Championships and near- misses were Tacoma 2017

Tacoma’s own Ave Rex made two appearances with DEFY Wrestling at the Temple Theater this summer. We’ve seen a full slate of Seattle dates on DEFY’s calendar, and nothing yet for Tacoma. Get back down here DEFY! Photo by Glen Casebeer

Decades from now, folks from around these parts are going to have quite a bit to say about the year 2017. There were times when one might find themselves wondering if the bad news was ever going to end. Of course, later in the year, the country became more divided than it has ever been. Who could have predicted that a new Star Wars movie would cause the fabric of our very nation to be stretched to its limits?

Meanwhile, the world of sports in and around Tacoma saw its ups and downs with championships mixed together with the agony of defeat.

The year began with a healthy dose of promise from some of our best high school basketball teams. Over at Lincoln High School, the boys’ and girls’ squads rolled through the season like a couple of juggernauts. As a matter of fact, the boys team ran a perfect 26-0 record all the way to the 3A state semifinals at the Tacoma Dome.

The fastest water skiers in the world descended upon Point Ruston this summer and it was epic. Photo by Glen Casebeer

In a normal year, the Abes would have been one of the favorites to claim the state championship trophy. However, that wasn’t going to be the case for 11 out of the 12 teams in the tournament field. An all-star team of sorts had been manufactured in the offseason at perennial loser Nathan Hale High School. While the powers that be seemed to shrug it all off and look the other way, the Raiders went on to beat the Abes in the semifinals on their way to claiming the 3A championship, as well as several mythical national titles.

In an odd twist of karma, Hale’s all-star head coach left for Garfield High School in the offseason and many of their top players didn’t return. The team is currently 0-7 and in a tailspin. Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

The fastest water skiers in the world descended upon Point Ruston this summer and it was epic. Photo by Glen Casebeer

The Lincoln boys and girls would go on to claim the fifth place trophies at the Hardwood Classic. Both teams look like they’re headed back to the Tacoma Dome this season as well.

The Falcons from Henry Foss High School moved down to the 2A classification before the 2016-17 season, and the boys’ basketball team was a tasty favorite to win it all. After losing a nail-biter to the Abes in one of the best games of the year, the Falcons would run off 14 consecutive victories and hoist the big golden basketball in the Yakima SunDome.

Altogether, it was a stellar year for Tacoma hoopsters. The Bellarmine Prep girls put together their best season in school history on the way to a 4A third-place finish. The Curtis boys made a serious run at the 4A championship, but settled for fourth place in the end. The Life Christian boys couldn’t escape what has long-been considered some notorious officiating in Spokane. Still, the Eagles brought the third-place trophy back to Tacoma. The Tacoma Baptist girls took an unblemished record to the 1B state tournament and brought home the sixth-place trophy.

The Curtis Vikings nearly won the 4A team wrestling title at the Mat Classic in the Tacoma Dome. Calhoun Helmberger led the way for the Vikings, winning the 285-pound title. Lincoln’s J.J. Dixon would also claim a state championship in the 3A 182-pound class. Wilson’s Flor Parker-Borrero took home the 3A girls’ 145-pound title.

As the spring season neared, it was the end of the line for the Tacoma Stars and their playoff hopes. The team was unable to pull out a late-season malaise and was leap-frogged by rival Ontario for the second seed out of the Major Arena Soccer League’s Pacific Division. The new season is in full swing and the Stars have to be liking their chances with some recent player acquisitions.

It was a crazy spring for many teams and athletes around town. The Stadium boys’ soccer team was the talk of the town as they went on an historic run into the 3A state tournament with a remarkable 17-0 record. Sure, they got upset in the first round, but that’s just how things often go for teams from Grit City. No one could have predicted that the boys’ counterparts would one-up them just a few months later. The Stadium girls put together the best season in school history, running a 19-0 record all the way to the 3A championship match. They ran into a buzz saw of a team in the big game, but it was still an incredible ride.

The Lincoln boys’ track and field team made a stab at defending their team title, but in the end had to settle for a very respectable fourth-place finish. The Bellarmine boys nearly took the 4A title, finishing tied for second place, with a young Curtis squad nipping at their heels with a fourth-place finish. The Fife girls were the surprise of the 2A state meet, finishing in second place.

When it came to running long distances, nobody topped Lincoln’s own James Mwaura. After capturing the 3A state championship in the 3,200 meter run, he turned around and destroyed the field at the 3A state cross country championship. As a matter of fact, Mwaura had the fastest time of all classifications, and it wasn’t even close. A big spring track season could cement Mwaura’s status as the best distance runner in the history of Tacoma.

When it comes to high school golf, the two teams from Bellarmine Prep have been untouchable. The girls crushed the field at the 4A tournament, while the boys also claimed the team trophy powered by a gold medal performance from Joe Highsmith.

The Puyallup Nation Kings football team went out in style. The semi-professional club from the Western Washington Football Alliance captured their third consecutive league championship, cementing their dynasty status. The team would go on to defeat the Portland Raiders for a first-ever Pacific Northwest championship. In the end, the Kings fell one victory shy of a trip to the national championship game. After the season came to a close, the Kings’ ownership group decided to call it a day, deciding it was time to spend more time with their families and focus more on youth football.

It was a magical spring and summer at Cheney Stadium. Despite fielding an ever-changing lineup due to what seemed to be a cursed season by the Seattle Mariners, the Tacoma Rainiers gave their fans everything they had. For a few days, the eyes of the Triple-A baseball world were focused on Tacoma, as the Rainiers hosted the 2017 Triple-A All-Star Game. While the game was tons of fun, the home run derby a couple of days prior was probably the highlight of the entire summer. Baseballs flew out of our big ballpark like no fan had ever seen before, and the capacity crowd was mesmerized.

I wish we could have a home run derby night every season. I still get jazzed just thinking about that night.

Every time we head out to either a Battle at the Boat or a CageSport event at the Emerald Queen Casino, we try to prepare ourselves for the inevitable downer. A night where everything is ho-hum and crowd leaves disappointed. We’ll have to keep on waiting, because it hasn’t happened yet.

The World Water Skiing Championships came to Point Ruston in August. With speeds topping out around 80 miles per hour, we’re fairly certain that the waters of Commencement Bay have never witnessed such an awesome event. We’re still amazed that the skiers were able to navigate through four days of bone-jarring racing for 60 minutes at a time. Throw in the fact that the air was filled with smoke due to the Canadian forest fires, and what they did out there was nearly super human. We’ll even forgive the organizers for having “Seattle” on their logos.

We’ll forgive them, but we’ll never forget the snub.

Summer gave way to fall, and it was time to break out the helmets and pads. Tacoma fielded some strong high school teams, and as usual, it was the Lincoln Abes leading the charge. The Abes lost to the eventual state champions by two points to open the season, and then went on a blitz through the schedule. A last-second field goal ended their title hopes in the state tournament. Still, four consecutive league championships is quite a remarkable accomplishment for Lincoln.

Congratulations to all the champions of 2017. Those who fell short of the top, Tacoma’s still very proud of you.

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