High school sports teams aren’t supposed to win a championship in their first trip to a state tournament.
Nerves and pageantry bedazzle newcomers into performing below their ability. Usually, they find themselves playing for a consolation trophy before they begin to concentrate on the games at hand. That’s why Coeur d’Alene High wasn’t expected to do much at the State A-1 boys’ basketball tournament last weekend, other than to impress people.
Indeed, they did impress other teams - second-ranked Capital High on Thursday, top-ranked Skyline High on Friday and Borah High on Saturday, in the championship game. When Jim Rupp hit teammate Casey Hoorelbeke with a pass for a basket at the buzzer to seal Coeur d’Alene’s 56-53 victory over Borah, it ended a long, uphill climb for the Viks.
It also continued a recent string of sports success in North Idaho. Since the school year began, the Sandpoint Bulldogs have won the State A-1 Division II football championship, North Idaho College has tied for the national wrestling championship for two-year colleges and now, the Viks have won their first boys’ cage title in 25 years.
All three programs overcame difficulty to become champs.
At CHS, Larry Bieber rebuilt a basketball program that won only three varsity games four years ago during his first year as coach. The 1997-98 championship run began ominously with star forward Lukas O’Dowd sidelined following a hernia operation. It grew darker when Hoorelbeke broke his foot. Rather than quit, the Viks played good basketball and realized they’d be very good when their stars returned.
At Sandpoint High, Coach Satini Puailoa has transformed the Bulldogs from being a perennial doormat to state champion in four years. The team was a combined 1-15-2 during the two years before Puailoa arrived. Said Puailoa after his team beat Eagle 24-21 for the state title: “These kids have overcome a lot of adversity. We’re in Bonner County and we get absolutely no funding. The parents in the community support this unbelievably. We play Lake City and Coeur d’Alene, which start the season with their $50,000 budgets for athletics. What this community has to do to pull off stuff is amazing.”
North Idaho College, under first-year Coach Pat Whitcomb, returned to prominence Feb. 28 by winning a share of the national title with perennial power Lassen College of Susanville, Calif. NIC, a one-time dominant NJCAA force that had fallen on hard times, wasn’t expected to finish higher than fifth. But every Cardinal wrestled a near-perfect tournament - and the rest is history.
Three teams. Three thrilling finishes. Three cheers.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board