke-check in hockey and then sprinting down court for a layup that could win the game by one.
Irwin was at first so surprised she lost a couple of steps but recovered and chased Francis down, giving her a vicious forearm chop to save the sure basket but putting Francis at the line for two shots, her team behind by one with just a couple seconds to play.
Of such stuff are dreams made. Francis was as relaxed as a magician who�s done this a thousand times and is sure her trick will work. You�d think she was just throwing the dishrag into the sink as she calmly hit two quick nuthin-but-net buckets. The ref handed the ball to Squalicum, who passed in as the buzzer went off. The Borderite girls had smoked the mighty Storm hip and thigh, sending them off to their bus ride home with something to think about.
Blaine� s girls open Saturday night in a non-league contest with Burlington and then play on the road for almost two weeks before returning home to Blaine on Friday, December 19 with a league contest against Granite Falls.
Wrestling: A building year ahead
Around the mat the mighty heavyweights struggled, red-faced and groaning, people moving out of the way like jaywalkers dodging logging trucks. It was the first of a season of challenge matches, and in this one the wrestling team�s lone senior, a gallant and soft-spoken Anthony Terris, was being challenged by junior Matt Carr, three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter at five-foot-nine-inches and 220 pounds.
�This keeps quality in the program,� said head coach Craig Foster about the challenge matches.
At the beginning of the third two-minute period they were tied, and Foster asked Carr �odd or even?� Carr guessed wrong, giving the choice of positions to Terris, but they wrestled evenly and headed to overtime. Just before that ended Terris got a reversal and won the first match 9-7 in overtime.
Carr pinned Terris in the next two matches to come from behind for the 2-1 match win and win the starting heavyweight position for the next match.
�He�s tough,� said Terris. �He�s a strong kid.�
But so is Terris, who looks like someone you�d very much want on your side of the match. There will be another challenge match soon, and they�ll go at each other all season, sharpening their skills in the big new rubber practice room.
Last night, Blaine hosted the county wrestling jamboree with five other schools in attendance � Lynden, Mount Baker, Squalicum, Bellingham and Nooksack. The matches were abbreviated to three minutes each as the teams took turns going through their weight classes. Due to press time, jamboree results could not be published this week.
There are some good wrestlers coming up through the ranks, Foster said, though he thinks Blaine�s a year or more away from challenging for team victories in dual meets.
�Going through the weights, I�d say John Brady at 119 (pounds), Sam Abrams at 125, football quarterback Nick Jordan at 130 and Blayne Brandenburger at 171.� All are sophomores.
Two that Foster selected for special recognition were sophomore Calvin Moore, who he said spent the most time off-season working out and has shown the biggest improvement, and freshman Derik �Ducky� Stremler, who Foster has high hopes for as his experience grows.
Blaine�s matmen open Saturday at an invitational meet at Mariner high school in Everett, and then return home on Thursday, December 11 for a three-way meet with Lakewood and Sultan that begins at 6 p.m.
The following week is the annual Battle at the Border, up from 16 to 23 schools this year, and then the team�s on the road for a little over a month before returning home in late January against Meridian.