Peninsula hoops, Gig Harbor swimmers take big steps

March 5, 2014 

Spring sports started practices this week. But before we make the transition, it’s worth reflecting on some of the accomplishments of the winter sports teams, athletes and coaches.

This winter saw both the Peninsula and Gig Harbor high school basketball squads make it to respective district tournaments, and both schools’ swim teams made it to state. In addition, Peninsula’s wrestling program took another step forward and is poised for a big year next year.

It’s not easy to narrow down the many accomplishments of the area’s teams and athletes into one list. Unfortunately, some very worthy candidates will be excluded.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to look at some of the season’s biggest stories. Here’s my best of winter sports:

 • Best freshman – Dale Williams, Gig Harbor boys swimming.

During the Class 4A state swimming meet, Williams was one of the only freshmen to compete in any of the finals. He finished third in the 100-yard butterfly in 51.66 seconds, and he swam a 22-second split in the Tides’ first-place 200 freestyle relay. The future is bright for Gig Harbor with Williams leading the way.

 • Best senior – Nick Edens, Gig Harbor basketball.

Edens, a 6-foot-8 senior, was the pulse of the Tides all season long. He backed down defenders in the post and also showed his mid-range and 3-point game. He also snagged lots of rebounds and swatted away plenty of shots. It will be difficult for the Tides to replace his consistent production next season.

 • Best team – Gig Harbor boys swimming.

The Tides completely dominated the Narrows League, going 5-0 in dual meets and 7-1 overall. Their only loss was a close call against Curtis.

Before the season, head coach Mike Kelly said a top-10 or top-six state finish may be within reach. As the Tides progressed through the season, though, there were whispers of a top-three state finish.

It wasn’t arrogance — it was confidence. This team knew they were really good.

Guided by the steady senior leadership of Erik Nielsen and a phenomenal freshman in Williams, among others, the Tides finished third as a team at the 4A state meet.

 • Best coach – Jake Jackson, Peninsula boys basketball.

The Seahawks finished 15-8 overall, a huge turnaround from last year’s 4-16 record. Jackson said he wanted to change the culture, and that’s what he’s done. The team plays relentless defense and is efficient on offense.

Of course, having sophomore phenom JaQuori McLaughlin doesn’t hurt Jackson’s ambitions. Even so, one player doesn’t make a team, and it’s clear the players have bought into Jackson’s philosophy.

The coach wants his team to play smart, tough, fast and with precision. They still have room to improve, but they took a big leap forward this season.

Peninsula will have its top three scorers return next season, and a South Puget Sound League 3A crown should be within reach.

 • Best athletes – Caleb Riggs, Peninsula swimming; JaQuori McLaughlin, Peninsula basketball

Sometimes it’s tough to remember McLaughlin is only a sophomore. The Oregon State University commit led all SPSL 3A players in points (19.6), steals (4.1) and assists (3.3) per game. He was also a top-20 scorer statewide.

He did all that while he was constantly double-teamed and game planned against. I overheard an opposing coach who told his team he wanted two or three guys on McLaughlin all the time.

As his game continues to evolve and he continues to get stronger, he’ll be a joy to watch in his final two seasons.

Riggs, a swimmer for Peninsula, as well as Tacoma Swim Club, won the 3A state title in the 100 breaststroke in 56.98. He worked hard and continually improved each year, and his efforts culminated with him standing on the top spot on the podium.

Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151.

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