A silver tongue, an unstoppable force and more

Broadcaster Nichols’ farewell, Capital RB Van Sickle’s record-crushing season among choicest tales

mwochnick@theolympian.comJanuary 1, 2013 

The year 2012 saw surprises, state records, Major League Baseball and NFL draftees and well-deserved retirements.

Girls from Northwest Christian cross country, W.F. West fastpitch, and Elma golf were crowned state champions. Tumwater had four teams – football, volleyball, girls swimming and fastpitch – place second in the state, as did Centralia wrestling, Yelm wrestling and the North Thurston volleyball team.

And let’s not forget several standout individuals in tennis, golf, wrestling and track and field. Capping off back-to-back individual state titles in the spring were Olympia’s doubles team of John Stormans and Hunter Wood (boys tennis), and Tumwater’s Andrew Brown and Northwest Christian’s Lucas Graham (both track and field).

A look back at the Top 10 sports stories from 2012:

10. ‘The Rock’ ends his long coaching career

Around Olympia High School, longtime wrestling coach and physical education teacher Rockey Isley was known simply as “The Rock.”

After 36 years, Isley’s memorable career came to an end in February when he retired from coaching the Bears in wrestling. His retirement from teaching came in June.

Isley began teaching and coaching wrestling at Olympia in 1976. He twice coached the Bears to state championships, in 1978 and ’80.

In 2009, Isley was inducted into the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

9. Banner year for OlyRollers

The Olympia-based OlyRollers all-women’s roller derby team won the inaugural USA Roller Sports roller derby national championship in Fresno, Calif., on Dec. 16. The OlyRollers topped the San Diego Starlettes, 181-35, in the title bout to claim their second national title.

In November, the OlyRollers lost the 2012 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s national championship to the Gotham Girls of New York, 223-130. The OlyRollers have finished runners-up the past three years since winning the WFTDA national title in 2009.

8. Lucky No. 7 for Navigators

No school has been more dominant in cross country than Lacey’s Northwest Christian High School. The girls won their state-record seventh consecutive state 2B/1B team title in November. Behind three top-10 finishes from the Navigators – Hailey Bredeson (third), Anna Brooke (fifth) and Megan Teigen (ninth), the team cruised to 40 team points, well ahead of runner-up St. John-Endicott (74).

7. A Saint Martin’s turnaround

It was a spring to remember on the Saint Martin’s softball diamond. The Saints had their best season – and their first winning season – since the program began in 1992, finishing with a 33-18-1 overall record, 24-12 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, good for third place. After posting nine victories in 2011, the 33 victories represented one of the largest single-season turnarounds in NCAA Division II history.

Numerous Saints garnered postseason honors, too. Second-year coach Rick Noren, former longtime softball coach at Pacific Lutheran, was the conference’s coach of the year. Junior pitcher Taylor Bakos (9-5, 2.32 ERA) and freshman Sam Munger (16-7 as pitcher, .402 batting average) were named the GNAC’s newcomer and freshman of the year, respectively. Senior third baseman Morgan Klemm was a unanimous first-team pick after finishing second in the conference in batting average (.422).

6. Surprise second-place finishes

Few expected the run made by the Tumwater High School football and North Thurston volleyball teams, but both advanced to the title contests in their respective sports. With just three returning starters from its 2011 squad, Tumwater’s youth and inexperience faded quickly as the Thunderbirds went on a 12-game winning streak after a season-opening loss to Shelton. They advanced to the Class 2A state title game, where Lynden stopped the streak, 41-7.

North Thurston also made hay in the postseason. The Rams put on a show in front of a hometown Lacey crowd at Saint Martin’s Marcus Pavilion and won matches over Shorewood, Columbia River and Southridge to reach the Class 3A title match against Prairie. The Rams finished second after a 3-0 loss to the Falcons, the highest finish in school history. It also was the team’s first state appearance since 1995.

5. Gueller drafted, signs with Phillies

In front of friends, family and coaches at his Rochester home in June, W.F. West High School senior Mitch Gueller overcame many emotions when the Philadelphia Phillies selected the hard-throwing, 6-foot-3 right-hander as the No. 54 overall pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.

Gueller was one of three players with South Sound ties to be drafted, joining Centralia’s Andrew Pullin (fifth round, Phillies) and Tenino’s Alex Phillips (21st, Detroit). All three eventually signed with their respective organizations, including Gueller who passed up his original commitment to Washington State. He went 1-5 with a 5.27 ERA and 19 strikeouts in eight games in the Gulf Coast League.

4. Dick Nichols signs off

There has never been a more recognizable voice of South Sound sports than Dick Nichols. After broadcasting thousands of high school events and local college basketball games, Nichols retired from radio over the summer, completing a 50-year career that spanned six decades, most of them over the KGY 1240-AM airwaves.

Nichols, 76, said he had made more than 3,000 broadcasts. He was saluted as “one of a kind” by longtime Tumwater football coach Sid Otton. Nichols broadcast all five of the T-Birds’ state championship football games.

3. Dallas Cowboys come calling for Tumwater grad

Tumwater High School graduate Matt Johnson became the school’s first player to be drafted into the NFL when the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the fourth round (No. 135 overall) in April’s NFL draft. Johnson became the third South Sound player to be drafted by an NFL team since 2008, joining Timberline’s Jonathan Stewart (first-round by Carolina, 2008) and Shelton’s Caleb Schlauderaff (sixth-round by Green Bay, 2011).

“It’s a lot of crazy emotions,” Johnson said on draft day. “… It’s a dream come true.”

Johnson was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) at Tumwater before graduating in 2007. He was a four-year starter at safety for Eastern Washington, and helped the Eagles win the NCAA Division I FCS title in 2010.

Hamstring and back injuries kept Johnson on the sideline all season after he made his debut with the Cowboys in an Aug. 25 exhibition game against St. Louis.

2. Van Sickle sets state’s single-season rushing record

Opposing teams had trouble stopping — let alone containing — Capital High School running back Kai Van Sickle. The senior had a record-breaking final season and ended his career with multiple records. He established the single-season state rushing record of 2,761 yards, surpassing the previous mark of 2,681 set last year by Interlake’s Jordan Todd. Van Sickle broke the record on a 37-yard touchdown run on his 23rd carry in the team’s 48-21 loss to Lynden in the 2A state semifinals.

Among the local notables Van Sickle passed on the way to becoming the state’s all-time single-season rushing leader was former Timberline star and current Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart. His 2003 season of 2,566 rushing yards as a junior ranks seventh all-time.

Van Sickle, the 2A EvCo offensive MVP in 2012, also set a school record for touchdowns in a season (39), leading Capital to the state semifinals for the third time in five seasons.

1. Capital coach out after students’ hazing incident

The Olympia School District decided not to renew the coaching contract of Capital High School boys basketball coach Doug Galloway after 11 seasons amid an investigation into a hazing incident between students over the summer at a team basketball camp.

The June 29 incident involved Capital basketball players and other team members at Bellingham’s Western Washington University. School district officials said Galloway failed to provide adequate supervision after campus police investigated an alleged incident involving “forced sexual contact” between students inside a campus residence hall.

In spite of an outpouring of support from the community for Galloway, the district’s decision was upheld by The Olympia School Board in a Sept. 10 executive session meeting.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick

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