Tahoe sports story of the year goes to … | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe sports story of the year goes to …

As revelers counted down the final seconds of the century on Friday night in Stateline, this decade-long area sports fan half-expected a community member to accomplish another great feat.

Home to reigning national men’s moguls champion Travis Cabral, the multi-talented Shaun Palmer, America’s top female downhill skier, one of the country’s winningest prep basketball coaches, the leading hitter for a NCAA Division I baseball program and the latest coaching addition to the most respected college basketball program in the country, this little berg repeatedly demonstrates the athletic diversity few major metropolitan areas can offer.

Hence, choosing the South Shore’s top 10 athletic endeavors from 1999 opens the creator to harsh criticism.

Remember, this is purely subjective.

Here goes.

1. Travis Cabral wins the Chevy Truck U.S. Freestyle Championships singles moguls title: Few critics can dispute this one since the South Lake Tahoe bumper wasn’t even a member of the U.S. team when he pulled off this shocker. Throw in the fact he did it as a 15-year-old – the youngest national champion ever – and you wonder what lies ahead for one of the quickest navigators of bumps this country has ever seen.

At a recent U.S. World Cup qualifier at Squaw Valley, Cabral – now 16 – beat everyone down the mountain by at least a second. He’s also very graceful and high off the jumps, giving him an almost-unbeatable combination of points when he’s on his game.

In winning nationals last March in Deer Valley, Utah, Cabral dazzled judges despite the detriments of youth and relative obscurity working against him. His eye-popping score of 28.10 – only 1.90 off perfection – dusted runner-up Caleb Martin by 1.32 points and 1998 Winter Olympics gold medalist Jonny Moseley by 1.46.

“This was by far the best run of my life,” said Cabral, following the triumph that propelled him onto the U.S. Ski Team’s B squad. “I can’t explain how great it feels. I’ve competed against these guys growing up and it feels great to get a win here.”

Moseley better watch out when the next Winter Games roll around in two years. Cabral and South Lake Tahoe buddy Travis Ramos may be the U.S.’s best bets for gold.

2. Jonna Mendes scores career-best 12th-place finish in World Cup downhil: Following a team-encompassing tongue-lashing by U.S. coaches, the 20-year-old Mendes responded with her best World Cup finish to date – 12th in a downhill last month in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Mendes appears on the cusp of denting Europe’s weekly top-10 stranglehold as the United States’ only downhill threat until sidelined Picabo Street returns to Olympic form – if ever.

Mendes, a Heavenly Foundation product cemented her top-10 selection by repeating her silver medal in downhill at the World Junior Alpine Championships last March in France.

3. Aaron Wicklund’s and Angela Johnson’s NCAA Division I hitting prowess: Prep coaches annually blame unforgiving winters for their diamond demises, but apparently Whittell High grad Aaron Wicklund and STHS grad Angela Johnson never listened.

Wicklund led Centenary with a .352 batting average and 62 hits. The complete player also shined in the outfield, recording eight assists while committing only three errors for the 21-35 Gents.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Tenn., the latest in a long line of hits was Johnson of Belmont University. Distracted by an early season beaning incident that removed her for the lineup for the first time in her softball career, Johnson remained mentally strong. She was second among all Belmont hitters with a .361 average and her .458 slugging percentage led the 27-26 Bruins.

4. South Tahoe High claims first state cross country running title: Given little chance of dethroning Reno at zone, and even less hope of disrupting the Las Vegas schools’ state reign, the Vikings pointed to the postseason from the get-go, maximizing their high-altitude training and team-wide commitment.

Directed by a coach, Dominique Westlake, who inspires his runners with his own incredible fitness, the Vikings used a balanced effort to capture zone and state championships.

This could be only the beginning of a dynasty.

5. Five hundred and five wins and counting for Tom Orlich: Vikings boys basketball coach Tom Orlich reached the 500-win milestone early last month at the Gridley Tournament.

The 25-year STHS coach has instilled discipline, pride, commitment and honor to a program that was once the laughingstock of the Golden Empire League. Many kids grow up in South Lake Tahoe dreaming of wearing blue and gold for Orlich.

Orlich, who has suffered only two losing seasons since taking over the program in 1975, celebrated his longevity rather than the 500th victory.

“Actually, the biggest feat I’ve had is being in one place for 25 years as head coach,” he said. “That’s a long time, and we’ve accomplished a lot of things in that time, like averaging 21 wins a year for the past 24 years. We’ve had some great kids come through here. It’s certainly a testament to them, more than anything else.”

Deservedly so, Orlich will be honored by STHS following the Vikings’ Nevada 4A Division II game with Douglas on Friday night.

6. Palmer scales another mountain: Put him in any starting gate on a mountain and Palmer, 31, finds a way to win. First, it was on skis, then a snowboard, then a motorbike, and now it’s on a mountain bike.

Palmer, who grew up in South Lake Tahoe but now calls Meeks Bay home, won his first World Cup downhill mountain bike title June 26 at Big Bear, Calif. “I’m happy for my first World Cup win. I’ve had some struggles with my bike and mentally,” he said.

But one win isn’t nearly enough for Palmer in a year’s time. He also put the pedal to the metal to win the 23rd annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity race last April in Long Beach, outdueling racing legend Roger Mears and boyhood chum Glen Plake.

Palmer’s successful year started with an unprecedented try for four gold medals at the ESPN Winter X Games in Crested Butte, Colo. Although he came through with only one gold – his third straight boardercross title – Palmer baffled world-tested Alpine skiers by winning two rounds of the skiercross before a caught tip in the starting gate foiled him in the finals.

Palmer plans to enter four events at the X Games next month, so look out.

“I think I have a real good chance at three golds in boarder X, biker X and skier X,” Palmer said. “I just want to go out and try to get as many medals as I can.”

7. Corey Martin walks on to the Wisconsin football team and suits up for the Rose Bowl: If Martin would have played in the Badgers’ 17-9 Rose Bowl triumph over Stanford on Saturday, this would have rated as No. 1. But give the 1999 South Tahoe High grad a few more years to work on that one.

Advised to join a smaller collegiate program, Martin, a three-year all-league player for STHS, stuck to his dream.

“I figured I worked so hard to make it to a big school that I had to go for it,” Martin said. “In my mind I couldn’t pass it up because I’d always look back and wonder what would have happened.”

Martin, 18, worked as a scout team specialist throughout the fall and impressed coaches with his hustle and work ethic. Don’t be surprised if the redshirt freshman starts on Wisconsin special teams next fall.

8. STHS boys soccer team nearly goes unbeaten: A deep Viking soccer team nearly pulled off an undefeated season and a national ranking, taking a 23-1-4 record into the Nevada state finals.

However, Green Valley made one goal stand up in the finals, denying the Vikings their first state championship.

9. Whittell ends 21-game football losing streak: Saddled with the albatross of two straight winless seasons, the Warriors got the monkey off their backs after forfeiting their season opener because of a small turnout.

The Warriors couldn’t have picked a better time to end their frustration, rallying to beat rival Incline 24-22, which had throttled them the year before. Whittell added a victory over Hawthorne before the season climaxed, giving the program momentum entering their reclassification at the Nevada 2A level next fall.

10. Jerod Haase drops rock, picks up chalk for Jayhawks: South Lake Tahoe’s basketball god, whose pro career was abbreviated by a broken wrist, was hired as an assistant coach by Kansas.

Naturally, the 25-year-old Haase was ecstatic about coach Roy Williams bringing him back into the KU fold.

“I wouldn’t trade this job in coaching with any other job in America. I’m really excited, and I love the people I’m working with,” he said.

Best of the rest: South Lake Tahoe’s Babe Ruth 16 All-Star team advances to regionals in Bakersfield, Calif.; Jake Hurwitz provides Vikings with first zone 100-meter title; Adrian Hankoff works her way into starting lineup for the Washington State volleyball team; Heavenly Ski Resort hosts first World Cup event in 13 years; the Miami Dolphins waive Whittell High grad Mike Crawford; South Lake Tahoe residents Kelly Orlich (Nevada), Eric Beavers (Nevada) and Lee Pope (New Hampshire) are inducted into their respective college halls of fame; Jason Neeser rejoins the Dartmouth men’s basketball team for his senior year; Davy Jones resumes his racing career in 12 Hours at Sebring after life-threatening crash in 1997; golfer Ebon Slack advances to sectionals in U.S. Open qualifying; 70-year-old Alpine skier John Gianotti wins 31 consecutive masters races before losing in the FIS World Cup Alpine Championships in Austria and is named masters skier of the year by the USSA; South Shore snowboarders capture six overall titles at the USASA national championships; John Thomaselli and Brennan Beell win BMX national series titles; Whittell’s Luke Forvilly (long jump) and Bob Linkul (discus) finish second in the Nevada 3A state track and field meet; and Travis Ramos resumes his mogul skiing career after missing all of last season with a knee injury by winning two U.S. Freestyle selection events last month at Squaw Valley USA.

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