Wolves off to state tournament with perfect record

An undefeated Coupeville High School boys basketball team achieved a feat last accomplished in 1970.

In uncertain times, one thing remains consistent — they’re making history.

When the final buzzer sounded Thursday night, bedlam ruled as an undefeated Coupeville High School boys basketball team achieved a feat last accomplished by the Wolves in 1970.

With a 67-27 win over visiting La Conner, the CHS boys captured the District 1/2 title, only the second such championship in the 105-year history of the program.

And now the Wolves, a pristine 16-0, are off to the state tourney for the first time since 1988, breaking the longest dry spell of any of the school’s athletic programs.

Coach Brad Sherman and crew await the work of the WIAA seeding committee, which will rank the 16 teams in the 2B field Sunday, then announce first-round opponents and game sites. Regionals, which is the first round of the state tourney, goes down Feb. 25-26, with 12 of 16 teams advancing to the Spokane Arena for the March 2-5 main event.

Coupeville, as the only unbeaten boys team in 2B, should be a lock for a top-eight seed, which means their regional round game would not be a loser-out affair.

Based on past history, Thursday’s Coupeville vs. La Conner rumble might have seemed like a bit of a mismatch.

The Wolves represent a hoops program with four previous trips to state.

Meanwhile, the Braves have made it to the promised land a staggering 42 times, and still have a chance at #43, with a loser-out, winner-to-state game Sunday against a school from District 4.

But this year’s Coupeville squad, anchored by a strong group of seniors who grew up together, playing ball as teammates since their SWISH days, is making its own history.

These Wolves thunked La Conner 54-26 and 79-45 in regular-season matchups, and Thursday was beat-down No. 3. Which should greatly delight old-school fans who remember too many heartbreaking losses in key games to the Braves over the decades.

Thursday’s royal rumble played out in front of the biggest, loudest, rowdiest crowd to stuff the CHS gym in years.

Old timers still talk about the 1970 district title game, when 2,000-plus fans stuffed into an off-island gym to watch Jeff Stone drop a school-record 48 points as the Wolves thrashed Darrington. That was the first district hoops title for any Whidbey Island school, and Thursday’s tilt brought together the past, present, and future into one wild mash-up of red and black kickin’ butts and takin’ names.

Nearly every inch of the “Coupeville sports emporium” was crammed, fan after fan of all ages trying, and often failing, to find a comfortable perch on the unforgiving hard plastic bleachers. Not that anyone seemed to mind, as the roar started as Hawthorne Wolfe, the only four-year varsity starter on the team, led his teammates onto the floor.

And once the screaming, and the wailing, and the wild giggling from a super-hyped band of elementary school boys gathered behind the CHS bench, began, it never abated.

The Wolves seized the momentum from the opening tip, Wolfe dishing to fellow senior Caleb Meyer for a quick inside bucket, and Coupeville was off to the races.

With the Marauding Murdy boys — Xavier and Alex — leading the way, the Wolves attacked with wild glee on defense, and La Conner buckled.

The Braves could barely get a shot skyward, all too often committing turnovers in the face of a withering defense, and Coupeville took advantage.

Rampaging to an 18-0 lead before La Conner finally got on the board six minutes into the game, CHS got points from all five starters during the opening barrage.

Grady Rickner, giving an advance preview of what would be his best scoring night in a Wolf varsity uniform, tossed in back-to-back buckets in the paint.In the stands, dad Chad, having hastily changed hoodies after inadvertently showing up wearing La Conner’s colors, beamed with pride, now clad in a more-appropriate black jacket.

On the floor, Wolfe delivered the daggers, rippling the nets on a pair of three-balls to really set the Braves on their heels.

The first trey was a stop-and-pop shot, while the second was set up by Rickner soaring to the heavens to snatch a rebound, then pivoting and zipping the ball to his trailing teammate.

Add another three-ball to end the first quarter, this one courtesy Xavier Murdy, and the romp was on at 21-2 as the teams went to the first break.

But La Conner didn’t get to the title game by flopping over and playing dead, and the Braves found one decent rally deep inside themselves.

Calling on some of the mojo which led it to recent wins over Friday Harbor and Auburn Adventist Academy in loser-out games, La Conner opened the second frame on a 12-4 tear. Dropping four treys in a seven-minute span, the Braves actually got all the way back to 30-20, before Alex Murdy and Rickner each slipped a free-throw through the twines to cap the half.

If there was a little tension in the air coming out of halftime, it vanished quickly.

“The Wolves are a second-half team!” yelled out a nearby fan, and Coupeville’s players more than lived up to her proclamation.

The third quarter was Grady Time, with Rickner going off for 10 points in the frame, with seemingly every bucket achieved by him forcing his will while being repeatedly smacked in the face by multiple defenders.

Another three-ball from Wolfe — the net jumping as the shooter shrugged and the overflow crowd went berserk — and a sweet lil’ runner from Cole White helped cap a game-busting 18-0 run.

Each bucket sent the gathered masses into delirium, with a three-ball from Logan Martin, the ultimate blue-collar hoops dude, causing the Wolf bench players to lose their collective minds.

With the game out of hand, coach Sherman made sure to get floor time for all 12 healthy players, while injured senior Miles Davidson joined the celebration from the bench.

Calling a timeout at the end, Sherman — a prairie lifer who once dropped three-balls from every angle in this same gym as a star player — sent his seniors back on the floor.

Wolfe, X-Man, Martin, Rickner, and Meyer, who lit up the middle school gym in their youth, shared a moment together at the end, now as semi-grizzled vets.

The ball went back-and-forth, with Martin stopping to kiss the orb before flicking it on, and the crowd chanting “On to state! On to state!” as the buzzer blared.

And you have to believe there was a sixth player on the floor with them.

Bennett Boyles, who played SWISH basketball with this group, would have been part of the CHS Class of 2022, had he not lost a fight with brain cancer. Throughout every step on this path, from middle school, to high school, to achieving success like no Wolf boys hoops team has in decades, his classmates have held his memory close.

He was with them on Senior Night, and Bennett was with his friends Thursday night as well.

The rest of the playoff run will be on the road, but Coupeville capped its final home game by playing the way it has all season — with every guy making a contribution, and the hot hand always being fed.

Thursday that was Rickner, who finished with a game-high 22 points.

Xavier Murdy banked in 12, Wolfe snapped the nets for nine, and Alex Murdy tickled the twines for eight in support.

Meyer (7), Martin (3), White (2), Dominic Coffman (2), Logan Downes (1), and Nick Guay (1) also scored, with Zane Oldenstadt and Jonathan Valenzuela seeing floor time as well.