Kingston head swim coach Mark VanHuis demonstrates how to wear a swim cap at the Bucs’ state meet in 2016. (Patti Hoffer / Contributed)

Gienger, Orness, VanHuis are the best

2A Olympic League Coaches of the Year

POULSBO — North Kitsap and Kingston’s winter sports teams have a lot to celebrate: League titles, post-season appearances, state tournament finishes.

And now, three of the top coaches in the Olympic League.

Boys basketball

The North Kitsap boys basketball team placed place at state March 4, their best state tournament finish since 1982, when they finished fifth.

Junior Zac Olmstead was named league co-MVP. And head coach Scott Orness was named Olympic League Coach of the Year.

Though Orness said being named a Coach of the Year is an honor, he credits his entire coaching staff.

“A lot of work goes into helping us be successful. It’s an award for my whole staff, I’m really thankful for the group I have,” he said.

Orness began his coaching career as an assistant coach with his father at Franklin Pierce High School. He coached for one year at Puyallup, was the head coach at Bainbridge for 11 years and just wrapped up his second season with the Vikings.

Orness’s father is battling cancer, living down in Arizona, but Orness said his dad is still a huge part of his life in basketball.

“We have a great relationship,” he said of his father. “I always call him before and after every game, and he watches every film of our plays online.”

Orness and his father share commonalities as both full-time educators and coaches.

His father, coached basketball for 36 years while being a full-time educator. Orness, a full-time instructor on Bainbridge, remembers practicing with this father’s team in middle school.

“He kept an extra spot on the high school team so I could practice with them,” he said. “In high school, he coached in a different school district, so he decided to hang it up because he wanted to watch me play.”

For six years, Orness’s father commuted from Puyallup to support his son.

“He was my mentor as I started my own program,” he said. “He helped us to the state championship in 2007, which was quite a feat through the metro league.”

As Orness reminisced through 15 years of coaching, he said he believes some of the biggest lessons in basketball were learned from his father.

“Whether it’s a tough half or rally back at the end, we really want it to relate to the real world,” Orness said. “One of the best places kids can learn those lessons is on a team sport and basketball is perfect. It’s not all about the league championship or a trophy at the state tournament, it’s special to help them enjoy the journey together.

“It isn’t just about basketball,” he said. “Relationships are the number one thing.”

Boys swim

Kingston boys swim coach Mark VanHuis said the team had an “unprecedented season” this year.

The first of their accomplishments this season was going undefeated in the Olympic League, followed by winning the 2A State Swim and Dive Championships, Feb. 18 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Kingston scored 225 points to win the team championship.

In team events, Kingston’s Timothy Gallagher, Nolan Platz, Quincy Walker and Bryce Hoffer won the 200 yard medley relay; Hoffer, George Dalton, Fox and Gallagher placed fifth in the 200 yard free.

In individual events, Fox won the 200 yard IM and finished second in the 100 yard breaststroke. Gallagher placed second in the 100 yard free and first in the 100 yard backstroke.

“We set the bar really high for the upcoming season,” VanHuis said.

In addition to a record-breaking year, VanHuis was named Olympic League and State Coach of the Year.

Honored, but humbled, VanHuis said, “I like to think of it more of a reflection of the athletes themselves than it is me.”

Though VanHuis has only been the head coach with Kingston for the past five years, he’s been coaching since he was a sophomore in high school.

He started as an instructor and assistant coach at the local swim club in Shelton in 1995, within a year he was the head coach.

“Watching people attain what they didn’t think was possible is one of the most beautiful things about coaching,” he said. “It’s very rewarding … seeing the kids achieve those lofty goals. It’s the look on their faces — you can’t script it or fake it — it’s an absolute emotional response that’s just inspiring.”

The 37-year old coach has seen quite a few accomplishments in his career.

Among them, a swimmer he coached swam across the English Channel.

“It’s the pinnacle of open water swim: 26 miles in 45-degree water,” he said. “It took her 10 hours and 21 minutes, and I was on the boat cheering her on every minute of the way.”

Though he’s helped swimmers win state championships and even attended Olympic trials to watch former students compete, he said this season was one he will never forget.

“This was a direct reflection of the team and how they conducted themselves,” he said. “Our team was a cohesive unit and made their presence known as soon as they walked on the pool deck. Kingston High School swim team turned heads this year.”

VanHuis is already setting goals for next season.

“One of my goals is to have the absolute best team spirit anyone’s every had,” he said. “I want a team, more than individuals — because when individuals compete at the highest level with the purpose of being a part of a team, great things can happen.”

But above that, he said getting athletes to believe in themselves is one of the most important influences a coach can have.

“My biggest challenge as a coach is also the most rewarding — getting people to believe in themselves — there’s no magic potion get them to buy into it. You have to find a way to speak to them and show them ways to do it. It’s a matter of speaking their language,” he said.

“I’m truly honored to be coach of the year but I wouldn’t be anywhere without my athletes.”

Girls basketball

The Herald couldn’t contact North Kitsap girls basketball coach Penny Gienger before deadline. But athletic director Matt Standford had words of praise for the Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

“Penny has very high expectations of everyone in the program, athletically and academically,” he said. “She has a great support system with her assistant coaches, Dave Snyder and Kaelea Makaiwi, who also teach at North Kitsap High School and help manage some of the building issues.

“Penny is a fierce competitor, and that rubs off on the players in the program,” he said. “I think she is respected by her colleagues in the Olympic League.”

— Sophie Bonomi is a reporter for Kitsap News Group.

North Kitsap head basketball coach Scott Orness gives a pep talk to his Vikings during halftime at one of their post-season games. (Harry McConnell / Contributed)

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