The year 1997 can be summarized in one word: Sandpoint.
Several other schools and athletes shined, but none brighter than Sandpoint.
From most recent to last winter, here’s a look at the year’s highlights:
Sandpoint’s State A-1 Division II football championship was four years in the making.
Four years ago, coach Satini Puailoa arrived to find a program seriously devoid of leadership and enthusiasm.
Four years later, Sandpoint concluded a journey from the worst program in the state to one of the best.
The last leg of the journey this fall included a pair of milestone victories. Sandpoint’s playoff-clinching win over Post Falls snapped a 10-game losing streak, and the Bulldogs (9-3) posted their first win since 1980 over Lewiston, a 14-13 thriller in the semifinals.
Sandpoint’s 24-21 win over Eagle in the state title game offered a fitting yet dramatic climax to the season. The Bulldogs had to rally from a 21-10 halftime deficit.
Leading Sandpoint’s trek were seniors Caleb Bowman, Kurt Berkley, Dave Rust, Pat Williams, Dave Mattingley, Matt Smith and Stefon Kleinert. They’ll be difficult players to replace.
Overshadowed by the Bulldogs’ odyssey was Lake City, which posted its first winning season at 8-2 and upset then top-ranked and defending state champ Lewiston. Both of LC’s losses were to Sandpoint.
The Bulldogs’ volleyball team wasn’t expected to reach the state finals, but somebody forgot to tell Sandpoint.
Saving their best for last, Sandpoint fought through the consolation bracket to force a second championship match before falling to Highland 15-9, 12-15, 15-13.
Sandpoint’s boys and girls soccer teams showed there’s more than one strong feeder program in the area as both teams finished third at state.
The Lakeland baseball team captured its second straight State A-2 championship and third in the last five years.
The Hawks were led by pitcher Kurt Reese, undefeated at 21-0 in three years.
In A-1, Coeur d’Alene advanced to the state title game before falling to perennial power Boise.
In track, Austin Lee defended his championship in the shot put and concluded a splendid career before heading off to Stanford to play football.
Sandpoint wide receiver Caleb Bowman will join Lee in Palo Alto next fall. Bowman dashed to the 200-meter state title.
The Lakeside and Moscow boys basketball teams brought some respect back to North Idaho.
Lakeside cruised to the A-4 championship while Moscow did the same in the A-2 ranks. Post Falls took home the fourth-place trophy in A-1.
The Lake City girls basketball team stumbled in the state final, falling to Borah.
In wrestling, Sandpoint’s string of three straight state titles was snapped by Idaho Falls, a powerhouse in the making. Sandpoint finished a distant second.
The architect of the Sandpoint program, Dan Taylor, resigned in the summer.
Sandpoint’s Jared Lawrence, arguably the best wrestler of all time in the state, wrapped up a third state title. Last month, he became the first four-time champ at Tri-State.
What can we expect this year?
Glad you asked. Here are a few things to look for:
LC’s girls will capture the state basketball title that got away last year.
Lawrence will conclude his career undefeated (really going out on a limb there).
The Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and Lakeside boys basketball teams most likely won’t win state titles, but they’ll make their presence felt.
Any team that has Kurt Reese pitching for it will be in the running for a state baseball title.
Sandpoint and LC will wage a battle for the IEL football championship next fall.
Sandpoint’s volleyball team will begin a run of state titles that may not end for a while.