There will be a lot of different faces on the sidelines as nearly a third of our 22 Whatcom County teams will have new head coaches this season.
Six programs, including both the boys and girls varsity squads at Blaine and Sehome, will have new leaders. But while they may be new to their teams, not all of them will be new to Whatcom County basketball.
For a look at all the new changes for our teams, check out New Changes.
We want to welcome and get to know new head coaches Gracie (Castaneda) Phelps and Nate Sullivan of Blaine, Kim Stensgar and Brad Jackson of Sehome, Tony Clark of Mount Baker, and Jenalyn Brown of Squalicum.
Here’s a look at each of our new coaches:
Jenalyn Brown, Squalicum girls
Background: Brown grew up outside Washington D.C. and played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse in high school earning all-conference honors in hoops and reaching the AAU national finals with her Virginia state champion team. She also was student body vice president and president of the leadership committee for two years (think AVID). She attended the University of Puget Sound where she played lacrosse and played on the championship intramural basketball team three years running. At home she is greatly outnumbered by her husband and four boys. She worked at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center for two years and currently is the program coordinator for supervised visitation while also teaching Whatcom County youth conflict resolution and communication.
Coaching experience: Brown has coached from coast to coast first as a co-coach with her dad for his girls basketball AAU team and varsity squad, then as head coach for middle school girls basketball in Tacoma and for elementary school boys in Bellingham. The last three spring seasons she has been an assistant girls tennis coach for Squalicum.
Outlook: This year will be a developmental year for Brown as a head coach. She is hoping to build rapport and trust with the players while developing the necessary skills the players need to be a strong and successful team. She wants them to be prepared and show up as their best selves bringing the program depth. While winning is great, her hope is the players get better at basketball, learn about themselves and being on a team, and have a great time.
Quote: “Being a compassionate human means owning up to our mistakes, allowing for forgiveness, and having integrity. If I do not know myself and my faults, then I can’t bring ease and gratitude to my coaching. I want to model being grateful, present, and positive for our players. We will all be uncomfortable at times. How we handle ourselves and others during these moments define us. I like this quote by Shelly Francis: ‘It takes courage to create a meaningful life of integrity. It also requires good company. And practice.’”
Tony Clark, Mount Baker boys
Background: Clark is a native of Orcas Island, lettering three years in baseball and basketball and four years in football. He graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in recreation and Western Governors University with a master’s in education. He and wife Claire have an 8-year-old daughter, Isla, and 6-year-old son, Harrison. Clark worked in the nonprofit sector for about 15 years and now is a fourth-fifth grade teacher in the Mount Baker School District.
Coaching experience: Clark has coached youth and teens for almost 20 years in a variety of sports, including basketball, baseball, soccer, and football. He has coached middle school basketball and at high school basketball summer camps.
Outlook: Clark is excited to take over a program that is rich in talented athletes who have the grit to play hard. He always wanted to be a high school coach and Mount Baker fits his coaching style well.
Quote: “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up; figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Brad Jackson, Sehome boys
Background: A native of Vancouver, Wash., Jackson was a three-year letterman in baseball, basketball, and football for Hudson’s Bay High School, earning all-American and all-state honors in hoops. He played baseball and starred in basketball at Washington State University, leading the Pacific-8 Conference in assists as a senior. He and wife Debbie have two grown children — daughter Lynsey and son Kyle, both of whom played basketball for Sehome.
Coaching experience: After graduating from WSU in 1975, Jackson assisted at Seattle Pacific University and later was head coach at Olympia High School for four years and at Eastside Catholic for one year. He was the head men’s basketball coach at Western from 1985 to 2012 and holds the record for coaching victories (518). In his 27 years, the Vikings qualified for the post-season 19 times, won 65 percent of their games, and won the 2012 NCAA Division II national championship. He went on to be an assistant coach and special assistant at the University of Washington from 2012 to 2017.
Outlook: After last year’s outstanding season when the Mariners reached the Class 2A state tournament, Sehome returns a senior-laden team. Jackson’s hope and goal is that they can take the next step as their game matures. With the league expected to once again be extremely competitive, the challenge for the Mariners will be to bring their best every single night.
Quote: “There are a couple of coaching phrases we often share with our team: ‘Little things make a big difference’ and ‘work hard and get better every day.’”
Gracie (Castaneda) Phelps, Blaine girls
Background: Phelps graduated from Arlington in 2016 after helping the Eagles reach the state tournament in basketball all four years and twice reaching the state championship game. She went on to play basketball at Western Washington University from 2016 until 2022, when the Vikings made it to the national championship game. She is wrapping up the final quarter of her student teaching at Happy Valley Elementary in Bellingham and plans to graduate from Western in early December with a major in multidisciplinary studies with a concentration in multicultural education, a teaching certification in K-8 education, as well as a minor in multilingual learners. She recently married Zach Phelps.
Coaching experience: Phelps coached the Whatcom Middle School girls basketball team last spring and has spent almost every summer throughout college doing youth camps for both girls and boys basketball players. She also has done one-on-one training with players within the community.
Outlook: Phelps is excited about her first opportunity to coach high school girls and to be a head coach especially in a league with great teams and tough competition. Her main goal for the Borderites is to grow, have fun, become better people, and strengthen the relationships they have with their teammates and other members of the community. She acknowledged that her youth and inexperience as a head coach will make it challenging at times but said she is looking forward to growing and learning a ton this year from her players.
Quote: “I cannot guarantee wins and losses this year but I do guarantee that I will do my best to foster an environment within the team that is encouraging, fun, energetic, and very hard-working. I strive to get my girls to have fun by working hard. To quote (track great) Steve Prefontaine: To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
Kim (Preston) Stensgar, Sehome girls
Background: After moving around the Northwest, Stensgar graduated from Sehome in 2005. She played soccer, basketball, and fastpitch in high school, and went to Lewis-Clark State College on a basketball scholarship. She is a health and physical education teacher at Bellingham and Options high schools. She and husband Mike have two boys — 5-year-old Lincoln and 3-year-old Trey.
Coaching experience: Prior to being hired to coach at Sehome, Stensgar coached track, cross country, and basketball at Mount Baker High School from 2014 to 2020. She was the girls basketball head coach for five years, guiding the Mounties to the 2017 Class 1A state championship.
Outlook: Stensgar takes over a squad that has a number of experienced varsity players, who also played a lot of basketball last summer and fall. She expects Sehome to be competitive in the Northwest Conference and said she couldn’t wait to get in the gym and get to work.
Quote: “I am very excited about being back at Sehome. In my few-year break from coaching during the pandemic I realized that now, more than ever, young people can gain so much from positive athletic experiences in high school. Winning is fun, but more important are the life lessons we learn from facing tough things and developing the resiliency to overcome them.”
Nate Sullivan, Blaine boys
Background: Sullivan was born and raised in Anacortes and is a graduate of the class of 1996. He moved to Whatcom County to attend Whatcom Community College and worked as a commercial fisherman for 10 years with Brent Senff.
Coaching experience: Sullivan worked as an assistant coach at Anacortes High under Senff from 2008 to 2019. Sullivan then took over as head coach at Oak Harbor for the past three seasons.
Outlook: The Borderites are coming off an historic season that saw them reach the state tournament for the first time in nearly a decade. With several returning starters and young talent coming up, Blaine looks to again be in the battle for a Class 1A playoff berth.
Quote: “Blaine is a proud community and very passionate about athletics. I am excited to work with the countless volunteers and supporters in our youth and high school basketball programs.”
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.