State football championship is top sports news story
It was a banner year for local sports teams and individuals — 2022 lifted the Methow Valley community into the state and national spotlight several times.
Choosing the top 10 stories out of so many is one of the pleasures of the job. Again, one person’s opinion, which we have tried to exercise responsibly. Any disagreements with the results of this non-scientific ranking can be settled at any local establishment over an hors d’oeuvres tray and libation, challenger buys.
There were some inspirational and significant accomplishments by a bevy of local athletes that can’t be overlooked, even if they didn’t make our top 10.
We saw and covered several Nordic events at the Sean McCabe Trail system on the school district campus back in January and February. We witnessed local children, from early elementary through high school age, skiing distances longer than many of us walk in a day — and taking great joy in their efforts. Parents and community members volunteer for hours in some fairly adverse weather conditions, demonstrating a passion and support for their kids’ choice that is certainly exemplary.
Watching young athletes emerge at Liberty Bell High School is an annual treat. Female frosh wrestler Cassidy Jones-Mowen qualified for the state Mat Classic in her first try at high school wrestling. Remy (then 8th grade) and Lucien (then freshman) Paz made their early career contributions in basketball and baseball, then were big contributors to the remarkable football season. Distance runners Wil Halpin, Dexter Delaney, Aksel Thomson, Sandra Hernandez and Leki Albright were consistently at the front of the field all spring in track and into the fall cross country season.
The early season Mountain Lion girls’ soccer team was showing the expected pains a program that saw 11 graduating seniors depart in 2021 would predictably suffer. But a late-season improbable charge that saw them win four of their last five matches and win their first district playoff game was inspirational and impressive.
Mountain Lion volleyball, proportionally suffering from that same graduation bug, looked toward Ellie Blank, their lone senior, to lead a young, developing squad transitionally into the future with first-year coach, mom Beth Blank. Ellie, returning after a year off to recuperate from major knee reconstruction, was lost early on in a heart-wrenching scene on the home court, suffering another knee injury. Not as serious, it was enough to end her volleyball season.
Two stories emerged as standout top picks this year. Liberty Bell graduate Novie McCabe’s ascension from the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team’s Developmental Squad to the 2022 US Olympic team and several appearances in the Beijing Olympics is certainly worthy of acclaim. Equally qualified was the Liberty Bell Mountain Lion football team’s tornado-like swath cut through the state 1B football playoffs to a convincing 50-12 championship game win over perennial powerhouse Neah Bay. Deciding which of those two earned the top spot was, indeed, a difficult choice to make. But choose is what we must do, and so, here we go.
1 – Football championship
Coached by Jeff Lidey and assisted by Quinn Wengerd, Marc Tareski and Jacob and Jim McMillan, Liberty Bell featured a lightning quick attacking offense with a similar style of defense that depended on a full team effort. Jumping out to early leads with quick, accurate passing and speedy running backs became a trademark.
After starting the season with a 42-22 loss at then No. 1 Odessa, the Mountain Lions went on a tear, losing only to No. 1 nationally ranked Kendrick, Idaho, in early October. Lidey and Liberty Bell Activities Director Michael Wilbur took advantage of the Mountain Lions’ non-league independence in 2022 to schedule a number of games against historically credible programs, including consistent state participants Lummi, Almira-Coulee-Hartline and La Conner.
Finishing the season with a 12-2 record, the Mountain Lions outscored opponents in their wins 894-124, for an average win margin of 64.5 points per game. After being eliminated from the state tournament in 2021 by Odessa, then dropping their season opener on Odessa’s home field, Liberty Bell exacted revenge on the Tigers in the state semi-final, 70-24, and then dismantled perennial state finalist Neah Bay, 50-12.
2 – McCabe at Olympics
Novie McCabe, the 20-year-old Mazama resident and Liberty Bell graduate, was named to the U.S. Nordic Cross Country team in late January, just two weeks ahead of the opening of the 2022 Olympic games in and around China’s capital city. From there it was described as a whirlwind, according to her mother and two-time Olympian, Laura McCabe.
McCabe’s nomination was somewhat of a surprise as she had been named earlier in the year to the 2020-21 Developmental squad, the first step onto the U.S Ski Team. Early successes on the World Tour and at home with the University of Utah ski team lifted her up the ladder rapidly.
While McCabe didn’t bring home any medals from the Olympics, her run there was a success by every measure. She placed in the top third of the field in the women’s 10K classic, brought the U.S. team from 7th to 6th place in the third leg of the 4x5K relay, and skied to an impressive 18th in the 30K freestyle.
After returning from Beijing, there wasn’t much of a break. McCabe won the NCAA championship in the women’s 5K classic, NCAA regional championships in the 15K freestyle and 5K classic, and earned honors from the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association as National Women’s Skier of the Year, as well as first team All-American in the 15K freestyle and 5K classic. All of that and McCabe kept up with it in the classroom, earning academic honors from both the University of Utah and the National Association.
3 – Wrestling champion
Noah Holston capped off a stellar season with a state wrestling championship, the second time a Liberty Bell family has had three champions. The Mountain Lion three-sport athlete capped an up-and-down, COVID-interrupted career with an undefeated 2021-22 season, including an impressive run of three straight wins to the title. The title bout ended 45 seconds into the third round with a technical fall.
This was the first title for the youngest of the three Holston brothers to win state titles in wrestling, with Milo and Finley coming before Noah. The Holston brothers joined Matt, Andrew and Courtney Tuller as the second set of three Mountain Lion brothers to earn first place medals at the WIAA State Mat Classic.
4 – Cross country winners
The Mountain Lion distance runners continued their tradition at the top of the Washington’s 1B/2B class of elite programs, both the boys’ and girls’ teams bringing home 4-place trophies from the annual state championship meet in Pasco.
Junior Leki Albright led the Liberty Bell girls with a 3rd-place individual finish, her second straight top-three finish after placing second in 2020. Junior Sandra Hernandez placed in the top 20 and sophomore Zoe Kaltenbach was in the top half of the field. Three eighth-grade girls stepped up to run the high school circuit this year. Without Ingrid Venable, Yasmin Moore, Juniper Dickson and Josie Bolinger (running as a frosh only because she advanced a year academically), the Mountain Lions would not have had a scoring team and their string of five straight trophy runs would have ended at four.
The defending 2021 state champion boys’ team faced some unanticipated challenges this year as several key runners on that title run opted out of the program for various reasons in 2022. Regardless, the Mountain Lions were well represented at the front of the field, with sophomore Dexter Delaney and Junior Will Halpin in 4th and 5th places, respectively. Junior Aksel Thomson was in the top 25 with senior twins Tristan and Jackson Schmekel battling each other through the finish line, scoring well enough to nail down 4th place, only six points out of third. Tristan Hover (sophomore) and Kyler Mitchell (junior) rounded out the seven-member team, securing the Mountain Lions 12th straight appearance at the state meet and fifth podium in the last six championship meets.
5 – Martin at Paralympics
Local sit skier Erin Martin, who lives and works in Seattle but spends a significant amount of time training in the Methow Valley, qualified for the 2022 U.S. Paralympic team and participated in the games in and around Beijing last March. Martin trains with local ski and biathlon coach Betsy Devin-Smith and spends countless hours on the winter trails, also participating in local competitions like the Race of the Methow.
Martin, who at 35 also trains in biathlon, participated in two events at the Beijing games. She qualified for the sit ski sprints and the 7.5K sit ski race, run at the National Cross-Country Centre in Zhangjiakou. Martin did not qualify for the final round of the sprints, but did place a respectable 14th overall in 7.5K race.
6 – Biathletes shine
Local skiers Kelsey Dickinson, Eli Nielsen and junior skier Aidan Sands have been attracting attention nationally with their skiing and shooting prowess.
In October, Dickinson was named to a tentative spot on the U.S. World Cup team, a spot she solidified after the initial season events in Finland in early December. Nielsen earned a spot on the U.S. International Biathlon Union team, and will be skiing and shooting competitively internationally a step below the World Cup circuit.
Dickinson and Nielsen are both graduates of Liberty Bell High School and alumni of the Methow Valley Nordic Youth program. Sands, a current student at Liberty Bell and Methow Nordic Youth team member, won several national events in 2022 both on snow and in the summer roller skiing season.
7 – Triple aces
Here’s something that doesn’t happen every summer at Bear Creek Golf Course. In fact, nobody, including longtime land owner Ash Court, has any memory of anyone accomplishing a hat trick of holes-in-ones in the history of the local course, much less within a single season.
But that’s exactly what longtime resident, muffler shop owner and golf nut Brad King did between late June and late September this past year. The first came during a Bear Creek Men’s Club Wednesday evening round from the gold tees on the 234-yard par four 17th hole on June 29. It was his first hole in one since 2011.
The second ace came in mid-September on the 112-yard second hole, a “local shot” as King described it, hitting his pitching wedge tee shot into the hillside above the hole, the ball rolling down to the putting surface and dropping into the cup.
The trifecta occurred on Sept. 28, again on the second hole, but an adjusted tee of about 90 yards. This time his tee shot flew on a line directly over the hole, spinning backwards about three or four feet into the cup.
8 – Scholz cycles to title
Stella Scholz, a 2022 graduate of Liberty Bell High School, won the spring season state championship of the Washington Student Cycling League in Spokane’s Riverside State Park last May.
Scholz, riding under the banner of Methow Composite, took 1st place in the varsity girls’ division, edging Sarah-Jo Fitsch of Wenatchee by 11 seconds over the 15-mile race that took an hour and a half to complete.
9 – Top ref
Liberty Bell graduate (2013) Tim Lewis was named boys’ high school State Basketball Official of the Year. Lewis, who began his officiating career at the age of 16 while a sophomore at Liberty Bell, received the award at the annual Washington Officials Association convention in Yakima in early August. He is currently a member of the football, basketball and baseball associations in southeast Washington, based in Pullman, and serves the state association as a lead trainer.
10 – Rising in rodeo
Cody White, a 2022 Liberty Bell graduate, qualified for the National Junior Final. White won the season-long overall championship of the Washington High School Rodeo League, taking the individual championship in saddle bronc and third place in bareback. As such, he qualified for the Junior National Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyoming, last May, and also was awarded a scholarship to ride for the Northwest College-Cody Campus rodeo team during the 2022-23 school year.