WALLA WALLA - Will this be the year of the Blue Devils?
Mac-Hi's Pioneers, perhaps? Or Weston-McEwen's TigerScots? Or how about Whitman College?
These are the schools who are in position to pull off the trifecta - a hat trick, if you will - during the 35th annual Blue Mountain Sports Awards.
Capturing three of the five sports awards that are handed out each year at the Blue Mountain Youth Recognition Evening isn't a rarity. But it's not a common occurrence, either.
It's happened five times in the last 10 years and 18 times over the 34-year history of the sports awards.
It happened last year, in fact, when Walla Walla Community College carried back to its campus trophies for Team of the Year, Coach of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year, all courtesy of the Warriors' NWAACC women's basketball champions.
DeSales scored big in 2008 when Mike Spiess coached and Kevin Baffney quarterbacked the Irish to the Class B-11 state football championship. And it happened in 2005 when Weston-McEwen claimed the Oregon Class 2A state basketball crown behind Kayla Johnson's play and Jeff Griggs' coaching.
Only three times in the awards' history has a school captured four trophies in a single year.
Wa-Hi did in 1984, the first year in which Scholar-Athlete of the Year was added to the mix, and again in 1989. DeSales last turned the trick in 1992.
This year's lists of finalists reveal that Wa-Hi is represented in all five categories - Male Athlete of the Year, Female Athlete of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Team of the Year and Coach of the Year. Mac-Hi, Weston-McEwen and Whitman College are each represented in three of the five groups of finalists.
Two Blue Devils - track star Garrett Gerling and soccer goalkeeper Andrew Glaeser - give Wa-Hi a 50-50 chance of capturing Male Athlete of the Year. Mac-Hi soccer scoring machine Oscar Flores and Pomeroy's Tory Knebel, a state champion wrestler who also excelled in football and track for the Pirates, are the other two finalists.
Mac-Hi holds those same 50-50 odds in the Female Athlete of the Year category, with soccer standout Belen Betancourt, the Greater Oregon League's player of the year, and Emily Childers, a combination soccer-track athlete, holding down two of the four slots. The others belong to Hope Klicker, Wa-Hi's premier softball pitcher/hitter, and Renee Baumann, who led Weston-McEwen to the Oregon Class 2A state volleyball championship.
Baumann, Childers and Glaeser are all up for Scholar-Athlete of the Year as well. They are joined by Whitman College's Christoph Fuchs, last year's winner, and Walla Walla Valley Academy's Chinonso Opara.
Contesting for this year's Coach of the Year award are Wa-Hi's Jerry Humphreys, softball; Waitsburg-Prescott's Jeff Bartlow, football; Whitman College's Eric Bridgeland, men's basketball; WWCC's Chad Bodnar, women's soccer; and last year's winner, WWCC's Bobbi Hazeltine, women's basketball.
Humphreys' softball team, Bridgeland's basketball team and Bodnar's soccer team are three of the four finalists for Team of the Year. The fourth is Weston-McEwen's volleyball team.
The finalists represent large original fields of nominees in each category and were determined by a selection panel that represents a cross-section of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin's circulation area. The U-B and Baker Boyer Bank are co-sponsors of the event, which will be held May 11 at the Walla Walla Elks Lodge beginning at 7 p.m.
The selection panel will convene for a second time to determine this year's winners.
The sports awards are held in conjunction with the Blue Mountain Youth Recognition Evening, which also recognizes selected students from each of the high schools in the area for their classroom and civic accomplishments,
The event is free of charge and open to the public.
Here is a little closer look at each of the finalists.
Male Athlete of the Year
OSCAR FLORES - The scoring leader of Mac-Hi's boys soccer team, Flores led the Pioneers to the Greater Oregon League championship and into the Oregon Class 4A state playoffs. He finished the season with 74 goals and was recognized by ESPN Rise as the No. 1 scorer in the nation at one point in the season.
GARRETT GERLING - The Wa-Hi hurdler was the district and regional champion in both the 110-meter high hurdles and the 300 intermediates last spring. He qualified for the Class 4A state meet in both events plus the 200 meters and the 400-meter relay. He was third at state in the 110 highs in 15.44 seconds and sixth in the 300 intermediates in 39.46.
ANDREW GLAESER - Wa-Hi's superb goalkeeper led the Blue Devils to the Big Nine Conference Cascade Division championship and into the Class 4A state playoffs. He was a unanimous first-team all-league selection and the Big Nine Conference's player of the year.
TORY KNEBEL - Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Tye, who won Male Athlete of the Year honors in 2009, Tory played running back and linebacker for Pomeroy during the football season before taking center stage in wrestling as well as track and field last spring. He was the district, regional and Class B state wrestling champion at 160 pounds and a state track qualifier in the 400 and 1,600 relay events, placing third in the 400 in 44.83 seconds and fifth in the 1,600 in 3:38.3.
Female Athlete of the Year
RENEE BAUMANN - The Weston-McEwen senior, who has already signed to play volleyball at Walla Walla Community College in the fall, led the TigerScots to the Blue Mountain Conference championship, the Oregon Class 2A state playoffs and the school's second state championship. Along the way she was the conference's player of the year, first-team all-state and the Oregon Class 2A player of the year.
BELEN BETANCOURT - The leader of Mac-Hi's girls soccer team, Betancourt led the Pioneers to the Greater Oregon League championship and a berth in the Oregon Class 4A state playoffs. She was selected the GOL's player of the year and was also a first-team selection on the Oregon Class 4A all-state team.
EMILY CHILDERS - Although she was another member of Mac-Hi's successful girls soccer team, Childers was the undeniable star of the Pioneers' girls track squad last spring. Childers was the GOL district champion in the 200 meters (26.53 seconds) and ran legs on Mac-Hi's district champion 400 relay (53.4) and 1,600 relay (4:16.95) squads. She qualified for the Oregon Class 4A state meet in all three events plus the 400 meters, which she won in 59.26 as well as placing second in the 200 in 26.36.
HOPE KLICKER - As a junior last spring, Klicker led Wa-Hi to the Big Nine Conference Cascade Division championships and ultimately to the Class 4A state tournament. She was selected the Big Nine's most valuable player and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington state. She was also a Class 4A all-state selection for a second straight year and named to the Louisville Slugger NFC all-West first team and second team all-American.
Scholar-Athlete of the Year
RENEE BAUMANN - Weston-McEwen's all-state volleyball star also excels in the classroom with a 4.2 grade point average. On the court she also served as her team's captain while serving as National Honor Society president and student body treasurer off it. She has also helped out with youth volleyball clinics in the community, is active in her church and volunteered for a wide variety of community events.
EMILY CHILDERS - In addition to her soccer, track and cross country athletic endeavors, Childers has also found time to establish a 4.0 grade point average. She is a member of the National Honor Society, has served as a class officer and is involved in Key Club, Varsity Club and other youth activities.
CHRISTOPH FUCHS - Last year's Blue Mountain Sports Awards Scholar-Athlete of the Year has since graduated from Whitman College and is now pursuing a medical degree from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He concluded his four years at Whitman with a 3.88 grade point average and was named to ESPN The Magazine's academic all-America first team. As an athlete, he competed in both singles and doubles for the Missionaries' Northwest Conference championship tennis team.
ANDREW GLAESER - A basketball player as well as soccer standout at Wa-Hi, Glaeser owns a 3.981 grade point average and has been involved in myriad activities that include the Olympic Development Program in soccer, the Disney Soccer Showcase and Disney all-star team, National Honor Society, Boys Scouts of American and Ducks Unlimited. He is also a math tutor, a member of the concert choir and has served as a youth soccer referee and coach and is a member of the Chamber Singers.
CHINONSO OPARA - A Walla Walla Valley Academy senior last spring, Opara now attends the University of Washington. He logged a 4.0 grade point average in high school, was a four-year class officer, member of the band and a volunteer at the Veterans Medical Center and the Family Medical Center. As an athlete, Opara was an outstanding sprinter on the Knights' track and field team, winning the 100, 200 and 400 district championships with times that ranked among the best in the state. He did not compete at state, however, because of his school's religious guidelines.
Team of the Year
WA-HI SOFTBALL - The Blue Devils won their fourth straight Big Nine Conference's Cascade Division title with a perfect 20-0 regular-season record but suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss to Richland in the district championship game. They came back to win the regional title, beating the Bombers in the title game, and made a second straight trip to the Class 4A state tourney where they finished tied for third after losing to Heritage 1-0 in the semifinals of a weather-related single-elimination tourney. Wa-Hi posted a final 27-2 record.
WESTON-MCEWEN VOLLEYBALL - The TigerScots ruled the Blue Mountain Conference and the district tournament to earn yet another trip to the Oregon Class 2A state playoffs. They defeated Nestucca in three games to qualify for the state tournament, then defeated Bonanza, Regis and Faith Bible in consecutive three-game sweeps to capture the second state volleyball crown in school history. The TigerScots finished with a 30-2 overall record.
WHITMAN COLLEGE MEN'S BASKETBALL - The Missionaries didn't win any national or regional titles over the winter. They didn't even win their Northwest Conference championship, but they caught everyone's eye with a dramatic run over the course of the second half of the season to earn a rare berth in the NWC playoffs. Whitman won 16 of its final 18 games, including an 82-79 win over nationally No. 1-ranked Whitworth by scoring the game's final 17 points. By placing second in the final conference standings, the Whits also earned a first-round home game in the playoffs and defeated Lewis & Clark 79-76. They lost in the conference tournament finals at Whitworth 74-50 and finished with a 19-8 record.
WWCC WOMEN'S SOCCER - The Warriors won their eighth consecutive NWAACC Eastern Division championship last fall to earn another spot in the conference's postseason playoffs. They opened with a 4-0 victory over Lane in the quarterfinal round and knocked off Bellevue 5-1 in the semifinals. Then, in the NWAACC championship game, Walla Walla stopped Clackamas 2-0 for the program's second title in as many years after a long run of second-place finishes. The Warriors were 20-0-2 in 2010 are 40-1-2 over their two-year championship run.
Coach of the Year
JEFF BARTLOW - The veteran Waitsburg-Prescott football coach enjoyed his finest hour in 2010 as W-P captured the Southeast 2B-11 League championship to finish the regular season undefeated. Bartlow's team then knocked off Reardon 42-6 in a crossover playoff game, beat Oroville 49-13 in the first round of the state playoffs and knocked off Southeast rival DeSales 54-13 in the state quarterfinals. W-P's run ended with a 21-14 loss to Colfax in the semifinals that left the team with a 12-1 overall record.
CHAD BODNAR - As coach of both the men's and women's soccer programs at Walla Walla Community College, Bodnar has exceeded the level of success that was established at the school by his highly successful predecessor, John Charman. Bodnar's men's team, which won the NWAACC title in 2008 and earned Team of the Year honors the following spring, fell short of the playoffs in 2010, but his women's team more than held up the school's reputation by claiming a second straight NWAACC crown with a 20-0-2 record.
ERIC BRIDGELAND - In his third season at the Missionary helm, Bridgeland's Missionary men's basketball team exceeded even his expectations by finishing second in the Northwest Conference and defeating Lewis & Clark in a home playoff game before losing to nationally No. 1-ranked Whitworth in the conference tournament championship game. The highlights of the year for Whitman were a 16-2 record over the team's final 18 regular-season games, a run that included an exhilarating comeback victory over Whitworth at Sherwood Center. The Missionaries finished 19-8.
BOBBI HAZELTINE - One year after leading WWCC's women's basketball team to the school's second NWAACC title and winning Coach of the Year for second time during her Walla Walla tenure, Hazeltine's young Warriors were the surprise of the NWAACC Championships earlier this year in Kennewick. In making their 11th straight appearance in the tournament, the fourth-seeded Warriors defeated Skagit Valley 60-42, Highline 55-52 and Columbia Basin 52-48 to reach the finals where they met division rival Yakima for a second straight year. The emotionally charged Yaks prevailed this time, 53-40, and WWCC returned home with the second-place trophy and a 22-7 final record.
JERRY HUMPHREYS - Wa-Hi's veteran softball coach took his team to the brink of a state championship before bowing to Heritage 1-0 in the semifinals of the rain-shortened Class 4A tournament. The team logged a perfect 20-0 regular season record and rebounded from a disappointing 2-1 loss to Richland in the district championship game by winning the regional tournament and a No. 1 seed to state. One of the sweetest wins by far was the 7-2 victory over Richland in the regional finals. The Blue Devils finished 27-2.