(GENO LUDWIG/Chewelah Independent)
20 years ago, a group of kids from Chewelah stunned the state by winning the 2A state title in boys basketball…
It was the biggest come- from-behind victory since the sport of basketball was first demonstrated at the Jenkins High School open house in 1911. Behind by 13 points late in the third period, the 2001 Chewelah Cougars scored 18 consecutive points and went on to stun Lynden Christian 76-64 to win Chewelah’s one and only state basketball championship. Coached by Joe Feist, Chewelah was behind 53-40 late in the third period when they began their big push. Theywere still down 58-48 early in the fourth quarter, but in the following four-and-a-half minutes, they outscored the Lyncs 26-2, including an 18-point run, as four Lynden Christian players left the floor on fouls. Stone’s two free throws gave Chewelah its first lead at 62-60, and went on to grab a 74-60 lead before the Lyncs finally stopped their scoring spree.
“Coach told us at halftime that if we played a little harder, our chance would come,” said Jess Trampush.
“We all knew we could play better, so we stepped it up in the second half,” added Cory Boone. “Jess and I knew we could handle their big guys inside.”
So, the Cougars stepped it up and their chance came with an 18-point run that brought home Chewelah’s lone state basketball championship over 110 years.
The Cougars opened that tournament with an easy 55-41 over Mt. Baker with Kenny Stone scoring 17 points, Andy Belzer 12, and Trampush 11. Next, the defeated Elma 55-39 with Stone again scoring 17, Trampush 15, and Aaron Puthoff 10. They then beat Omak in the semifinals 66-51, led by Boone’s 17 points, along with Stone 11, Trampush 11, Puthoff 11 and Belzer 10.
I phoned a few members of that team last week and wrote down their memories of that season and that championship tournament. As you will read, many of those memories are very similar, especially when it came to the importance of the loss to Medical Lake during the league season and their team concept for winning.
Coach Joe Feist: “That was a fun year. There are a lot of good things I remember about this team. This was a mentally tough team that got better and better as the season progressed. It had good chemistry, attitude, and talent.
“Actually, the thing I remember most about that season was when we went to Medical Lake and they beat us something like 60-30. They had a good team that year. This loss was the turning point of our season. It was our wake-up call. It showed us that we still had a ways to go to reach our goals. So, we got refocused on improving and that paid off in the end with a state championship.
“That team went eight deep with Kenny Stone, Jess Trampush, Cory Boone, Andy Belzer and Aaron Puthoff, along with Evan Schanzenbach, Ryan Feist and Matt Hagen. Kenny was the team leader. Puthoff was our best defender. Andy had some big games for us. Jess and Cory were both strong inside as shooters and defenders, who really controlled the glass, especially in the championship game against Lynden Christian.
“Another contributing factor was our great Chewelah fans who encouraged and supported us. I really enjoyed my stay in Chewelah. I was blessed.
“I plan to try to get the team together this summer for a big barbecue here at my house. If we can’t do it then, we may have to wait until fall, depending on the COVID situation.”
Joe is now the principal at Deer Park High School.
Kenny Stone: “Coach Feist told us that we could never be the best we could be unless we helped each other be the best we could be. So, there was not a selfish player on our team. We were all for each other. Everyone contributed to every win, whether they were starters or came off the bench. We ended up being a team with so many weapons, so we were so hard to defend against. And any of us could go off on a given night. Cory could go off for 20 one night, and Andy could go off for 25 the next night, and so on. And spectacular things happened when someone came off the bench like Matt Hagen, or Evan Schanzenbach, or Ryan Feist. Maybe they did not score, but they hustled and brought energy off the bench. These are also the guys who pushed us in practice.
“I feel so honored and humbled that these guys looked up to me as the team leader. It was a special gift for me to play that role and have the trust of those guys. As a freshman, I watched others like Travis Meserve be team leaders. I wanted to be like them. I enjoyed being the team leader in spite of all the pressure.
“That year, we went to Medical Lake and won by 40. Then, we lost to Medical Lake by 30 at home. Coach Feist really tore into me as the team leader. I felt the responsibility for that loss, but as a team we were going to sink or swim together. We decided to swim.
“The state tournament was one of the most exciting moments of my life—the atmosphere, the crowd, being the underdog. I do not remember being down by 13 points. What I remember is that we all thought we were going to win. We played a fast-paced game, run and gun. We all knew that all we had to do was hit a few threes and we were back on top. And that’s what we did. We went on a roll and hit 18 straight points to win the game by double digits, just like the other three games.
“Looking back, winning the state championship was great, but developing the relationships I developed with my teammates was even more important. We all went through blood, sweat and tears together. I also appreciate all of our earlier coaches and our parents who supported us as we grew up and took us to all of the AAU games.
Kenny is now the head pastor of a church in Chico, California. He and his wife Kimberly have a son Parker 8 and a daughter Ellery 4.
Andy Belzer: “I can’t believe it’s been 20 years! I was only a sophomore when we won the state championship, but I remember it as if it was last week. The thing I remember about this team is that we were selfless. We threw away our egos. We were in it for the greater good of the team. We all wanted to play team basketball—to win together—and everyone knew his role on the team and how he could best contribute.
Because of that, we were a hard team to defend against.
“One thing I remember about the championship game is that I was really nervous, but I took our first shot from the wing and drained a three and, wow, I was no longer nervous. Another thing I remember is that I did not realize that we were down 13 points in the third period. We were playing really well, but we just had a stretch when the ball would not go down for us. It was then that we picked up the pace defensively, regained our focus and started grinding it out. I think we were only behind by seven at the beginning of the fourth period. From then on, we were laser focused. We started hitting our shots and made all of our free throws, and we won it 76-64.
“The other thing I remember about that season is that Medical Lake beat us by 30 points in our last game of the season. There were some rough days of practice after that, but we worked on the things we had to do to get better. We never lost after that. We won all three games at the district tournament and the four games at state. The first game against Mt. Baker was an easy win. Then we played Omak and Jess got his big dunk, and that energized us. We went rocking and rolling after that. We beat Elma in the semifinals and then beat Lynden Christian for the state championship.
“I got to play in the state tournament three times. We placed third, sixth and won a state championship. What a time that was!”
Andy is now a pharmacist at the Safeway on the corner of Francis and Monroe in Spokane. He and his wife Ariel have three children—Leila 11, Landon 9, and Roman 6.
Cory Boone: “Has it been that long ago? Am I that old? I’m 38, so I guess it has been,” said Cory. “Not too long ago, I was looking at some old high school photos. I was wearing the same state tournament championship shirt that my daughter Scarlet now wears.
“Good leadership always starts at the top, and Coach Feist was a great leader. I remember our Medical Lake game more than the tournament. We lost by 30 points. Coach Feist sat Kenny and I down and said, ‘This is not going to happen again. You two have to figure this out’ The next couple of weeks of practice were brutal. There was a lot of running and a lot of drills. We hardly shot the ball. We just ran.
“Another thing about this team is that we were all about team, not individual players. There was no selfishness. We played together, and that is what got us to the state championship. Andy was only a sophomore as a starter, and he was a good shooter, and the rest of us did not care that there was a sophomore in our starting lineup. Playing as a team mattered, and everything clicked at the state tournament.”
Cory still plays basketball. He is—or was—on a team until he tore his Achilles tendon a few weeks ago in a game. He was in a cast with crutches, but now he is in a walking cast. He attends the sports events of his children Scarlet and Lincoln. He was at his daughter’s volleyball tournament when I first phoned him. The two also compete in Taekwondo.
Cory is a Doctor of Biochemistry and works in biochemical research. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Ryan Feist: “I was just a sophomore that year. I was only 15 years old. It was a different situation for me because my dad was the coach. He had coached at West Valley for several years and had some good teams there, but he never had a state champion team, so this team is still special to him. He started taking me to practice almost as soon as I could walk. Dad knew we were a championship team before any of us believed it. It was an emotional moment for me after the game. We were at different ends of the court, cutting down the net, and we met in the middle of the floor and I said, ‘We did it’ after all those years at West Valley where he never won a state championship.
“Our 30-point loss to Medical Lake was the turning point of our season. Dad would always come into the locker room and talk to us after every game, but not after this game. He just walked in, wrote something on the chalk board and walked out. He did not believe we had competed very well, that we had given up. Practices were intense after that, but from then on our attitude was that we would never give up again, and we never did. We became as mentally tough as a high school team could be.
“I never thought of myself being a bench player. I was a team player, and I considered coming off the bench to be my role on the team. I played a lot of minutes. Dad would put me in at point guard and move Kenny to shooting guard where he scored a lot of points.
“Definitely, no other team expected us to win the championship, because we were only ranked eighth, I think. They thought it would be Lynden Christian or Nooksack Valley. However, we had come out of a strong league that year and had beaten some good teams that had players that later played in the NCAA Tournament and in the NBA.
“It was a good run for us. I think everyone from Chewelah was there. They closed up the town and came to the tournament. Our crowd went wild when we made that long scoring roll in the championship game. We had been behind by as much as 13 points, but then we started pressing and hitting our shots. We dictated the tempo of the game. We played a zone defense, but it was an aggressive zone defense. Cory and Jess vacuumed the boards, so teams got only one shot. I think Jess set a tournament rebounding record that year, and he beat it the next year. Kenny and Andy both had explosive games. Kenny definitely deserved being the MVP of the tournament. He was our leader. He was always positive, never negative. Aaron was a solid defensive player.
“Cory, Kenny and Tim O’Neal were the only seniors on the team. Tim was recovering from a football injury, so he did not get to play a lot, but he was very supportive. Andy, Jess, Aaron, Evan Schanzenbach, Matt Wilson, Zane King, and Matt Hagen were juniors and sophomores. They came back and went all the way to the tournament semifinals the next two years.
“I will be forever grateful to Chewelah for accepting dad and I. We had only been in Chewelah for a year-and-a-half when we won the state championship. I was the new kid on the team. Everyone else had lived there all their lives, but they took me in and made me a part of the team,”
Ryan is a pharmacist. He and his wife Morgan live in Spokane. He works at the Yokes near Mt. Spokane High School.
Kris Herda: “I was the team manager that year and played on the JV team. What I remember about this team was how diverse it was. Anyone on the floor could go off for 20 points on any night with Trampush at post, Boone and Belzer inside, and Stone and Puthoff out front. That team was known for its offense, but its defense was also a strength. They played a tough zone defense and pressed opponents really hard.
“What I remember most about that state tournament was that we beat everybody by double-digits. I especially recall how loud it was at the championship game with fans from Chewelah and Lynden Christian both really getting into the game.
“We had a heck of a run during those four years when Joe Feist was our coach. We got third, sixth, and first at the state tournament. I talked to Joe just a week or so ago, and he reminded me that it was the 20th anniversary of the state championship team. I didn’t realize it was that long ago. As I said, I did not play on that team, but I still got a championship ring as the team manager. I did not play on the varsity until the following year, but I remember that season very vividly. I did play on the teams that went to state the next two years, and we placed third and sixth.”
Kris is now the athletic director at Freeman.