All-Region Softball: Maddie Milhorn, Skyview
At crucial moments in the last two seasons, the Skyview softball team has seen what life is like without Maddie Milhorn.
Suffice to say, each time Milhorn returns to the field from an injury, the sophomore ace pitcher provides a major lift to the rest of the team.
Such was the case in May when Milhorn suffered an ankle injury midway through the Class 4A bi-district tournament. She sat out the next two games, both losses for Skyview, but returned the following week in time to pitch the Class 4A state tournament opening round game against Olympia.
Milhorn didn’t skip a beat, putting together a dominant complete-game, two hit-shutout with 11 strikeouts as the Storm earned a 2-0 win.
“It makes such a difference. She’s Maddie Milhorn. She carries us,” Skyview sophomore Lainey Phillips said during the state tournament. “When we have her, I feel like our defense (thinks), ‘oh, we have Maddie’ … she just makes everything better and it’s great to have her.”
While Skyview ran out of gas in the next round hours later, losing 3-1 to a strong Glacier Peak team, then getting eliminated in a 6-1 loss to Kamiak, the Storm had plenty to build from.
For one, Milhorn, The Columbian’s All-Region softball player of the year, posted a 0.82 ERA with 219 strikeouts in 111.1 innings pitched. She was also a force at the plate with a .586 batting average, 16 home runs and 42 RBI. After the season ended, she was also announced as the Gatorade Washington softball player of the year.
Meanwhile, all but three Skyview players are expected to return to next year’s team. Moments after their season ended, Milhorn and teammates were already thinking about what they need to do to improve.
“I knew this year we were going to be strong as a team, and we were,” Milhorn said. “But I also knew that this was a building year, and I think next year we’re going to be so good. The freshmen are going to be more comfortable and just the talent is insane for this group.”
To say a team that went 23-4 was in a building year may sound unusual, but Milhorn’s assessment is accurate.
Skyview’s 2022 team, which reached the 4A state championship game and ultimately took second place, was led by a talented group of seniors lauded for their leadership. That allowed Skyview’s freshman class, including Milhorn, to put their heads down and focus.
But this season, with more than half the roster made up of sophomores and freshmen, the time came for players like Milhorn to lead with their voices.
A self-described silent leader, Milhorn said the added responsibility was challenging at times, though made easier by having a group of sophomore teammates who shared the leadership role and most importantly, had each other’s backs. Milhorn, Phillips, Addy Harmier and Layla Royle all played softball together years before teaming up at Skyview.
“When I’m out there … there almost is no pressure because I believe in every single one of them,” Milhorn said. “I know they trust me and I trust them.”
In the moments Milhorn was sidelined — a knee injury that kept her out of last year’s state championship game, and the ankle injury in the most recent bi-district tournament — she and the Storm took away important lessons. Even something as simple as maintaining energy in the dugout, Milhorn said, can make a world of difference.
“Obviously it’s a little tough, not being able to play,” she said. “But watching the other pitchers out there, I trust them. They’re doing their job. Especially when I’m not pitching, the bats really come alive. I know my role when I’m on the bench is just to cheer on my team and make sure everyone is feeling good.”
Before next spring, Milhorn will spend another summer playing club softball with the Northwest Bullets. Then comes the fast-approaching Sept. 1 date when NCAA Division I college coaches are permitted to begin formally recruiting student-athletes entering their junior year of high school. Milhorn sees the upcoming months as important ones.
“This is my summer,” she said. “I have to do well this summer to get recruited. I’m really excited to play with my girls and just have fun. At the end of the day, I know I’ll end up where I need to be.”
— Will Denner
All-Region Baseball: Max Fraser, Camas
Some people carry their emotions on their sleeves.
This spring, Max Fraser and some of his teammates on the Camas baseball team showed it on their heads.
“We all bleached our hair for playoffs,” Fraser said. “It was partly a team thing, and then also some of us just wanted to do it. So it worked out well. I’m in the process of dying it back to brown right now. I need to get more of the professional look now that college stuff is starting.”
After a season in which he posted a 1.62 earned-run average, struck out 73 batters in 43 innings, leading Camas to another league title and state appearance, Fraser was selected as The Columbian’s All-Region baseball player of the year.
But even before he graduated from Camas High last weekend, he started playing for the Portland Pickles in preparation for playing at Washington State next season.
“It’s fun being out there with the older guys,” Fraser said of his Pickles teammates. “Here I am 17 and I’m playing with guys who are 21, 22. Being around those older guys, learning stuff from them, getting a feel of what college baseball is like is definitely good for me. And it’s fun to be around them too.”
It will be hard to remake the fun he had playing with his Camas teammates, which oddly provided him with an experience he wasn’t able have before high school.
“There were nine seniors on the team this year and most of us have played football or basketball with each other for years, and that was before playing baseball. Through middle school we were playing together on Camas select basketball teams or CCYF or Pop Warner in football. But this was the first time all of us were able to play together on the baseball team because of all the different clubs that we played on for baseball.
“Growing up with all of them was really cool, and then we got to cap it off playing baseball.”
Fraser said the bond he had with his Camas teammates was closer than any other baseball team he had played on.
“That made it really fun to come to practice every day, playing games,” he said. “And then off the field, the memories were just as good as on the field, if not even better.”
A couple of memories that came to mind were spring break trips to California, particularly his junior year when the team’s flight got cancelled at the last moment and the team had to scramble to drive to Southern California.
“Being in the car for 10-plus hours is nobody’s favorite,” Fraser said. “But it was definitely way more memorable than going on a plane. The road trip, and kind of having to scramble, almost made it more fun. I don’t know if I’d say I would want to do that again.”
Those bonds helped the team rebound from a tough 4-3 loss to Sumner in the bi-district tournament opener. But the Papermakers rallied with back-to-back consolation wins to clinch a state berth.
“That (loss to Sumner) was a tough one, but it wasn’t super discouraging,” Fraser said. “We knew we still had a couple of chances to make to state. And after that loss, we just got back to it. Our next couple of games, we kind of had some easier wins. The bats got hot, everyone was making their plays in the field. Pitching was good. So while that first game wasn’t great, I think it helped to bring us together.”
Fraser’s high school career got off to a rough start, when the pandemic wiped out his freshman season.
But the work he put in during the pandemic helped get him noticed after his sophomore season, which led to him committing to Washington State before his junior year.
Then he capped off his high school career by helping Camas win back-to-back 4A Greater St. Helens League titles. And he finally got to do it with his friends.
“I didn’t have a freshman year here, but my junior and senior years, we were able to win league titles and be the top team in the area,” Fraser said. “It just shows the tight group of guys we had playing together.”
— Tim Martinez
All-Region Girls Track and Field: Josie Settle, Kelso
Of the five times Josie Settle stood on the podium at the Class 4A, 3A, 2A state track and field championships, the final one is what she’s most proud of.
Hoisting the trophy as Class 3A team champions — Kelso High’s first-ever team title in girls track and field — atop the same podium where she was recognized for winning two state titles and two third-place finishes is a memory she won’t forget.
“Having that picture of all of our coaches in front with all three of us (teammates Rielee Gourde and Ruby Sereday) standing there was just amazing,” Settle said. “I’m still in awe. It doesn’t seem like it happened even though I know it did.”
It did in memorable fashion for Settle, The Columbian’s All-Region girls track and field athlete of the year. She competed in four events at state for the second straight year, won both the 3A 100-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles state titles, and also placed third in the long jump and triple jump to accumulate 32 of Kelso’s 47 points. The other 15 points came from Kelso’s other girls state qualifiers, Gourde and Sereday, who made the podium four times. That included Sereday’s javelin title.
“I’m so proud of us — the three of us that won state,” Settle said. “Out of all the teams there, we pulled it off.”
It’s hard to overlook Settle as one of the most decorated track and field athletes to come out of Kelso. She leaves with three individual state titles (won the 3A triple jump title in 2022), and owns both hurdles school records on top of helping Kelso capture its first girls team title.
Although she specialized in jumps and hurdles in high school, Settle classifies herself as a heptathlete. That’s where she shined on the AAU and National Junior Olympic summer circuit and that’s what she’ll do competing for Idaho State University next season.
In Settle words, the qualities that make a heptathlete, a combined-event athlete who takes part in seven events, starts with being in a good mental space.
“Kind of having the (attitude) of, ‘I know my body can’t do it, but I have to find the right mindset to do it,’ ” she said. “And sometimes, you have a bad event, and you have to bounce back in 30 minutes for the next.”
Settle placed third nationally last summer at the AAU Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., paving the way for a big final high school season in the hurdles and jumps.
So what were her expectations coming into 2023?
Settle did that purposefully and made it a point to let “whatever happens, happens.”
“I wanted to let my body do what it could,” she said, “and I surprised myself because I think in my mind, I kind of set a lower standard without knowing. Then once I started running those times and jumping those jumps, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, where the heck did that come from?’ ”
As great of a spring Settle had, she saved her best for last. At state, she lowered both her school-record times in the hurdle races on her way to winning both titles.
No expectations? No problem for Settle, as she closes her high-school track and field chapter.
“It was a good closure,” she said.
— Meg Wochnick
All-Region Boys Track and Field: Landon Kelsey, Ridgefield
Landon Kelsey waited until the last possible day — down to the hours and minutes, in fact — before deciding to turn out for Ridgefield High’s track and field team this spring.
“It was a last-minute decision,” Kelsey recalled. “I didn’t even go to the first day of practice.”
He had no intention of doing any spring sport for the Spudders. Instead, he planned to shift energy and effort solely to off-season work in preparation for another football season.
Looking back on that last-minute choice, Kelsey, The Columbian’s All-Region boys track and field athlete of the year, is sure glad he changed his mind.
“That was probably the most fun I’ve had all year,” he said.
Kelsey was the only Clark County male athlete on the podium four times at the Class 4A, 3A, 2A state track and field championships: third in the long jump (21 feet, 4.25 inches), fourth in the triple jump (43-8.50), fifth in the 300 hurdles (40.94 seconds), and eighth in the 110 hurdles (15.87).
Kelsey is a three-sport athlete for Ridgefield, and admits track and field ranks third on the list behind football and basketball. Yet track and field runs deep in his family, especially when it comes to hurdles. That’s what Kelsey’s main-event focus was until he entered high school.
“I definitely wanted to be a hurdler that jumped, but I think I turned out to be a jumper that hurdled,” the sophomore said.
Kelsey surprised himself not only with his spring season as a whole, but also his performance at state. It began by leap-frogging from eighth place to third on his final jump in the long jump finals to open the state meet, then closed it out with a personal-best time in the 300 hurdles. Kelsey reached the podium alongside teammate Isaiah Cowley in both hurdle finals.
“It was surreal. I was expecting to at least get to the podium for two events, but not four,” Kelsey said. “So those are just pretty crazy to me. It definitely felt good.”
Officially, Kelsey’s career at Ridgefield has come to a close after two years. He is transferring to Portland’s Central Catholic High, which is an Oregon 6A powerhouse in football. He said he still aims to be a three-sport athlete there, too.
Kelsey is a strong proponent of athletes who partake in multiple sports, and track and field has its own benefits.
For starters, Kelsey said, “I think this is the best I’ve ever felt.”
He also added learning to power run has already made a big difference for his primary sport — football — where he’s a standout at receiver.
All because he elected to come out for track and field this spring at the last minute.
“I felt faster from power running, just pulling my legs,” Kelsey said. “That’s probably the big takeaway from track is power running. I never really knew how to use my legs to run, but now, I’ve got the idea of it now.”
— Meg Wochnick
All-Region Boys Soccer: Alex Harris, Columbia River
Soccer is just one of many arenas where Columbia River senior Alex Harris displays his competitive nature.
Another, apparently, is ping-pong.
Over the course of the season, River boys soccer players take part in something they call “Legacy Cup,” wherein players are divided into six teams and compete in a series of games.
On one of those Legacy Cup days this spring, Harris was playing ping-pong against a teammate and losing. So, he dialed up the intensity and left little doubt by the end who the best ping-pong player on the team was, River coach Matt Newman said.
“I’m definitely a competitive person,” Harris said. “I thrive in competitive situations. A lot of the time, especially when I’m getting beat at something, I get extra competitive.”
Considering how the last two years played out, that mindset helped Harris and the Rapids soar.
Last season, Harris and teammates felt the sting of losing in the Class 2A state semifinals and settling for third place. This year, in the 2A state championship match, River trailed North Kitsap 2-1 in the second half before rattling off three unanswered goals, the last scored by Harris, to capture the program’s first state title since 2018.
“(We) take a lot of pride in that, because that’s what we were unable to do last year, was fight back from a deficit,” Harris said. “So this year, we all had so much confidence in each other and we were just like, if we go down we know we can come back. When we went down, the intensity didn’t drop at all.”
Along the way, Harris, The Columbian’s All-Region boys soccer player of the year for a second straight season, was nothing short of sensational. With 76 goals in 24 games, Harris averaged a hat trick while topping last season’s tally of 51 goals. He leaves River with a program-record 134 goals, a figure that is also believed to be among the top prep marks in Washington state history.
“I’ve never seen anything remotely close to it,” Newman said. “The fact that he had 50-some goals last year and had 20 more goals, at least, this year … is pretty unreal. But it goes to show how competitive he is with not just other teams but with himself, trying to beat the things he’s accomplished already. It’s really amazing to see.”
River graduated a talented class of 12 seniors from last year’s team. Harris knew a major part of his role this spring would be scoring goals. But after his breakout junior season, opposing teams often put together game plans predicated on restricting Harris.
It was a credit to his athleticism, intellect and off-ball movement to find open spaces to score at such a high clip.
“He can run the back shoulders of defenders like it’s nothing,” Newman said, “and he’s fast enough and athletic enough that, if he’s five yards away from defenders, he’s still going to beat them to the spot.”
But as Harris noted, his goals wouldn’t be possible without teammates setting him up. River reloaded this year with a handful of players stepping into larger roles.
While the 2022 roster was loaded with talent, the Rapids weren’t truly tested until the state playoffs. When they faced a deficit in the semifinals, the Rapids didn’t know how to deal with the adversity, Harris said.
Though this year’s group never experienced a loss, they were battle-tested.
They faced a first-half deficit in an early 2A Greater St. Helens League game March 28 against Hockinson. State playoff games against East Valley-Yakima and Sehome were contested, as was the state championship against North Kitsap.
“It was always a battle, and I just think that mentality of, we will battle no matter what is just what eventually helped us get the win,” Harris said. “Technically and tactically we’re good enough soccer players to go out and win; it just comes down to how much we’re willing to put on the field in these moments and just lay it all out and give all maximum effort.”
Prior to his senior season, Harris finalized plans to play college soccer at Cornell.
Though Harris said he didn’t envision himself continuing with soccer beyond high school a couple years ago, his joy for the sport grew playing in River’s program. Plus, being a prestigious institution in the Ivy League, Harris found the perfect mix between academics and athletics.
“It was a great situation for me to be in,” he said.
— Will Denner
All-Region Girls Golf: Jade Gruher, Union
If four years of high school golf taught Jade Gruher anything, it’s perspective.
The first two years didn’t go so well — her freshman year wiped away by the pandemic and the sophomore year shortened.
But things took a turn for the better, starting with Gruher winning the 4A state championship as a junior and just missing out on a repeat last month.
For that, Gruher has been selected as The Columbian’s All-Region girls golfer of the year for a second straight year.
“My junior year, we got to play bi-districts and state, and then winning the state, after that I was like ‘now this is what high school golf is all about,’ ” Gruher said.
Last month in Spokane, Gruher opened the state tournament with a blistering round of 66 and took a three-shot lead into the final round.
But she shot a 76 in the final round and finished fourth, one shot behind the leaders.
Gruher said her struggles happened throughout the final round, but it was cemented on the 17th hole.
“I think getting to the 17th hole and having a double bogey, I could just feel in the moment that I just left the win out on the golf course,” she said. “But I just tried to remind myself that I had a great time. It’s OK. It’s just golf. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Gruher will take her game to Weber State next season. But even that opportunity didn’t play out like she thought it would.
“The summer after my sophomore year, I must have emailed like 30 schools, and I only had a couple contact me back,” Gruher said. “So I started thinking maybe I’m not going to get any offers until my senior year. But then one day, I have a really good friend who plays in Oregon and she went to Weber State. She said ‘why don’t you just contact the coach?’ So I did.”
After that initial contact, Weber State’s coaches would regularly contact Gruher during her junior season with words of encouragement. After Gruher won her 4A state title, the interest became serious.
Gruher made a trip to Ogden, Utah, and committed shortly after, saying she loved the Weber State coaches and especially the other players on the team.
And Gruher has learned that having good teammates is everything.
“Going into my junior year, I’ve had a really great team to move up with,” Gruher said. “I have some great friends on the team who I’ve known since I was younger. So being on that team has been amazing.”
This season, Gruher and other seniors on the team made the goal to qualify for state as a team. The goal looked in jeopardy at the bi-district tournament in Tacoma.
“They were only taking five teams, and where we were, we weren’t so sure that we would make it,” Gruher said. “And then we found out that we did, we just were ecstatic, just jumping up and down. We had a few girls cry out there.”
Gruher called her four years at Union an amazing experience, even if it did have an unusual start.
“Dealing with the virus the first two years, then finally being back to normal, it shows a lot of who you are and who everyone else is,” she said. “And it’s also taught me not to take what’s going to happen and then think it’s going to be the same the next year. Because it’s never the same.
“So just go out there and have fun when you’re with a group of people that you really like.”
— Tim Martinez
All-Region Boys Golf: Eli Huntington, Camas
For the past four years at Camas High School, Eli Huntington has been driving for eagles and birdies.
This fall, he’ll begin his pursuit to start flying with them.
Last month in Spokane, Huntington tied for third at the 4A boys golf state tournament, earning a second straight top-5 finish.
And for a second year in a row, he was selected as The Columbian’s All-Region boys golfer of the year.
“Overall, I think (state) went really well,” he said. “It was a great experience. I am not going to be unhappy with a top-5 finish. It would have been great to end with a win, but third place isn’t bad. I played solid golf. I definitely could have played better. I definitely had more in me, but I’m not upset with how it went.”
Later this summer, Huntington will head to Colorado to play golf and continue his education at the Air Force Academy, following in the family path of a service academy education.
His mother attended the Coast Guard Academy, and his older brother Owen is currently at the U.S. Naval Academy where he also plays golf.
Eli Huntington’s path to the Air Force Academy took shape shortly after making a visit there last year.
“When I started considering the military academies, I decided I wanted to be an officer in the military,” he said. “And the whole environment at the Air Force Academy, the structure, the discipline, all of that through the four years are skills that will benefit me my whole life.”
Huntington talked to his brother and others about the military academy experience.
“They’ve all pretty much said the same thing — that first year is such a challenge,” Huntington said. “But honestly, that’s a big reason why I wanted to do it. I wanted to experience that challenge. …
“There’s the physical aspect, all the training you go through that first summer. And then also the mental training, the memorization, just everything you have to learn that first summer when you’re converting from civilian life to the military.”
And the possibility of one day taking flight also appealed to him.
“About half of the graduates from the Air Force Academy become pilots, so it’s very likely a career path for me,” he said.
It will be a very short summer vacation for Huntington as he leaves for Colorado Springs on June 28.
And he’ll keep busy in the interim. He is going to squeeze in playing in the Royal Oaks Invitational Tournament this weekend around Camas High School’s graduation. Then he also plans to play in the Oregon Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in two weeks.
His high school years certainly didn’t go as expected, as the pandemic erased any hopes of playing in the state tournament his freshman and sophomore years. But the experience did help shape him into the golfer and the person he is today.
“It was a really great experience,” he said of his time at Camas. “Obviously, it would have great to have a postseason those first two years when I was playing with my brother, especially because we had a really great team those years.
“Then my junior year, it was a bit different not having my brother on the team. I had to switch into more of the leader role that my brother had. But that was a great opportunity to build my character as a leader.”
— Tim Martinez
All-Region Tennis: Hailey Kerker and Aiden Brasier, Camas
The defending state tennis champion said she felt like the underdog going into the championship match.
That only helped to fuel the fire to win.
Camas sophomore Hailey Kerker got some measure of revenge and a second consecutive 4A state singles title with a three-set victory over an opponent who had just beaten her a week prior.
“I think I always do better as the underdog,” Kerker said of her title match against Lucia Moravek of Bellarmine. “And since I lost last, that gave me more motivation because I knew I didn’t want to feel like that again … and lose again.”
Kerker didn’t lose again. In fact, her 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win helped the Papermakers to a second straight team title.
Meanwhile, on another tennis court in Kennewick, Camas sophomore Aiden Brasier had his momentum stopped by the eventual state champion but still needed to win his last match for the team.
Brasier did just that, finishing in third place in 4A singles and gaining something more.
“I knew if I won the last match, we would win the (state team) title,” he said. “I was a lot more intense, moving my feet well and most of the team was there, so that pumped me up.”
For their individual accomplishments and helping the Papermakers to a rare 4A state team title double, Kerker and Brasier are The Columbian’s girls and boys All-Region tennis players of the year.
Since at least 2007, no boys and girls teams at Class 4A have won state titles in the same year.
Since 2001, no 4A girls team champion had both the singles and doubles champions. That is, until now with Camas sophomore Taryn Kerker and junior Fiona Zou winning the doubles title.
That would make it four state titles for one school — Camas — all at the same tournament.
“We knew we had a chance again because we had more girls this year and are a strong team,” Hailey Kerker said of the Papermakers qualifying two singles players and three doubles teams to state. “Definitely after the first day we knew we were in position to be in it.”
Brasier returned to action in the spring after going undefeated in the fall season. He finished in October by winning district and bi-district titles.
Brasier coasted through his first two state matches, dropping just five games. But then he ran into a buzzsaw named Ben Lee from Jackson, a player he lost to last year at state to finish eighth. Lee never dropped a set on his way to the 2023 4A title.
“It was challenging,” Brasier said of getting up for the third-place match. “I just tried to pump myself up and stay positive.”
That did the trick as Brasier beat Tate Thatcher of Lewis & Clark 6-2, 6-3 in the third-place match to give the Papermakers a four-point win in the team race.
Kerker also breezed through her first two matches at state, dropping just one game. In the semifinal against Anya Moravek, Kerker said she had to work harder for points before prevailing 6-3, 6-3 to set up the rematch with Lucia Moravek.
“In that first set, I was nervous but then got into a rhythm hitting through the ball more,” Kerker said.
It’s no wonder the Papermakers are seeing this kinds of success.
“Winning the boys and girls state titles in the same year made this a dream year,” Camas coach Jonathan Burton said. “Our success this year is due to talent and hard work. Both Aiden and Hailey lead by example.”
— Jeff Klein