Top Federal Way sports stories of 2009

Football signing day: Barrington, Pulu go their separate ways (Feb. 5)

The text messages will be piling up between the cell phones of Andre Barrington and Andru Pulu before the 2009 Apple Cup kicks off in Seattle. The two longtime Federal Way High School teammates officially became arch rivals Wednesday morning after they both signed their respective national letters of intent inside the school’s cafeteria.

Barrington inked with Washington State University and Pulu signed with the University of Washington in front of their families, coaches and about 600 students.

“We are both goofy guys, so I’m sure there will be a lot of that,” Barrington said about trash-talking text messages. “But it will get serious when we get on the field.”

“It is just great for the program for a kid to sign to play college football,” said Federal Way head football coach John Meagher. “And playing in the Pac-10 is even more special. We as a staff are very proud. They are going to represent Federal Way High School at their given universities.”

“Even as freshmen, I knew they were going to be leaders,” Federal Way Principal Lisa Griebel said. “They are role models for our entire student body.”

TJ’s Bronson gets invite to NFL Combine (Feb. 10)

Central Washington University senior tight Jared Bronson (6-foot-4, 254 pounds) played for the West team at the 84th Annual East-West Shrine Game in Houston in January. The all-star college football game featured the best seniors in the nation. Bronson, a Thomas Jefferson grad, had one reception for nine yards. Bronson’s performance at the East-West Shrine Game and a stellar senior season at Central earned him a coveted invitation to the NFL Draft Combine, which will be Feb. 19 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“It was a relief,” Bronson told the Ellensburg Daily Record. “I really wanted to go, because coming from Division II, it would have been good exposure. It’s nice to be on level playing field with everyone else.”

Bronson had a standout senior campaign for the Wildcats despite missing nearly five full games due to injury. He ranked second on the team in receiving yards (502) and receiving touchdowns (6) while ranking fourth in pass receptions (28).

Bronson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins, but didn’t make it out of training camp.

Decatur’s Tillman repeats as state wrestling champion (Feb. 23)

Tevyn Tillman looked more relieved than excited Saturday night inside the Tacoma Dome.

There was no flamboyant celebration after the Decatur High School senior defended his Class 4A 285-pound state championship at Mat Classic XXI. About the only thing Tillman did after a rugged 2-1 win over Anacortes’ Bryant Dickerson in the title match was raise his right hand and point to the big Gator contingent.

“It was way harder this year,” Tillman said. “Repeating is always harder because that initial excitement that is always with you the first time, is not there. The first time, you are putting it all out there.”

The win over Dickerson ended Tillman’s season with a 41-1 record. His only loss came to an Oregon wrestler in the semifinals of the prestigious Pacific Coast Championships in December.

Also, heading back to the Tacoma Dome as the defending champion, put a huge target on Tillman’s back. Everybody he lined up against Friday and Saturday at the Mat Classic gave their best effort in an attempt to knock off the champ.

But that wasn’t happening.

“After you win it the first time, I was always wondering, ‘What if someone catches me?’” Tillman said. “But you can’t worry about that. You just have to go out there and wrestle your match.”

State champions: Federal Way boys down Garfield for first title (March 8)

One year ago, the Federal Way boys basketball team stood inside the Tacoma Dome, watching one Ferris player after another climb to the top of a ladder to cut down the nets as state champions.

It was a sight that was etched into the minds of this year’s Eagle team and something that fueled their fire since losing to Ferris in the 2008 Class 4A State Boys Basketball championship game.

And this year, it was Federal Way who was standing atop that same ladder after winning the 2009 state title. The Eagles cruised past the Garfield Bulldogs Saturday night, 62-54, to garner the program’s first-ever championship.

“I can’t even describe it,” said senior guard Andre Barrington, through tears of joy. “We learned how to use what happened last year and nobody wanted to have that feeling again. We are standing on top of the hump and looking down.”

The victory over Garfield, the most accomplished basketball program in state history with 11 titles, was a microcosm of the Eagles’ magical season. Federal Way had four players average in double figures during the year, but it was their fifth-leading scorer, Isiah Umipig, who carried a lot of the offensive load against Garfield. Umipig, a 6-foot junior guard who came in averaging seven points, was the star of the championship game. Umipig led all scorers with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

“This is our year,” said longtime Federal Way head coach Jerome Collins. “It’s a testament to our kids. They have great chemistry. This is one of the most unselfish ball clubs I have ever coached.”

Federal Way’s depth and extreme athleticism proved too much for its opponents at the Class 4A State Tournament. The Eagles (28-2) won their four games in Tacoma by an average of 16 points and had a different leading scorer in three of them despite entering the tournament with a huge target on their backs as the No. 1 team in the state.

“We work hard and hard work paid off,” said senior Jeffrey Forbes. “Everybody did their part.”

Ishikawa opens season as Giants starting first baseman (April 21)

The 2009 season couldn’t have started any better for Federal Way High School graduate Travis Ishikawa. The starting first baseman for the San Francisco Giants connected on a three-run triple in his first at bat of the year, leading the Giants to a 10-6 win April 7.

Ishikawa finished the 2009 season with a .261 average with nine home runs, 10 doubles and 39 RBIs in 120 games for the Giants.

Beamer’s Ward runs wild at state track meet (June 1)

Saturday was a pretty good day for Todd Beamer senior Duran Ward.

Not only did Ward burn up the track at Mount Tahoma High School during the Class 4A Track and Field Meet, winning three state championships. But he also got to show off all his gold medals at Beamer’s prom Saturday night.

Ward brought home state championships in the boys 100- and 200-meter races and also ran the second leg on the Titans’ title-winning 4x100 relay team Saturday in Tacoma. The efforts helped Beamer finish in a tie for second place in the team standings with Kent-Meridian and Central Kitsap. All three teams tallied 34 points. Mead High School won the Class 4A state title with 49 points.

“Everything felt so good,” Ward said. “My mindset was just to go out and run as hard as I could. Everything worked out pretty good.”

The relay title, which also included Dominique Maxie, Travis Koch and Anthony Hogan, was Beamer’s second in as many years. Ward and Koch were also on the team that won the 4A state championship during the 2008 meet. The Beamer foursome ran a school-record time of 42.17 to edge Central Kitsap, who ran the fastest qualifying time Friday.

TJ’s Adams nabs shot put title (June 1)

The Beamer titles weren’t the only state championships won at the 2009 Class 4A State Track and Field Meet by Federal Way School District athletes. Thomas Jefferson sophomore Kayla Adams continued the Raiders’ dominance in the shot put.

Adams took home TJ’s second Class 4A shot put title in a row with a winning throw of 41 feet, 1 inch to edge Bethel’s Jackie Brown by one inch. Brown’s best throw went 41-0.

Adams’ shot put title comes on the heels of Sofia Malamura’s state championship in the shot put at last year’s state meet. Adams finished seventh in 2008, but was the class of the 4A division this year. Adams led the state for most of the season with a throw of 42-1 3/4.

Adams also finished up in fourth place in the girls discus with a toss of 119-9. Battle Ground’s Gabi Dixson won the state title at 135-4.

Cassens single-handedly leads Gators’ to first-ever girls tennis 4A state title (June 1)

It was a title that was a year in the making for Decatur’s Meghan Cassens.

Last year, as a freshman, Cassens was beaten by Gig Harbor’s Christy Sipes in the Class 4A girls singles championship match.

The loss to Sipes was Cassens’ first of the season. In fact, Cassens hadn’t even lost a set during her freshman year and beat Sipes just a week earlier, 6-4, 6-2, to win the West Central District Tournament title.

But Cassens admits the pressure of winning a state title might have affected her play in last year’s championship match.

“I thought about that match a lot,” Cassens said. “I just didn’t want a repeat of last year.”

That didn’t happen this time around.

Cassens rolled over Lake Stevens’ Antonia Liebenow in the 4A singles title match, 6-1, 6-1, at the Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick Saturday afternoon. Her victory not only gave her the individual state championship, but also single-handedly gave the Gator girls their first-ever team state title. Cassens was the lone Decatur girl to qualify for the state tournament. The Gators tied Kamiakin and Newport for the girls team championship. All three teams finished with 10 points.

“We got kind of lucky with how it all worked out,” Cassens said about the team title.

Sounders FC inks Thomas Jefferson grad (June 10)

The Seattle Sounders FC soccer club will have a new Federal Way feel. The new Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise announced Wednesday that they have signed midfielder Lamar Neagle, who played his high school soccer at Thomas Jefferson High School. He has been added to the official roster as a Senior Developmental player.

Neagle recently graduated from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he was a three-time All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation selection. Neagle led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring during his final two years at UNLV. He scored nine goals in during both his junior and senior seasons. As a senior in 2008, he was named second team All-Far-West Region.

“It’s good to sign a local product to our team,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “Lamar’s got excellent speed and he’s a player who can play in a number of positions. He’s very comfortable on the flank and has played on the left side as well as the right. He will get a look from us as an outside player, either in midfield or at the back.”

Neagle will now be the second Federal Way school district graduate currently on an MLS roster. Decatur grad Ciaran O’Brien plays for the Colorado Rapids after being selected fifth overall in last year’s MLS Draft.

Former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little named finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame (Aug. 25)

Federal Way resident and former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little, 67, was named one of two finalists by the senior committee for election next February for the Pro Football Hall of fame.

The nomination caught Little by surprise.

“I was floored. I had given up about two years ago,” Little said.

Many of Little’s fans had assumed he was already inducted. Almost 30 years after Little became eligible for nomination, he agrees “it’s long overdue” and the strong support from his fans are what got him noticed

The final decision isn’t announced until February, but Little remains confident. He plans to spend time with his family while preparing for travel to the Super Bowl this winter.

Celski skates onto U.S Olympic team, injured in crash (Sept. 17)

It was a very bittersweet weekend for Federal Way short track speedskater J.R. Celski.

The 19-year-old accomplished his lifelong dream of qualifying for the Winter Olympics by finishing second in the overall standings behind former Federal Way resident Apolo Ohno at the U.S. Short Track Speedskating Championships in Marquette, Mich.

Celski earned enough points to make the U.S. team after winning the 1,500-meter final on Sept. 9 in Michigan. Celski easily outdistanced Ohno in the race.

“I think about (the Olympics) everyday in my life,” Celski told the Mirror. “Just the thought of being there at the biggest sporting event in the history of the world is pretty exciting.”

But the celebration was short-lived.

During semifinals of the 500 meters on Sept. 12, Celski fell and hit the boards coming out of a turn and bounced off. According to reports, the first few inches of his right skate blade sliced into his left leg, above his knee, spilling blood on the ice.

Celski yelled as emergency personnel rushed onto the ice and applied pressure to try and stop the heavy blood flow. The race was stopped while he was tended to for several minutes before being removed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.

U.S. Speedskating president Brad Goskowicz said Celski underwent immediate surgery at Marquette General Hospital clean out and close the 6-inch gash.

Celski is currently healing well and scheduled to skate in the Vancouver, B.C., next month.

FWHS boys basketball cleared of ineligibility charge (Oct. 28)

An independent investigation by a Seattle lawyer released Wednesday clears Federal Way High School and its boys basketball program of any wrongdoing in using an academically ineligible player during their run to the 2009 Class 4A state championship.

The investigation, which was conducted over nine days by Jeffrey Ganson at an estimated cost of nearly $11,000, was necessitated after current senior J.T. Koontz transferred from Federal Way to Decatur High School during the summer and Gator head coach Kevin Olson reviewed his transcripts. Olson found two failing grades during the second semester of the 2008-09 school year on Koontz’s transcripts, which would have been a violation of athletic eligibility rules set by the school district and the Washington State Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). The failing grades would have made Koontz ineligible during the Eagles’ run to the state title.

According to the investigation, Koontz’s two failing grades, which came in an English and geometry class, were changed at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year after Federal Way High School athletic director Miguel Perez spoke with the teachers involved in the situation.

“We have nothing to hide here,” said Eagle head coach Jerome Collins, who is entering his 26th year at the helm of the program. “It’s unfortunate and sometimes it bothers you. But I’m able to sleep at night because I know what we do here and the staff and district have become appreciative over the years. There are always going to be negative people for whatever reasons. It is what it is.”

Medal mania: Waller snags four golds at 2009 World Masters Games (Oct. 30)

Michael Waller is a world champion four times over.

The Federal Way 51-year-old, who works as the sprints coach at Pacific Lutheran University, recently won individual track titles in the 100- and 200-meter races and was on the gold-medal winning 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams at the 2009 World Masters Games in Sydney, Australia.

The World Masters Games are held every four years for athletes 30 years old and up. The Games, an Olympic-style competition that included 28 different sports and 30,000 participants, were held Oct. 10-18.

Lucky seven: Federal Way’s Pinson sets SPSL TD record (Oct. 30)

Federal Way High School senior Trenton Pinson didn’t treat his old teammates very well Thursday night, to say the least.

Pinson broke the all-time South Puget Sound League single-game touchdown record by scoring an eye-popping seven times during the Eagles’ 69-21 blowout of the Thomas Jefferson Raiders (1-8) at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.

Making the record even more impressive, if that’s possible, is the fact that Pinson transferred to Federal Way last school year from Jefferson.

Twice is nice: TJ’s Cratsenberg snares a pair of state swimming titles (Nov. 17)

Amber Cratsenberg entered Thomas Jefferson High School with one goal in mind: Win multiple state swimming championships.

The Raider sophomore accomplished that goal in dramatic fashion Saturday night inside the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way. Cratsenberg won both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races, helping Jefferson (140 points) to a third-place finish in the team standings at the Class 4A Girls State Swimming and Diving Championships.

“It was really fun,” Cratsenberg said. “I enjoyed being on the top of the podium.”

The victory in the 50 freestyle was the most unexpected out of the two individual state titles for Cratsenberg. The TJ sophomore bolted out of the starting blocks and finished in an ultra-impressive, season-best time of 23.87.

“After swimming the 50 and winning, it made my confidence go up a bunch,” Cratsenberg said. “It made me realize that I could win the 100. I was in total shock after the 50 free.”

Cratsenberg might have been even more impressive later Saturday evening in the 100 final after holding off Stadium freshman Felicity Cann. Cratsenberg swam a 51.57, which was good enough to earn an automatic All-American time in the event.

Decatur headed to Class 3A (Dec. 18)

It’s official. Decatur High School will compete in the Class 3A division of the South Puget Sound League next season.

“I think everybody is encouraged,” said Decatur athletic director Kelly Kirk. “It’s going to be a pretty solid seven-team league.”

The 2009-10 edition of the SPSL 3A Division will include Decatur, Auburn Mountainview, Enumclaw, White River (Buckley), Bonney Lake, Peninsula (Purdy) and Lakes (Lakewood) high schools.

The three other Federal Way district high school will remain in their respective Class 4A divisions of the SPSL. Thomas Jefferson and Federal Way will continue to compete in the SPSL North Division, while Beamer will stay in the SPSL South.

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