YAKIMA — North Kitsap coach Scott Orness said all week it was the heart of the Vikings that mattered most.
Well get ready to let the love show and party Poulsbo. The North Kitsap Vikings are returning to the city on Liberty Bay with a state championship trophy and memories never to be forgotten.
Here’s hoping the love extends beyond the city limits of the Norwegian-themed town as Kitsap embraces its first boys basketball championship team with open arms after the Vikings won Saturday’s 2A state game 56-53 over Clarkston at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
State celebrations in one of the major high school sports are few and far between for Kitsap.
It’s why when one does happen, everyone in the county should share in the accomplishment.
“This wasn’t just about North Kitsap or our team,” Orness said. “This was about North Kitsap High School, this was about the community of Poulsbo. This was even about the community of Kitsap county out there,” Orness said.
The last time Kitsap brought home a boys title was in 1983 when Olympic won it all with a three-point victory over Centralia, 54-51. Since then, both Bainbridge (2006-07) and South Kitsap (2003-04) played in state title games, but finished second. No one had been able to scale the top of the mountain until Saturday.
Senior Logan Chmielewski was left speechless after Clarkston’s final 3 attempt hit the rim as the final buzzer sounded. North’s players scattered all over the court, trying to find a teammate to hug and still in disbelief the game was over.
“I’m just so happy right now,” Chmielewski said. “All the hard work, I’m going to cry later. I’ll be crying in the lockerroom later for sure.”
Orness and his entire coaching staff prepared this team from the end of last season to the final moments. There were some bumps in the road this season — from a gym floor that forced the team to stay on the road early on — to a surprising loss to Port Angeles in league play and back-to-back losses at regionals.
But North wasn’t going to be denied.
The No. 3 Vikings pulled away from Selah in its state opener Wednesday, winning 65-52. North did it again in the quarterfinals, beating No. 5 White River 64-43 thanks to a remarkable second half. The Vikings then faced their biggest test of the year in two-time state champ No. 1 Lynden in the semifinals Friday.
But with the blend of a tremendously talented underclass, its experienced and savvy upperclassmen, North roared back in the fourth to win 62-56 and set the Vikings up for the penultimate moment in high school basketball.
It was almost like the script had been pre-written and nothing was going to change the outcome.
Yes, the game against the Bantams from Clarkston — a small border town near Lewiston, Idaho — was close. Much closer than the few hundred fans from Poulsbo would have liked, but the Vikings players and bench never waivered.
Throughout the 32-minutes, North showed once again the poise the 2020 Vikings have on their roster.
Never did they let frustration or any anxiety take hold.
The friends, family and fans of the Vikings were limited to cheering and hoping.
Dylan Hernandez and Nick Alexander, both seniors at North, made the drive to Yakima this week to support their friends and relish a state championship.
“I’ve known these guys my entire life and I feel like it’s a great thing,” he said, adding the student body has been hyped all week.
Alexander thought his classmates handled the pressure well and every time “they needed to step up they’ve done it.”
North Kitsap finished what it set out to do at the end of last year — after a loss to Clarkston in the fourth-sixth trophy game.
“It’s not the best team that wins it but it’s the best team,” Chmielewski said. “We proved that. We’re the best team.”