Take a trip down memory lane
Friday Flashback is a series created by Alaska Sports Hall of Fame blog editor Van Williams that looks back on great Alaska athletes from the past.
Nothing seemed to faze Anchorage’s Scott Gomez on the ice. Not even the Stanley Cup playoffs. As a rookie, he scored a goal in his first NHL playoff game and earned the primary assist in his second Finals game. By the end, Gomez appeared in the playoffs in 11 of his 16 seasons and grabbed two Stanley Cups, made three Finals appearances and compiled 29 goals and 72 assists for 101 points in 149 playoff games. He played for seven NHL teams but enjoyed his greatest postseason success with the New Jersey Devils, winning the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003 and making another Finals appearance in 2001. In the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, he produced 2-3-5 scoring totals as the Devils beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven games. Gomez, of East High fame, bagged four game-winning goals in the playoffs, including an OT beauty to win Game 4 of a first-round series in 2007. Gomez was the first Alaska-born player to reach the NHL in 1999 and he retired in 2016 as the state’s all-time leader in games (1,079), goals (181), assists (575) and points (756).
Anchorage’s Kris Thorsness had never rowed a boat before she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1979. And when she expressed interest to compete for the college’s women’s team, the so-called experts scoffed. She was considered too short, too thin, too small. Plus, she was from Alaska and had zero experience. Thorsness never paid attention to the doubters and went on to become an Alaska trailblazer, winning a national championship with Wisconsin in 1979 and then winning the state’s first Olympic gold medal in 1984. Thorsness, of West High fame, also competed at the 1988 Olympics and won three silver medals at the world championships with Team USA in 1982, 1983 and 1987. In some ways, the 5-foot-9, 150-pounder put Alaska on the map in the world of sports as she proved Alaskans belonged on the world stage. Her success inspired the creation of the Anchorage Rowing Association. In 2007, Thorsness was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class. In 2008, she was the co-recipient of USRowing’s Ernestine Bayer Woman of the Year. In 2018, she was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame.
Kodiak’s Cliff Anderson carried a big bat in 1997 with the Single-A San Bernardino Stampede, clubbing 21 home runs and a state record 40 doubles in 132 games. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound left-handed hitting third baseman batted .273 and added 79 RBIs, 77 runs and five triples. His 125 hits are tied for the most for an Alaskan in a professional season. Anderson, of Kodiak High fame, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 39th round of the 1992 MLB Amateur Draft from Chapman University in California. He played seven seasons of pro ball, twice advancing as far as Triple-A in 1996 and 1998. He’s one of only eight Alaskans to play Triple-A or better. Anderson is one of Alaska’s greatest hitters of all-time, trailing only Jamar Hill in several offensive categories, including games (635), hits (546), runs (287), home runs (54) and RBIs (293). In 1996, he played for Single-A San Bernardino, Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Albuquerque. He hit a respectable .253 in 112 career games at the Triple-A level. Defensively, Anderson played multiple positions at the pro level, ranging from third base to second base to shortstop to the outfield.
The greatest track and field athlete in Alaska history, Janay DeLoach of Fairbanks is one of the most successful long jumpers on the planet with four U.S. championships, a Worlds silver medal and an Olympic bronze medal from the 2012 Games in London. A broken left ankle in 2013 forced her to abandon her traditional takeoff and switch to using her right leg. She still qualified for the World Championships and became the first woman to jump 6.95 meters off either leg. In 2016, she made another trip to the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. DeLoach was also a world-class hurdler and often times competed in both the 60-meter hurdles and long jump at the same event. It was called the ‘DeLoach Double.’ At the prestigious Millrose Games, the world’s longest-running indoor track and field meet dating 112 years, she won the long jump in 2013 and the hurdles in 2014 and 2016. In 2014, DeLoach qualified for Worlds in the hurdles after a second-place finish at the US Championships. That year she also won hurdles races at the Millrose Games and Boston Grand Prix. At Colorado State University, she racked up five school records and was a 4-time NCAA All-American. DeLoach, of Eielson High fame, was a 7-time state champion in high school and still holds the Alaska state record in the long jump at 19-5.
Alaska’s first Olympic runner, Don Clary of Anchorage represented Team USA many times during his career before stepping onto track and field’s biggest stage in 1984. As a high school senior in 1975, he was part of the U.S. junior team that won the title at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Morocco. Clary placed fifth individually. In 1980 and 1982, he competed at the International Cross Country Championships. In 1983, he finished fifth in the 5K at the Pan American Games. In 1985, Clary won a silver medal at the indoor world championships in Paris in the 3,000 meters. And then was 1984, when he became Alaska’s first Olympic runner by racing at the Summer Games in Los Angeles. Clary posted the fourth-fastest qualifying time among the 54 runners in the first round of the 5,000 meters to advance to the Olympic semifinals. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 and his third-place 5,000 finish in 1984 made him an Olympian. In college, Clary was a four-time NCAA All-American at the University of Oregon and member of school’s 1977 cross country team that captured the national championship. He was also a Pac-10 champion. At East High, he won two state cross country titles and in 1975 set a state prep record in the two-mile run that has stood for 45 years.
Palmer’s Jessica Moore was a winner at every level of her basketball career and in 2009 almost became the first Alaskan to win championships at the high school, college and professional level. The Indiana Fever advanced to the best-of-5 WNBA Finals against the Phoenix Mercury, losing 93-86 in a decisive Game 5 that was tied 80-80 late in the fourth quarter. That’s how close Moore was to winning a WNBA title. Moore, of Colony High fame, was a two-time state champion with the Knights in high school and then went on to win three NCAA championships with the University of Connecticut. The 6-foot-3 forward/center played nine years in the WNBA – the most among the five Alaskans to lace ‘em up in the premier women’s basketball league. Moore was a defensive stalwart; strong enough to guard bigger centers in the post and quick enough to defend smaller forwards on the wing. Defense was her calling card and the reason she stretched her pro career to almost a decade. She came off the bench for the Indiana in 2009 and averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 48 percent from the field. Moore ranks second among Alaskans in the WNBA with 644 points and 450 rebounds in 222 games. Her 22 playoff appearances in No. 1 in state history by a mile. She reached the Western Conference Finals in 2006 and 2008 with the Los Angeles Sparks, and the 2009 WNBA Finals with Indiana. She also reached the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 with the Connecticut Sun.
A combination of power and speed, Anchorage’s Jamar Hill was a dynamic dual threat on the baseball field who rose through the pro ranks to become one of just 12 Alaskans to reach the Double-A level. A two-time MLB draft pick of the New York Mets organization, Hill had a 10-year professional career during which he asserted him as the greatest hitter from Alaska, a state better known for producing pitchers. He is the state’s lone member of the 20-20 club, when in 2004 with the Single-A Capital City Bombers he hit .272 with 26 homers, 89 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 121 games. Hill, of Bartlett High fame, is the only Alaskan to reach the century mark in home runs, doubles and 100 stolen bases in his career that stretched from 2002 to 2011. A late-bloomer who was never all-conference in high school, Hill developed into a great player. He put in long hours of sweat and sacrifice. The late Dennis Mattingly of the Anchorage Bucs used to rave about Hill’s work ethic. In 2007, Hill batted .300 in 58 games with Double-A Binghamton. By 2008, he was playing independent ball, and in 2009 with the Victoria Seals he hit .292 with 19 bombs and 64 RBIs in 75 games. Hill finished his career with 891 hits, the most for an Alaskan; Kodiak’s Cliff Anderson ranks No. 2 with 546 hits from 1992 to 1998.
Anchorage’s Kaarin Knudson was a remarkable runner for the University of Oregon from 1994 to 1999 as she earned eight letters and competed eight times at the NCAA Championships. A two-time All-American in track and field, she was a seven-time NCAA qualifier for the Ducks and was a member of Oregon’s 1995 Pac-10 championship cross country team. In 1995, the Ducks won the West Region title and finished fifth at the NCAA Championships. In 1997, she was an All-American in the 800 meters. In 1999, she was part of a school record in the distance medley relay and earned All-American honors in the indoor mile. Knudson, of Dimond High fame, won the 1999 Jackson Award as Oregon’s most outstanding senior woman. She was also a candidate for the NCAA Woman of the Year. The two-time academic All-American and six-time Pac-10 all-academic honoree graduated from Oregon with a degree in journalism and fine arts in 1999, and then earned her master’s degree in architecture from the UO in 2007. The two-time academic All-American and six-time Pac-10 all-academic honoree graduated from Oregon with a degree in journalism and fine arts in 1999, and then earned her master’s degree in architecture from the UO in 2007.
Anchorage’s Anton Maxwell was simply sensational as a sophomore with the Oregon State University baseball team. The left-handed pitcher posted an 11-1 record in 17 appearances in 2005 as the No. 3 starter for the Pac-12 power that advanced to the College World Series. Maxwell, of East High fame, struck out 69 batters in 95.1 innings and finished with a 4.33 ERA. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound southpaw threw a 1-hit complete-game effort in an 8-1 win over Washington State. At the time, he was just the second Alaskan to throw a 9-inning complete game at the NCAA D1 level. He also carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Cal-Davis in another win. Maxwell’s 11 wins are the most for an Alaskan at the D1 level. He played for Oregon State from 2005 to 2007 and compiled a 17-5 record and 4.26 ERA in 46 career appearances. He racked up 114 strikeouts over 156.1 innings. In 2007, Maxwell went 3-1 in 19 appearances (mostly in relief) and had a sparkling 2.36 ERA in 26.2 innings of work. He was drafted by the MLB that year in the 31st round by the Texas Rangers and played two seasons in Single-A with Spokane and Clinton.
Eagle River’s Kelly Cobb took the Duke University women’s soccer team by storm in 2011. The 5-foot-10 forward tied a school record with six game-winning goals and set three Duke freshman records in shots (91), goals (11) and points (31). In the national semifinals, Cobb assisted on the game-winning goal in the 51st minute to lead Duke to a 4-1 victory over Wake Forest. Duke lost 1-0 to top-ranked Stanford in the College Cup final. Cobb, of Chugiak High fame, was named Soccer America All-Freshman First Team and Second Team All-Southeast Region. She was also All-ACC Second Team and ACC All-Freshman Team. In 2013, as a junior, she was Duke’s second-leading scorer with 17 points and recorded a career-high six points with two goals and two assists in a 6-3 win against Pittsburgh. Cobb finished her career with 25 goals in 78 games and often played through pain. She had left ankle surgery following her freshman season and knee surgery after her sophomore season. Cobb played at Duke from 2011 to 2014 and ranks No. 11 in school history in goals (25), 10th in multi-goal games (3), 12th in game-winning goals (8) and sixth in shots (219)
Reggie Tongue of Fairbanks led the NCAA and tied a Pac-10 Conference record with three interception return touchdowns in 1994 with Oregon State University. The 6-foot, 204-pound junior defensive back moved to free safety that season and hauled in a career-high five interceptions and was selected Second Team All-Pac-10. Oregon State finished 4-7 with Tongue playing a huge role in two wins. In a 44-31 victory over Wyoming he returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns, including a 36-yard pick-six in the final two minutes. In a 21-3 upset win over No. 24 Washington State he had a 47-yard interception return for a score. Tongue, of Lathrop High fame, finished his Oregon State career with nine interceptions and four interceptions returned for touchdowns. He was named First-Team All-Pac-10 in 1995 and still ranks No. 2 in school history with 362 tackles. Tongue’s knack for finding the end zone continued during his 10 seasons in the NFL as he scored five touchdowns on four interception returns and one fumble return. One of those TDs came on a pick-six against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2004 playoffs when he was with the New York Jets. From 1996 to 2005, Tongue grabbed 17 career interceptions in the NFL (15 in regular season, 2 in the postseason). He ranks No. 1 in interceptions among Alaskans to play in the league and his 145 career games is No. 3 among Alaskans.
Anchorage’s Lillian Bullock came out swinging with the North Carolina A&T State University softball team. She crushed 17 home runs and knocked in 56 RBIs in 60 games as a freshman in 2007 to earn first team all-league honors in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Bullock finished that season ranked No. 2 nationally in homers and top-10 in RBIs among freshmen at the NCAA D1 level. With a .330 career batting average and home-run pop, the 5-foot-8 second baseman is arguably the greatest D1 softball hitter to come out of Alaska. She held the state career home run record of 34 from 2010 to 2017 when Anchorage’s Pauline Tufi of Louisiana Tech broke it by one. Bullock, of Service High fame, also played one season of basketball for North Carolina A&T and is believed to be the only Alaskan to play both D1 softball and D1 basketball. She was Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year for basketball in high school, but in college her specialty was softball. Bullock finished her career at North Carolina A&T State University with 138 RBIs, 79 extra-base hits and a .612 slugging percentage in 198 career games.
Arguably the greatest college pitcher to come out of Alaska, Sitka’s Matt Way carved up Pac-10 hitters when he toed the rubber for Washington State University from 2006 to 2009. A two-time All-Pac-10 performer, the sublime southpaw is the only Alaskan to throw three complete games at the NCAA D1 level and rack up more than 100 strikeouts in a D1 season. In 2009, he set the Washington State record for single-season strikeouts (124) that still stands today. He went 8-4 with a 2.43 ERA in 107.1 innings and earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors. Way, of Sitka High fame, is one of six Alaskans to throw a complete-game effort at the D1 level, but the only one to do it three times. In 2008, he threw a 6-hitter against San Jose State in an 8-3 win and a 9-hitter against USC in an 8-5 win. In 2009, he tossed a 5-hitter against UCLA in a 7-2 win. His 13 strikeouts against Washington in 2009 still rank No. 2 in school history. His 239 career Ks is No. 5 all-time. Way was picked in the fifth round of the MLB draft in 2009 by the Philadelphia Phillies. Being taken 167th overall makes him the fourth-highest draft pick from Alaska. He played professionally from 2009 to 2014 and made it as far as Single-A. He ranks No. 3 all-time among Alaskans with 30 pro wins and is tied for No. 1 with three shutouts.
Anchorage tennis player Emma Lewis made her name in doubles at Bowdoin College, but her claim to fame came in singles. In 2012, she rallied for a thrilling three-set victory in the decisive match to lift Bowdoin to a 5-4 win over Middlebury in the NCAA D3 national tournament. Lewis, of South High fame, came back to beat Brittney Faber 5-7, 7-6, 6-2 at No. 4 singles. She lost to Faber at No. 1 doubles earlier in the day, but came through when it mattered most to help Bowdoin reach the elite eight for just the second time in school history. Lewis also came up clutch in 2014 when her win at No. 1 doubles helped propel Bowdoin to a 5-2 win over Middlebury to get the Polar Bears back to the elite eight. A hard-hitting ball machine with power and precision, Lewis became the first college player from Alaska to reach 100 career wins in singles and doubles. Her 2014 senior season was something special as she posted a 24-7 singles record; her 24 wins rank No. 2 on the school’s all-time list. Lewis finished her career with a 60-30 record in singles and 65-35 mark in doubles. Her 60 wins in singles rank No. 7 at Bowdoin.
Eagle River’s Yohance Humphrey put the University of Montana football team on his back in 2001 and carried the Grizzlies to paydirt. The rugged running back rushed for 132 yards on 30 carries and scored the game’s only touchdown as Montana beat Furman 13-6 in the national championship game of the NCAA DI-AA tournament. Humphrey, of Chugiak High fame, capped Montana’s 99-yard scoring drive in the second quarter when he plowed into the end zone on a 2-yard run up the middle. He was the centerpiece on a 15-1 national championship team – a Hall of Fame player on a Hall of Fame squad. The 5-foot-10 Humphrey was a three-time All-American during his career from 1998 to 2001 and walked away as the greatest running back in Montana history. He is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,070 career yards and in 2001 set the single-season rushing record with 1,658 yards in 2001. Humphery set the single-game rushing record with 265 yards against Weber State in 2001 and tied the school record with four rushing touchdowns.
Eagle River’s Nicci Ward had it all working for the Villanova University softball team on April 20, 2008. The senior right-handed pitcher threw a no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Providence College in the Big East Conference. Ward, of Chugiak High fame, is believed to be the only Alaska softball player to toss a 7-inning no-hitter at the NCAA D1 level. She struck out eight of 25 batters, issued three walks and benefited from a two-out walkoff double to score the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning. In the fifth inning, Ward was forced to record four outs after the first batter struck out and reached base on a passed ball. She escaped a two-on, two-out jam that inning with a strikeout. Ward finished her final season with a 10-9 record, seven complete games and 2.12 ERA in 28 appearances. She struck out 153 batters in 141.2 innings. She spent her first two years of college at Florida CC Jacksonville, where she was twice named first team all-conference. Ward was a three-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year in high school.
The state of Alaska has never seen a football player quite like Anchorage’s Nick Mystrom. A Swiss-Army-Knife-type player at Colorado College, he turned his attention to kicking in 1995 when he signed with the Memphis Mad Dogs of the Canadian Football League. The Mad Dogs turned to an unknown rookie a few games into the season to replace injured or ineffective kickers. It was a daring move by Memphis, but Mystrom kicked to the curb any concerns about his ability to kick at the pro level. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was named to the CFL All-Rookie Team after converting 37-of-47 field goals and all 18 PATs in 13 games. Memphis finished the season with a 9-9 record, including a 7-6 mark with Mystrom in uniform. Mystrom, of West High fame, was the first of the four Alaskans who have played in the CFL. He’s the state’s all-time leading scorer in the league with 137 points. He played at Colorado College from 1989 to 1993, earning snaps at multiple positions from kicker to wide receiver and quarterback. Mystrom remains the school’s all-time scoring leader for season (101) and career (263).
Wasilla’s Leisa Wissler was a big deal in the Big Ten from 1988 to 1991. The Ohio State University volleyball star was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 1991 and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1988. She was voted all-conference as a sophomore, junior and senior. Her 1991 season was especially epic as Ohio State made the Final Four and Wissler was named AVCA All-American and the school’s Female Athlete of the Year. The Buckeyes finished 30-4 her final year and won 27 straight matches, marching all the way to the NCAA Tournament semifinals before losing to UCLA. Ohio State posted a 20-0 record in the Big Ten, winning 17 matches by three-game sweep. Wissler, of Wasilla High fame, still ranks top-10 in school history in six all-time categories despite playing 30 years ago. She went on to play professionally for the San Diego Spikers of the National Volleyball Association. In 1999, Wissler was honored by Sports Illustrated as one of Alaska’s 50 greatest sports figures of the 20th century. In 2001, she was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.