Plenty to honor in 2023-24 high school sports season

What a high school sports year it has been.

From the first practices in August to the final state championship events in late May, Southwest Washington athletes have excelled.

Consider this: 10 teams took home state championships while six finished runners-up. Twenty-two athletes won state titles in individual events.

Beyond that, district championships were won, state tournament podiums were ascended and schools’ trophy cases became a bit more crowded.

How do we at The Columbian honor these achievements? In past years, we’ve done that through our All-Region articles, which highlight the outstanding athlete of the year in each sport as well as others whose accomplishments warrant a spot on our All-Region teams.

Now, we’re taking it a step further.

On Wednesday, we will have our first All-Region Awards Ceremony at the historic Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver.

It will be a night where Southwest Washington’s top athletes, their coaches and families will gather to cheer on each other’s accomplishments and revel in their own. The event will highlight each sport’s All-Region athlete of the year and mention all the others who made an All-Region team.

The photojournalism, video footage and news pages that The Columbian used to document this high school sports season will be part of the program.

Of course, a shout out goes to title sponsor Columbia Credit Union and Killer Burger, which will provide refreshments. We’re thrilled that these local businesses support high school athletics, an acknowledgement of how local sports strengthen our community.

When planning this event, we wanted to have a featured speaker whose message would inspire and resonate with local high school athletes.

Kara Winger is the perfect fit.

A four-time Olympian and nine-time national champion, Winger has held the U.S. women’s javelin record for the better part of the past 14 years.

In 2021, Winger’s teammates chose her as Team USA’s flag-bearer for the Closing Ceremonies of the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Every journey begins somewhere. Winger’s ascent to the pinnacle of international track and field started in Vancouver.

Kara Patterson, as she was then known, had no idea the javelin would change her life when she first tried it as a Skyview High School freshman in 2000. In fact, she only turned out for track and field after a brief try at high school golf.

That decision resulted in three high school state championships, a All-American career at Purdue and a pro legacy that saw her become the best American woman ever to throw the javelin.

But Winger has never forgotten where she started.

Now living in Colorado Springs, Winger often returns to Vancouver. Many times, she has swung by Skyview’s track and field practice to share advice with the next generation of Storm throwers.

For Winger, high school sports was the launching pad to a career that took her around the world. For this year’s All-Region athletes, we at The Columbian can’t wait to see where your journeys lead.

Whether in sports or another field, we’re confident your paths will lead to success. That’s because the lessons sports teach — discipline, overcoming adversity, teamwork and performing under pressure — serve high school athletes for the rest of their lives.

— Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

All-Region Boys Multisport Finalists:
Holden Bea, Ayden Denbo and Juan Pasillas-Stanton


Washougal's Holden Bea, Mountain View's Ayden Denbo and Mountain View's Juan Pasillas-Stanton have been selected as finalists for The Columbian 2024 All-Region Multi-Sport Male Athlete of the Year. The winner will be announced June 5.

The Columbian files

As so many male athletes do, these three athletes started their school year on the football field.

But it was their contributions in other seasons that made these athletes finalists for The Columbian All-Region Multi-Sport Male Athlete of the Year: Ayden Denbo of Mountain View, Holden Bea of Washougal and Juan Pasillas-Stanton of Mountain View.

To be considered for this multi-sport honor, an athlete had to participate in sports in multiple seasons and earned a spot onto at least one All-Region team during the 2023-24 school year.

All three athletes will be honored at The Columbian’s All-Region Athletes Award ceremony on June 5 at Kiggins Theater. On that night, one of these athletes will be announced as the multi-sport athlete of the year.

On the football field, Denbo, a senior, set himself apart on the offensive and defensive lines for the Mountain View Thunder, earning All-Region status on defense.

The linebacker was 3A Greater St. Helens League defensive player of the year, whose highlights included pivotal goal-line stand in overtime against Kelso.

Denbo also was a first-team all-3A GSHL pick on the offensive line and will play football in the fall at Southern Oregon University.

Denbo also earned All-Region status in wrestling. The senior was Class 3A state runner-up at 215 pounds as well as regional and Clark County champion.

Bea, a senior, earned All-Region status at quarterback in football, leading the Panthers to the state playoffs.

The All-Region player of the year in 2022 passed for 2,567 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2023 and rushed for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns.

In the winter, Bea was a starter for the Washougal basketball team, earning second-team all-2A GSHL status.

A 2A state placer in the high jump last season, Bea passed on competing in track this spring to prepare to play football next fall at the University of Idaho.

Pasillas-Stanton, a junior, was another pivotal piece of the potent Mountain View offensive line that powered the way for running back Porter Drake to rush for 1,600 yards as the Thunder won the 3A GSHL title and advanced to the state playoffs.

Pasillas-Stanton earned All-Region status in track and field, placing second in the state in Class 3A in the spot put.  His season-best throw of 59 feet, 6 inches, recorded at last weekend’s state meet, was the second-best in the state this season for any classification.

— Tim Martinez

All-Region Girls Multisport Finalists:
Shaela Bradley, Sydney Dreves and Peyton Dukes


La Center's Shaela Bradley, Columbia River's Sydney Dreves, and Columbia River's Peyton Dukes have been selected as finalists for The Columbian 2024 All-Region Multi-Sport Female Athlete of the Year. The winner will be announced June 5.

The Columbian files

In the era of sports specialization, three outstanding female athletes set themselves apart by shining in multiple sports during 2023-24 high school sports year.

The following three athletes have been selected as finalists for The Columbian All-Region Multi-Sport Female Athlete of the Year: Sydney Dreves of Columbia River, Shaela Bradley of La Center and Peyton Dukes of Columbia River.

To be considered for this multi-sport honor, an athlete had to participate in sports in multiple seasons and earned a spot onto at least one All-Region team during the 2023-24 school year.

All three athletes will be honored at The Columbian’s All-Region Athletes Award ceremony on June 5 at Kiggins Theater. On that night, one of these athletes will be announced as the multi-sport athlete of the year.

Dreves, a junior, was an All-Region honoree in volleyball, helping Columbia River capture its third straight 2A state championship.

The junior outside hitter shined on offense and defense. Dreves had a team-high 234 digs along with 248 kills and a .445 hitting percentage.

In tennis, Dreves returned to the 2A state title match in doubles for a second straight year.

After winning the 2A doubles title last year with her sister Lauren, Dreves teamed up with Annie Morgan and advanced to the 2A doubles state title match last weekend in Seattle, falling in the final to Ella Morrow and Kira Carlson of Bellingham in three sets.

Bradley, a senior, was the All-Region girls soccer player of the year, leading La Center to the 1A state semifinals for the first time in school history.

Bradley ended her prep career with 137 goals, including all five of the Wildcats’ goals in the state playoffs. She will play soccer next year at Rutgers University.

She capped a successful senior year with a standout performance at the 1A state track and field meet last weekend in Yakima.

She earned runner-up finishes in the 400 meters (57.49 seconds) and long jump (17-7.25), was a finalist in the 100 meters (12.77) and helped La Center place sixth in 800-meter relay. She posted the county’s best marks of the season in the 400 and long jump among athletes in all classifications.

Dukes, a junior, was a three-sport standout for Columbia River.

Dukes earned an All-Region honor in soccer. She was the 2A Greater St. Helens League Defensive Most Valuable Player, anchoring a Rapids defense that gave up only 11 goals. Dukes also netted nine goals and six assists as River took third place at the 2A state tournament.

In basketball, she was a starter and key contributor for a River team that reached the 2A state quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.

In track and field, she was a multi-event athlete, competing in the long jump, triple jump, javelin and 800 relay.

She was the 2A GSHL and District 4 champion in the triple jump and a state finalist in the event. She jumped an area season-best at all classifications of 35 feet, 9 inches at the district meet.

— Tim Martinez

Click the links below to jump to a specific athlete:

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All-Region Football:
Elijah Andersen, Woodland


Woodland junior Elijah Andersen, left, runs with the ball on Sept. 7, 2023, during a game against La Center at La Center High School.

Taylor Balkom of The Columbian

Need something celebrated? Leave it to Elijah Andersen to make it happen.

With Woodland High’s historic 2023 football season having ended in its Class 2A state playoff defeat to Clarkston and still hours to go on a long bus ride back from the Washington/Idaho border, Andersen didn’t want to hear a silent bus and see sad faces of teammates.

So, with the help of teammate Zach Young, the Beavers’ do-everything junior flipped on speakers, turned up the music volume, and a mosh pit began inside the charter bus that carried the team to and from its first state playoff game since 2013.

The singing and dancing didn’t stop for hours until the bus reached Woodland.

“Even though we lost,” Andersen said of the team’s 44-6 defeat that ended their season at 8-3, “we still had something to celebrate. All of the seniors understood it and they loved it. …

“We got off the bus, and we were drenched in sweat.”

In fact, there was plenty to celebrate for Woodland, which captured its first league title since 2007 and reached the state playoffs for the first time in a decade. And Andersen, The Columbian’s All-Region football player of the year, was a big reason for it.

The unanimous 2A Greater St. Helens League MVP played various positions — receiver, running back, direct-snap quarterback — on offense depending on the play call. In 11 games, Andersen had 30 touchdowns and tallied nearly 2,500 all-purpose yards. At safety, he racked up 101 tackles and three interceptions.

Although weeks have passed and Andersen has moved on to the basketball season for the Beavers, he still looks back at what was a memory-filled football season.

“You think about your season being over and then you get sad,” he said, “but then you remember all the stuff you did. Even though it didn’t end the way you would’ve loved it to, the season was still such a success with everything we did and all the hard work we put in.”

What’s even more impressive is Andersen played the final four games on a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee.

Andersen didn’t want to sit out, especially given what was at stake the following week after the injury occurred: the league championship game against Ridgefield.

In that game, Andersen had 156 rushing yards and three touchdowns. For good measure, he also made the final pass breakup on defense as time expired, sending Woodland players, coaches and fans into a celebration frenzy at midfield after the 28-21 win.

“That feeling really doesn’t go away,” Andersen said.

Given the wave of success this season, Andersen believes this is the start of something big for Woodland football.

The program last won consecutive league titles in 2006 and 2007 and last had eight or more victories in a season during a three-year stretch in 2012-14.

Andersen believes momentum with Woodland football, behind a strong 2023 season with Andersen as a do-everything player, isn’t a one-year wonder.

“I think it’s a complete restart,” he said. “I think this is the first year where we’re going to be able to keep it moving. I’m really confident next year we’re going to go even further.”

— Meg Wochnick

All-Region Volleyball:
Lauren Dreves, Columbia River


Columbia River's Lauren Dreves (5) is introduced before a Class 2A volleyball state first round match against Fife on Nov. 10, 2023, in Yakima.

When asked what word best describes Columbia River volleyball’s 2023 season, Lauren Dreves barely paused.

“Dominant,” she said.

Who could argue otherwise?

Columbia River dropped just one set all season to become the first Clark County school to win three consecutive state volleyball championships.

The Rapids blitzed through the Class 2A state tournament, outscoring four opponents by an average set score of 25-12 at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

Dreves embodies the talent, focus and relentless competitive fire that saw Columbia River become the first team Class 2A or larger to win a third straight volleyball title since Bellarmine Prep in 2014.

The six-foot outside hitter finished her high school career with 1,200 kills, including 398 this season with a kill success rate of 52.7 percent.

One of the state’s top recruits in the Class of 2024, Dreves will continue her volleyball career at Auburn University. But not before leaving a high school legacy that will be hard to match. For a second consecutive year, Dreves is The Columbian’s All-Region volleyball player of the year.

When the spotlight was brightest, Dreves and her teammates performed their best. Columbia River beat 2A Greater St. Helens League rival Ridgefield in the 2A state title match for the third straight year, going 4-0 against the Spudders this season.

“We went out there knowing people were going to play their best against us,” Dreves said. “We had a huge target on our back.”

Dreves is the constant thread through River’s three-year championship run. Of those three teams, this year’s was the only to go undefeated.

“This team was just so well-rounded,” Dreves said. “Every single position was so good and filled by the right person.”

Dreves also worked with her third different setter in three seasons. In all three cases, each made the other better. Caroline Hansen won all-state honors in 2021 and now plays at Western Washington. Sophie Worden also won all-state honors in 2022 and plays for Montana Western.

This year, senior Macey McCoy stepped into that role to earn first-team all-league honors and will be a strong contender for all-state recognition.

“With each setter, I had a close relationship with all of them,” Dreves said. “I think it’s just being open-minded with each other and learning from the mistakes we made together. It’s adjusting to each other and then finding what works.”

Dreves sets the team’s emotional tone on the court. It’s one of focus and intensity, shown with a tightly-clenched fist-pump after a big kill.

“Something that’s really important with the River program is we always look at the goal,” Dreves said. “Yes, we have fun in practice. We have fun on the court. But our main goal was to win state. We can’t just let anybody off easy because some teams may come out and shock you.”

Dreves plans to enroll early at Auburn and take part in the volleyball team’s spring workouts. The school in Alabama is one of seven Southeastern Conference teams to reach this year’s NCAA tournament.

“I’m just going to focus on putting my head down and working hard,” Dreves said. “I obviously have to build muscle and get bigger, faster and stronger. But I’m also working on my game IQ. The program I’m headed to, there are so many great players. Everything is just on a whole new level.”

After elevating Columbia River to a state powerhouse, Dreves isn’t leaving the cupboard bare. Led by younger sister Sydney Dreves, a three-time first-team all-leaguer, the Rapids could again be among the state’s best next year.

“They know what it’s like to get there,” Dreves said. “I think they’ll be fine. My sister will take over. I mean, she did a fantastic job this year. She knows how to lead a team. I think every single one of those players will get it done.”

— Micah Rice

All-Region Girls Soccer:
Shaela Bradley, La Center


La Center senior midfielder Shaela Bradley shields off Klahowya junior Amira Lyons in a 1A State girls soccer semifinal game Nov. 17, 2023, at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma. (Joshua Hart for The Columbian)

Joshua Hart for The Columbian

La Center’s soccer program helped Shaela Bradley grow as a player and person.

Since joining the Portland Thorns FC Academy six years ago, Bradley has compiled a long list of accomplishments as a club player while seeing a high quality of play around the country and internationally.

This past season, Bradley was named Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) Northwest Conference Player of the Year, further confirming the midfielder is one of the top players her age in the country.

So why play high school soccer at La Center?

Bradley’s freshman year in high school, 2020-21, coincided with the pandemic. Distance learning meant there weren’t many chances to meet and interact with classmates in person. Joining the Wildcats’ soccer program allowed Bradley to make those connections and build friendships.

“I actually made two very good friends from soccer, so I would say it worked out great,” Bradley said. “That’s (what) I really wanted. I just needed to be a bit more social too, just because of COVID and stuff. I wanted to get out of the house. Soccer was a great avenue for it.”

As Bradley grew during her four-year varsity career, so too did the Wildcats. Bradley, The Columbian’s All-Region girls soccer player of the year, led La Center to the program’s first trip to the state final four, where it earned the Class 1A state fourth-place trophy in November.

The senior, who is signed to Rutgers, ended her prep career with 137 goals, including all five of the Wildcats’ goals in the state playoffs. Though La Center’s season ended with losses in the state semifinals and third-place match, Bradley and her teammates set a new standard for future Wildcats teams to follow.

“It was a little bit sad that we lost games. But aside from that … I think it really brought a sense of community to the whole team,” Bradley said of the Wildcats’ trip to Tacoma for the final four.

“During the games … I think everyone was a little nervous. And that’s OK to be nervous. That just means that you care. I think it was just a good sense of experience for everyone.”

The Wildcats last reached the state playoffs in the 2021 fall season, Bradley’s sophomore year, and made it their mission to return this fall under first-year head coach Horst Malunat. They soared above that goal.

After winning both the Trico League and District 4 titles, La Center claimed its first state girls soccer playoff win, a 3-2 nail-biter over Meridian in which Bradley scored the go-ahead goal in the waning seconds. Bradley also scored the Wildcats’ lone goal in a quarterfinal win against Cashmere to send them to the state final four.

“The whole season, she’s made the people around her better,” Malunat said. “When she needs to, she can score.”

Six years ago Bradley joined the Thorns Academy, which has been “so impactful on my life,” she said. She’s since become one of the top youth players in the country, and has made some once-in-a-lifetime memories through the game.

In May, she was one of several players selected to train in Germany with FC Bayern Munich’s women’s Bundesliga teams, giving her an opportunity to learn from top professional players at one of the best clubs in the world, while also taking in new cultural experiences. The nine-day trip was her first time visiting Europe.

“I got to take the train into Munich and see a ton of stuff, which was also really cool,” Bradley said. “Except it was a little bit harder because I don’t speak German … But it was really nice because they actually do speak a lot of English over there.”

Weeks later, she was called up by the U-17 U.S. Women’s National Team for a seven-day training camp in North Carolina. The level of play was eye-opening for Bradley, one of 23 players selected.

“Oh my gosh, it was just amazing,” she said. “The coaching there is outstanding. Being around the players in that atmosphere, it just kind of showed me what I need to be at to get invited back. I had a great time.”

Those experiences will serve her well as she embarks on her next chapter at Rutgers, a Big Ten Conference school some 3,000 miles away from Southwest Washington.

Bradley’s experiences at La Center also shaped her. She accepted the challenge of becoming a leader while helping the program reach newfound success. On the other side, she emerged a more confident person.

“On the field and off the field, I think I’ve developed more into a leader,” Bradley said. “I think I’ve also gotten that confidence to kind of step into that role from freshman year. … I wouldn’t say I was intimidated, but I was not outgoing. So, I think now I’m just more confident in myself. I think that’s also shown on the field too.”

— Will Denner

All-Region Boys Cross Country:
Jacob McManus, Columbia River


All-Region Boys Cross Country runner of the year Jacob McManus at Columbia River High School

Amanda Cowan of The Columbian

In a sport like cross country, often ran on uneven ground, Jacob McManus has found his balance.

On one side, the Columbia River junior meticulously charts his mileage. He embraces the effort and discipline needed to optimally follow a training plan.

On the other side, McManus doesn’t forget the joy and freedom that drew him to running in the first place.

“My favorite memories are from practice and not races,” McManus said. “Every day after school I get to run with my teammates and friends and just have a good time. The race results sort of come by themselves.”

This season, those race results were mighty impressive. McManus finished second in Class 2A at the state cross country championships, running a personal-best time of 15 minutes, 31.2 seconds on Nov. 4 at Pasco.

That was the best state finish by any runner from Southwest Washington and came nine days after McManus won the District 4 title in runaway fashion.

For his accomplishments, McManus is The Columbian’s All-Region boys cross country runner of the year.

In his sophomore season, McManus gradually improved from an 18-minute finisher to place seventh at districts in a then personal-best of 16:20.

This season saw another big leap. McManus broke 16 minutes for the first time in the season-opening Steve Maas Run-a-Ree, finishing second in 15:53.

McManus consistently finished under 16 minutes in the races that followed. He ran 15:39 to win the Division I Varsity race at Nike Portland XC on Sept. 30 at Oregon City.

The following weekend in Arlington, McManus clocked in at 15:33 to finish 10th in the Elite Division at the Nike Hole in the Wall Invitational, one of the state’s biggest cross country events.

McManus credited his improvement to diligently following a more-intense training plan. Starting at 25 miles per week during the summer, he increased his mileage by precise percentages with a goal of building fitness while not inviting overuse injuries.

He also paid more attention to nutrition, strength training and sleep.

“I really do enjoy the process,” McManus said.

McManus has also honed his mental approach on race day.

“I’ve been meditating and visualizing before each race,” McManus said. “I ask myself, how do I want to feel? Who am I going to be running with? What’s going to happen during the race? I think mentally preparing that way has really helped me flourish each race.”

McManus credits his teammates for his success. He started the season chasing senior Neftali Menendez, who finished 14th at state and second at districts. Eli Wenger and Kohl Ripplinger also finished in the top 10 at districts, helping the Rapids win that championship before placing fourth at state.

“The biggest part of my success this year is just having that support system,” McManus said. “It’s way easier to do something when you’re not doing it alone. Going out and running with all these people every single day, you know that you’re suffering together.”

McManus eventually want to run in college. He took up the sport in sixth grade after watching a cousin compete at Western Washington University.

He hopes to continue lowering his times during this spring track season and his senior year to follow. In turn, championships and college offers would follow.

But McManus balances those lofty goals with a grounded approach that lets him enjoy each run.

“Hopefully all these things happen,” McManus said. “But I like to tell myself that anything is possible and to just enjoy every run. At the end of the day, I want to have a good time and enjoy myself. If I start taking everything so seriously, I’m going to lose what brought me into running initially.”

— Micah Rice

All-Region Girls Cross Country:
Charlotte Wilson, Union


All-Region Girls Cross Country runner of the year Charlotte Wilson of Union High School

Amanda Cowan of The Columbian

Charlotte Wilson was 12 years old when a teacher offered a great tip.

Having just moved from Ireland with her family, Wilson seemed in need of a group activity. That teacher suggested she join the Shahala Middle School track and field team.

“I kind of coughed my way around the track,” Wilson said. “I was dying every practice.”

Six years later, Wilson can’t imagine her life without running.

She wrapped up her cross country career at Union High School by finishing ninth in Class 4A at the state meet on Nov. 4.

Wilson’s time of 18 minutes, 54.6 seconds was the fastest of any local runner that day in Pasco. It capped a season in which she won her first district title and broke 19 minutes eight times, clocking a personal best of 17:56 for 5,000 meters.

For her accomplishments, Wilson is The Columbian’s All-Region girls cross country runner of the year.

Wilson said she met most of her friends through running. Her Union teammates have helped her craft both resilience and gratitude.

“If the practice isn’t going well, you can talk it through with your teammates,” Wilson said. “That’s such a helpful part because it reminds you how lucky you are to be this fit and be capable of achieving such crazy goals and aspirations.”

Wilson’s goal of a top-10 finish in state didn’t seem too crazy. After all, she placed third in the 3,200 meters at the state track and field championships the previous spring.

But Wilson felt she hadn’t ran to her potential at the season’s biggest race. She finished 20th as a junior after placing 17th as a sophomore.

When Wilson began her senior year, Union coach Ryan Hovde saw a runner on a mission.

“For her, it’s her mental capacity to say ‘you know what, this is going to suck but I am going to embrace the suck,’ ” Hovde said.

This season, Wilson learned how to compete her best at the biggest races.

“I guess it took me awhile to figure that out,” she said. “I’m quite nervous during races and I kind of block everything out. But this year I’ve become more relaxed. I’m still nervous, but you can get rid of that. I just remind myself what I’m capable of doing.”

Wilson will continue her running career at the NCAA Division-I level. She recently committed to the University of Loyola-Chicago, which joined the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2022.

Considering how Wilson performed at the biggest meets this season, Hovde has no doubt she’ll rise to the challenges of the future.

“What’s cool is that you see that confidence in her,” Hovde said. “Even at the highest level, people are a little bit shaky. But you don’t see that in her. Even before the gun went off, you knew ‘oh yeah, she’ll be on the podium.’ ”

— Micah Rice

All-Region Girls Swimming:
Rebecca Yamada, Ridgefield


Rebecca Yamada of Ridgefield stands on the podium after receiving her medal for winning the 100-yard breaststroke at the Class 2A-1A state girls swimming championship at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way on Nov. 11, 2023.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

At the girls swimming state meet last fall, Ridgefield junior Rebecca Yamada was taking in her surroundings during her first visit to the King County Aquatic Center.

Suddenly, Yamada found herself very popular.

“It was definitely interesting when I have people, who I didn’t know, knew my name and come up to me,” Yamada said. “I had some coaches come up to me that I didn’t know.”

Everyone at the Class 2A meet wanted to know who this new swimmer was, who was putting up good times.

Yamada made a name for herself by winning the 100-yard breaststroke state title for Class 2A. And that led her to be selected as The Columbian girls swimmer of the year.

Yamada moved with her family to Ridgefield late last summer after growing up in Arizona, which was a big adjustment.

“The biggest change for sure was the change in people,” Yamada said. “The people I knew in high school down there I had gone to school with all the way since sixth grade. So I had a group of friends that we had a lot of history together.”

Also in Arizona, the swim season was for both girls and boys.

At Ridgefield, the girls swim program is still in its budding phase. Last year, Ridgefield sent swimmers to the state meet for the first time. This fall, Yamada was one of six swimmers at Ridgefield, which practiced and competed in a co-op program with schools like Hockinson, Washougal and La Center.

“Coming here and finding out it was just the girls season was a bit of a shock to me,” Yamada said. “And then having a co-op was another big change. We didn’t have co-ops in Arizona. I thought it was a cool and interesting concept, giving small schools the chance to work together. It really just meshed together, and we felt like a whole team and not just five different teams coming together at once.”

There were other changes. In Arizona, Yamada attended Basha High School in Chandler where she competed in the largest classification of schools. In Arizona, most of the meets are held in outdoor pools, while in Washington they are all indoors.

“There was just a different dynamic going from like the highest division to the smaller division, which I found interesting,” Yamada said. “But it was almost like a breath of fresh air coming up here to everyone being more relaxed and just having a good time. They are just focusing on the good part of high school.”

Yamada began building new friendships with her co-op swim team, as well with her club team, the Columbia River Swim Team. And she had another new face on the Ridgefield team, an exchange student from Italy — Federica Catalano.

“I had never met an exchange student before,” Yamada said. “We didn’t have any in Arizona. … The first week, we hung out, me and Federica. We got really close. There were definitely language barriers at first, but we could talk about strokes and stuff. We worked through it together, and it became something really cool and really fun.”

At the state meet, Yamada cut nearly a second off her preliminary time to win the 100 breaststroke in 1 minute, 8.86 seconds, almost three seconds faster than runner-up Hazel Edge of Pullman. She also finished fourth in the 200 individual medley just behind teammate Medea Rusu.

Yamada, Rusu, Catalano and Julia Smith swam Ridgefield to fourth place in the 400 free relay, helping the Spudders place eighth in the team standings.

Yamada is a Running Start student at Clark College with aspirations of studying pre-law in college. And she is looking forward to her senior season swimming for Ridgefield, hoping this past fall was the start of something bigger.

“It was good to see that the program is growing,” Yamada said. “Hopefully it will continue to grow. I hope that all of us making it to state will make everyone at Ridgefield know like ‘hey, we have a swim team, come join.’ I hope it will bring more popularity to it.”

— Tim Martinez


All-Region Boys Basketball:
Demaree Collins, Skyview


Skyview senior Demaree Collins celebrates a three-pointer Jan. 23 during the Storm's 69-66 loss to Camas at Camas High School.

Taylor Balkom of The Columbian

Skyview basketball coaches gave Demaree Collins the green light to take shots some players wouldn’t dare try.

The 6-foot-2 senior guard earned that right. His limitless 3-point range and knack for attacking the hoop made him one of the most prolific scorers in Washington during the 2023-24 season.

Yet perhaps it’s indicative of the well-rounded player Collins became that two of his most important moments didn’t involve scoring.

First, in Skyview’s Class 4A State Opening Round game, Collins requested the defensive assignment on Woodinville’s Jaiden Blackmon that led to a steal and two clutch free throws to send the Storm to the Tacoma Dome.

The following week at the Hardwood Classic in Tacoma, while in the midst of a 34-point outing against Tahoma, Collins took the ball up the court late in overtime, drew in the defense and passed out to an open teammate, Ryan Hanson, who drained the game-winning 3-pointer.

As Skyview coach Matt Gruhler often says, great players make great plays in the biggest moments, whether it’s scoring or impacting the game another way.

The Storm ascended to new heights with Collins, The Columbian’s All-Region boys basketball player of the year, accepting the challenge to do all those things. His elevated play in the postseason helped push Skyview to a sixth-place finish at state, the Storm’s best since 2018, and he set numerous program records in the process.

In Skyview’s final game at state against Kentwood, Collins became Skyview’s all-time leading scorer with 1,256 points, passing Alex Schumacher (1,250 points). Collins also made a program record 184 3-pointers during his prep career.

“It just means a lot,” Collins said. “I want to leave Skyview and be remembered. I want to leave a legacy. So, that’s exactly what I did.”

So what will Collins, along with fellow senior teammates Gavin Perdue and Jaxson Filler, be remembered for most? To Gruhler, they helped re-establish the culture of a program that was thriving prior to the pandemic in 2020, then went sideways during it.

As an eighth grader at Gaiser Middle School, Collins wanted to attend Skyview and play in the Storm’s basketball program. He was granted a boundary exception and came to Skyview as a freshman during the 2020-21 school year.

Early in his high school career, Collins told Gruhler about his aspirations of reaching state at the Tacoma Dome with Skyview, which had most recently qualified in 2020 and 2018.

The results didn’t come right away. Collins’ sophomore year in 2021-22, Skyview was bounced in the first round of the 4A bi-district playoffs. Then, the Storm finished last in the 4A Greater St. Helens League in 2023 to miss the postseason.

“That was a goal of his,” Gruhler said of reaching Tacoma, “and I told him, there’s a lot of work that comes along with that, a lot of trust, a lot of times where you’re going to have to defer but also times where you’re going to have to step up.

“(This season) he really started to understand that difference and I thought at times when we needed him, especially at the dome and in the playoffs, he stepped up.”

This past offseason, Skyview’s class of incoming seniors, Collins included, set the example for younger players to follow with their commitment to the program during the offseason open gyms, weight training and summer ball.

“I thought all three of those guys kind of brought that back to where now we’re back to the culture of freshmen and sophomores looking up to those seniors going, ‘OK, that’s what it takes,’ ” Gruhler said. “That’s what they’ll be remembered for.”

Skyview shared the 4A GSHL title with Camas, then won three games in the bi-district playoffs to reach state. Under the bright lights of the Tacoma Dome, Collins shined.

Skyview, seeded No. 11, began the week by knocking off No. 6 Federal Way in the Round of 12 as Collins scored 13 of his 21 points during a momentum-swinging second half. Two days later in the fourth-place semifinals against No. 2 Tahoma, Collins kept the Storm afloat by scoring 25 of his 34 points in the first half. He made the winning play in OT, kicking out to Hanson for the go-ahead 3-pointer.

“I always had faith in us,” Collins said.

Skyview ended the week with a loss to No. 8 Kentwood to finish sixth at state, matching its best placement in program history.

“It was a dream,” Collins said. “From the start of the season, I already knew that we were going to go there, I already knew that it was going to be a tough battle.”

After Collins’ eye-catching play in the tournament, Gruhler said his phone has been “blowing up” with area colleges reaching out to see what Collins’ plans are for next year. Collins said he’s still weighing his options with a number of visits planned.

As he leaves Skyview with his name etched in the program’s record books, all while helping bring the Storm back to state-level success, Collins has one final message to share.

“Don’t sleep on Skyview High School basketball,” he said.

— Will Denner

All-Region Girls Basketball:
Addison Harris, Camas


Camas senior Addison Harris smiles as she leaves the floor of the Tacoma Dome with the state championship trophy March 2 after the Papermakers' 57-41 win against Gonzaga Prep in the 4A WIAA State Basketball championship game.

Taylor Balkom of The Columbian

Within days of leading Camas High to its first state championship in girls basketball, Addison Harris was back in a gymnasium.

Yes, she is continuing to fine-tune her craft before heading off to play basketball at Montana State University, but Harris’ main purpose in a gym these days is to help shape the future of Camas girls basketball.

Just call her coach.

Coach Harris is an assistant coach for the eighth grade girls basketball team at Camas’ Skyridge Middle School. She wanted her senior project to involve basketball and Harris, The Columbian’s All-Region girls basketball player of the year for a second time, figured what better way to make it happen than to give back to the next class of Papermakers. The middle school season wraps up in mid-April.

“It’s a blast,” Harris said. “They’re like sponges; they’re so coachable. I love being around these girls, and I love having this influence on the younger generation.”

Harris has plenty of memories of how much Camas girls basketball and its players impacted a young Harris prior to entering high school.

And that impact Harris now leaves at Camas is unmatched. The numbers speak for themselves.

The 6-foot-2 forward graduates as the program’s career leader in scoring (1,411 points), rebounds (852) and blocks (94) after a senior season averaging 15.8 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.

But it’s what Camas accomplished over her tenure that has Harris beaming with joy.

The three-time 4A Greater St. Helens League MVP helped the program to new heights — its first state trophy in 2022 (fourth place), and consecutive appearances in the Class 4A state title game.

In her final high school game on March 2, Harris helped Camas to its first state title, a 57-41 win over Gonzaga Prep, and with it, finishing an unfinished team goal of winning a state championship.

Harris was voted 4A state all-tournament team MVP by courtside media, averaging 17 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals in three Hardwood Classic games. Teammates Reagan Jamison and Keirra Thompson also made the all-tournament team.

Like the selfless person and player she is, Harris approaches basketball with a team-first attitude centered around her teammates’ successes.

“That’s why we won. That’s what made us special,” she said. “We enjoyed every moment of it.”

How Camas did it is even more rare.

In today’s era of high school sports where transfers are common, Camas accomplished its feat all on homegrown talent. Eleven of the roster’s 12 players attended elementary school in Camas, and the 12th began sixth grade in Camas.

Going back to her youth, Harris was first teammates with fellow senior Riley Sanz in recreational league basketball and played opposite against a team featuring now-senior Parker Mairs. As they grew older, players came together for Camas camps, Camas Select basketball, middle school, and finally high school.

Harris said she knew her freshman season — as one of five ninth graders to make the Camas varsity roster — just how special the Class of 2024 would be.

“We’ve just grown up around each other,” Harris said. “It’s super neat to be a part of that, and to have those deep connections.”

And she’s building those deep connections again by giving back to the community.

Harris said she’s gained leadership skills and understands how important it is to keep basketball fun and competitive for her eighth-grade team and the next level of Papermakers.

That’s the impact made by Addison Harris with Camas girls basketball, as well as the impact Camas girls basketball has made on Addison Harris.

“To watch sports have that same effect on young girls,” she said, “as it did for me is awesome.”

— Meg Wochnick

All-Region Boys Wrestling:
Noah Koyama, Union


Union junior Noah Koyama flexes after winning the 4A 138-pound championship Feb. 17 during the Mat Classic state wrestling tournament at the Tacoma Dome.

Taylor Balkom of The Columbian

As a talented and ambitious wrestler in middle school, Noah Koyama would drop by the occasional Union High School practice.

He would gaze at the plaques on the wrestling room’s wall.

Clint Coulter, Junior Godinho, Alex Berfanger, Ethan Rotondo, Danny Snediker and Kyle Brosius — each a state champion.

“I was around them all the time,” Koyama said. “I was little, looking up at them wondering if I can even achieve that.

“And then I did.”

Koyama became the seventh Union boy to win a state wrestling championship last month at Mat Classic XXXV. He beat Chiawana’s Daeton Johnson, himself a reigning state champion, by scoring a takedown in the final seconds of the 138-pound title match to win 4-2.

That capped Koyama’s dominant junior year in which he lost just one match.

For his accomplishments, Koyama is The Columbian’s All-Region boys wrestler of the year.

That one loss, in the title match at the early-season Hammerhead Invitational, fired up Koyama’s focus. Having finished second in state as a sophomore and third as a freshman, he wasn’t going to be pleased with not standing atop the podium this season.

“The week after that tournament was a grinder,” Koyama said. “I really put in a lot of work that week because I was not happy with that loss.”

What followed was a series of wins at the biggest tournaments in the Northwest. That included the Pac Coast Championships, which drew teams from 78 high schools to the Clark County Fairgrounds, and the Gut Check tournament in Kent.

Koyama initially planned to cut weight for the bigger tournaments and wrestle at 132 pounds. However, he realized he had more endurance and explosiveness at his natural weight.

“It was nice to not have to worry about cutting weight,” Koyama said. “I just enjoyed the season and enjoyed wrestling. My body is not drained from cutting the night before. I had dinner the night before and breakfast that morning.”

The season culminated at Mat Classic, where Koyama entered the Tacoma Dome more confident than in previous years. That carried into the championship match, in part because he had beaten Johnson in the Gut Check finals.

“Last season, I feel like the biggest reason I lost in the finals at state was because I was so nervous,” Koyama said. “I was just trying to keep my nerves under control, stay calm and trust in my abilities.”

After two scoreless periods, Koyama took a 2-1 lead with a takedown with 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining. He tried to control his opponent to the end, but Johnson tied the match by escaping with 10 seconds left.

Koyama didn’t waver. He shot right back at Johnson, scoring the decisive takedown with less than five seconds remaining.

After receiving his medal, Koyama remembers wrestlers he saw win state championships years ago congratulating him, as if welcoming him to their club.

Among them was Junior Godinho, a 2014 state champ who is now on the Union coaching staff led by his father, John Godinho.

“We have a really great bond and I think he was a massive help in getting me to where I am now,” Koyama said of the younger Godinho. “He puts a beating on me pretty hard in practice. That always makes you better.”

Now Koyama can count himself among Union’s state champions. But he would like to add a further distinction next year — two-time state champion.

“I’m honestly going to treat it the same,” Koyama said. “Every tournament I’m coming in confident. All the preparation, everything is just going to be the same.”

— Micah Rice

All-Region Girls Wrestling:
Faith Tarrant, Prairie


Prairie junior Faith Tarrant, right, celebrates winning the 3A/4A 235-pound championship Feb. 17 during the Mat Classic state wrestling tournament at the Tacoma Dome.

Taylor Balkom of The Columbian

Faith Tarrant is in exclusive company.

Last month, the Prairie junior won her third state wrestling title. She pinned every opponent she faced for the second season in a row.

As a senior, Tarrant will have a chance to become just the fifth girl to win four state championships since girls wrestling became part of Mat Classic in 2004.

After a season in which she went 38-0, Tarrant is The Columbian’s All-Region girls wrestler of the year for a third time.

Far from the talented but unsure freshman she used to be, Tarrant now embraces being a role model for the small-but-expanding community of girls wrestling.

Whether through her success on the mat or her welcoming approach to fellow wrestlers off it, Tarrant relishes helping her sport and its athletes grow.

“I just want girls to feel confident,” Tarrant said. “I want them to feel that sense of community. Everyone loves winning. I love winning. But I want to leave a touch of me on the other girls so they can help girls how I did.”

Confidence is where Tarrant has grown the most in the past year, said Prairie wrestling coach Rob Smith. Instead of sticking to her tried-and-true techniques, the three-time 235-pound champ wasn’t afraid to try some new moves.

Some of that was by necessity.

“Girls started to figure out how Faith wrestles and started literally training to beat Faith,” Smith said. “Because of that she had to tweak her style.”

Sometimes a new technique didn’t work. But she still had the talent and composure to recover from a bad position.

“It’s like, OK I’m on the bottom but so what,” Smith said. “I’m going to get to my feet, get a reversal, get a takedown and finish the match.”

One of those instances happened in the district tournament, when a brief moment on her back nearly led to defeat. Avoiding that fueled Tarrant through the postseason.

“That’s just not in the books for me,” Tarrant said. “I understand that losing is part of the sport. But I feel like if I work hard enough, it’s something I want so badly that I can accomplish it.”

In the high school where he teaches skilled trades including welding, Smith has seen the impact Tarrant has forged.

When he walks the Prairie halls looking for potential wrestlers, Smith points to Tarrant as an example of what’s possible for girls in the sport.

“Body types, height, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “Having somebody in Faith’s shoes who has wrestled with the excellence she has is going to draw people to the sport.”

Three down, one to go. Becoming a four-time state champion would put Tarrant in a club by herself among local girl wrestlers.

But for Tarrant, that doesn’t mean the other girls are excluded.

“I realized there’s this community within us girls where everyone is so passionate about (wrestling),” Tarrant said. “It was there the whole time. It’s just me breaking the ice.”

— Micah Rice

All-Region Boys Swimming:
Tarik Kurta, Fort Vancouver


Tarik Kurta of Fort Vancouver stands on the podium after finishing second in the 50 freestyle at the 2A boys swimming state championship meet at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way on Feb. 17.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

Tarik Kurta has some advice for any middle schooler thinking about giving swimming a try in high school, whether that’s at Fort Vancouver or any other school.

“I would say just give it a shot,” Kurta said. “Some people who have started swimming in their freshman year have made it to state by their senior year. But at least try it because you’re going to have fun. It’s fun. And if you put in a little bit of effort, then eventually it will come to you, and you know you’ll be good by your senior year.”

Kurta not only knows what he’s talking about, he’s a living example of that.

Kurta had never been involved in competitive swimming before his freshman year at Fort Vancouver.

But last month at the Class 2A state swimming championships, the senior placed second in the 50-yard freestyle and third in the 100 freestyle, earning Kurta the honor of The Columbian’s All-Region boys swimmer of the year.

And it all began three years ago, when Kurta was looking for an activity to do in high school as in-person learning was returning during the pandemic.

Having done basketball and wrestling in his pre-high schools, Kurta chose to go out for swimming to do something different.

“I thought I was going to do swimming freshman year, then wrestling my sophomore year and then maybe basketball my junior year,” Kurta said. “And then I would decide which one I liked best and do that for senior year. But I turned out to be really good at swimming. So I just kept at it for all four years.”

Sarah Dunn, the coach for the swim teams at Fort Vancouver and Hudson’s Bay, was glad Kurta made that decision.

In that abbreviated freshman year for Kurta, Fort Vancouver had only three boys swimmers. This past season, the Trappers had 20 swimmers in the boys program.

“His influence has been really fundamental,” Dunn said. “A lot of the swimmers look up to him. He’s brought a lot of guys onto the team. It’s been a great four years that I’ve been able to coach him. … He’s helped grow the team immensely. It’s one of the more popular teams at Fort.”

Kurta was the lone Fort swimmer to advance to the state meet his sophomore season.

He reached the championship finals of the 50 free, but was disqualified for a false start. He was so frustrated by that mistake that he chose not to compete in the consolation final of the 100 free.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Kurta said. “I think it helped deal with frustration better. But also, when I went back to state my junior year, I made sure that I did not false start. Once they tell you to set, you’ve got a hold. I got disqualified for just adjusting my foot a little. So my mindset my junior year was to not move a muscle until the gun went off.”

Once the gun sounded, Kurta raced to a pair of top-five finishes in the 50 free and 100 free.

Then this season, Kurta placed even higher and went even faster, not to anyone’s surprise.

But one thing that did surprise Kurta’s competitors at state was when they asked him what club he swam for.

“I don’t swim for a club,” Kurta said. “That surprised a lot of people at state, because most of the top swimmers also swim club. But I just swim for Fort.”

During the season, Kurta would practice with the Fort team, then often remain at the Propstra Aquatic Center and take advantage of open swim times to get in more practice.

“I think every time I got in the pool, I tried to make the most of that time and work as hard as I could,” Kurta said. “I think that helped keep me fresh.”

He also enjoys attending and representing Fort Vancouver.

“I feel like Fort is degraded as a school by a lot of people,” he said. “But I love Fort. I think it’s a great school. And it feels really nice to be good at something for a school that other people look down on. I like going up against swimmers from ‘nicer schools’ and beating them. Having them say ‘oh, he’s from Fort,’ but then going out and beating them, it feels nice.”

And even after Kurta graduates, he’ll leave a lasting impact on Fort swimming. Several of his teammates, including three members of the Trappers’ 400 free relay, will return to the program next year with state-meet experience under their belts in part because of the contributions of Kurta.

“It’s definitely a nice thing to represent a school like this in this way,” Kurta said. “It feels good. It makes me proud, and I know it makes my parents proud, and I’m sure the school as well.”

— Tim Martinez

All-Region Girls Bowling:
Lily Mattison, R.A. Long


Lily Mattison of R.A. Long poses for a portrait at Triangle Bowl in Longview on March 14.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

Lily Mattison is a state champion, and she could not have done that without Ava Rodman.

“I got involved in bowling because my best friend, Ava Rodman, texted me and said ‘Come out for bowling with me because I don’t want to do it by myself,’ ” Mattison recalled.

That was Mattison’s sophomore year at R.A. Long High School.

“I thought it was kind of absurd,” Mattison said. “I had never bowled in my life before. And I was really good friends with her, and I didn’t know she bowled.”

But Mattison wasn’t doing anything during the winter sports seasons, so she decided to give it a try.

“And when I got a taste that this was something I could be good at, then I just wanted to be good at it,” she said.

That year, Mattison helped R.A. Long advance to the state tournament. In her junior year, she was a second-team all-league pick.

Then on Jan. 31 at Bowlero in Tukwila, Mattison became the 2A/1A state champion, bowling a six-game series of 1,106 pins that included closing games of 220, 217 and 226.

And for that, Mattison is The Columbian’s All-Region girls bowler of the year.

And the way she got there was improbable.

Mattison opened her six-game series at state with a 110, far below her season average. It was the kind of score that state champions don’t bowl.

In fact, no other bowler who finished in the top 10 at state bowled a game lower than 139. No bowler in the top 20 bowled a game lower than 120.

“My first thought was at least go out and help my team,” she said. “So I kind of shook it off. I didn’t think too much of it because I’m kind of super inconsistent. I’ll have a really low game every now and then … So I had to brush it off. And then I found my mark and it just kind of came together toward the end.”

After Game 4, Mattison was in seventh place. After Game 5, she was in fourth.

After finishing Game 6, Mattison was in first place and only one bowler still competing had a chance to catch her — her teammate and best friend, Ava Rodman.

Rodman needed to pick up a spare in the 10th frame to beat Mattison, and Mattison was rooting for Rodman to do just that.

But Rodman was unable to pick up a split, leaving Mattison as the champion with very mixed feelings.

“It was actually probably one of the most emotional experiences of my life,” Mattison said. “(Rodman) has been so dedicated to the sport, and I knew this was her goal since joining the sport. So it just felt like so surreal that me, of all people, would win that, because I hadn’t dedicated as much time into the sport and was kind of rushed into it.”

But Rodman would end her high school bowling career as a state champion after all. The next day, R.A. Long captured the team state championship, running away with the title by outdistancing second-place Fort Vancouver by more than 400 pins.

“I love that I wasn’t the only one at the top,” Mattison said. “It was really great to have all my team by my side, especially winning the team championship together. It’s such a great experience to achieve something so great, especially with the people that you love.”

Before they were teammates in bowling, Mattison and Rodman were teammates in softball. R.A. Long has a strong softball/bowling connection with several players and coaches involved in both sports.

Mattison will continue her softball career in college after signing with Lower Columbia College.

But she will always be thankful for the invitation she received from Rodman to give bowling a try.

“I just loved the chemistry between my team and all the girls and the coaches,” she said. “I loved our matches and just how positive we all were to each other. It’s such a good atmosphere to be a part of. It just makes it so enjoyable and so fun.”

— Tim Martinez

All-Region Gymnastics:
Hallie Kempf, Camas


Camas senior Hallie Kempf competes in the vault at the Class 4A state gymnastics championships at Sammamish High School in Bellevue.

Micah Rice of The Columbian

With her high school gymnastics career coming to an end at last month’s Class 4A state meet, Camas High senior Hallie Kempf closed a lengthy life chapter.

It’s the chapter on how gymnastics has been part of her life since age 5, which included nearly 10 years as a club gymnast and another four representing the Camas Papermakers.

What makes Camas gymnastics already so memorable, she said, has nothing to do with bars, beam, floor or vault.

“It’s the people,” Kempf said. “I loved going to practice and just being able to talk to my friends. And the coaches, too. They’re so supportive.”

Kempf, The Columbian’s All-Region gymnast of the year for a second time, spent nearly 10 years in club gymnastics prior to high school, where time-consuming schedules and an individual-centric focus can be at the forefront.

At the high school scene, however, the sport showcases something different.

“Much more fun,” said Kempf, the 4A Greater St. Helens League’s gymnast of the year. “It’s two different worlds. … It’s been a great way to make friends and be a part of the school, knowing you’re not just competing for just yourself in club, and you get to compete for your school and represent your school.”

This season, Kempf captured the 4A district all-around title (37.075) to help Camas win the district team title. At state, she helped Camas place third in Class 4A for the program’s seventh consecutive state trophy. Kempf earned ninth in the individual all-around — one spot shy of reaching the podium.

“I feel like all the hard work I put in all season was definitely displayed,” she said.

One of Kempf’s best moments came prior to the 4A district meet. For much of the season, she put in extra work to try to land her bars routine. Joy and happiness is what Kempf said she felt following that routine in the final regular-season meet Feb. 3.

“I remember sticking (the landing) and the biggest smile was on my face,” she said. “I was so happy.”

And that joy and happiness extended throughout her four years in Camas’ gymnastics program.

Kempf credits first-year head coach Amy Railsback’s team-oriented atmosphere for playing a big role in Kempf’s memorable final year of gymnastics.

“I think her pushing us and making us more of a team created a better season,” she said.

— Meg Wochnick


All-Region Baseball:
James Gill, Battle Ground


Battle Ground’s James Gill III delivers a pitch during a season-opening, non-league baseball game against Ridgefield on March 8 at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.

Will Denner of The Columbian

Pressure isn’t a word in James Gill’s vocabulary.

When the Battle Ground sophomore left-handed pitcher took the mound for the Tigers’ opening game of the Class 4A bi-district playoffs against Graham-Kapowsin, he was unfazed by the stakes of a win-or-go-home game.

Gill played with confidence, pitching all seven innings of a 3-2 win while hitting a game-tying home run in the sixth. It was the first of three consecutive wins for Battle Ground at bi-districts as the program clinched its first state playoff berth since 2017.

“I’ve had a lot of big games, but that was just another challenge in my road,” Gill said.

On the mound and at the plate, Battle Ground coaches and players became accustomed to those performances from their standout sophomore. Gill, The Columbian’s All-Region baseball player of the year, emerged as an elite arm in the state and took over as a key hitter in the Tigers’ lineup.

In 53 innings pitched, Gill posted a 1.05 earned-run average with 81 strikeouts, 10 runs allowed and a .124 batting average against. He also compiled a 7-1 record — the lone loss coming in the Tigers’ 9-1, season-ending defeat to North Creek May 18 in the 4A state regionals. At the plate, Gill hit .400 with three home runs, seven doubles, one triple and 27 RBI.

“It’s rare for someone his age, and it’s just how he’s been all year,” Battle Ground coach Seth Johnson said. “How he performed in all three of those (bi-district) playoff games is exactly how he’s performed all year. That’s who he is. He rises to the occasion. From the very first time that I got to see him last summer, you could tell that he’s very, very special.”

Johnson, Battle Ground’s first-year coach, watched Gill’s Portland Babe Ruth team rally for an 8-7 win in the Pacific Northwest Babe Ruth 13-15 Regional championship game last June. It took all of one at-bat and one inning, according to Johnson, to see Gill was the real deal.

That Portland team went on to win the Babe Ruth 13-15 World Series championship in Jamestown, N.Y., last August, and Gill — named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player — came on the mound in the seventh inning to earn the save for a 6-4 win over Norwalk, Conn.

“That was a great experience, especially going all the way to New York and just being with my team, it was great,” Gill said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better. That was just one experience I’m always going to remember.”

Coming off of a memorable summer, Gill entered his sophomore year at Battle Ground wanting to make a bigger name for himself while continuing to strengthen his arm and throw harder on the mound. The Tigers, meanwhile, aimed to improve from a 2023 season in which they finished last in the 4A Greater St. Helens League and missed the postseason.

This spring, everything came together for the Tigers at the right time. Players built a close bond and responded well to a new coaching staff led by Johnson. And, their talent was evident throughout the roster, led by the likes of Gill and senior Jackson Hotchkiss, one of the top-ranked Washington players in the class of 2024 who often drew professional scouts to Battle Ground games this spring.

“Playing with Jack, I’m thankful that I get to play with him, because as the scouts come out (to see him), it gets my name out there even more,” Gill said. “I’m thankful for that, and everyone else just making me look good whenever I pitch (with) great defense.”

When more eyes are on the Tigers, “I just play my game and don’t think about it too much,” Gill said. “I’m always known to think about stuff too much and not do the best. But I’ve gotten better.”

Gill was tabbed by 4A GSHL coaches as the league’s player of the year for his dual-threat ability on the mound and at the plate. He’s had plenty of big strikeouts and timely hits, though when it comes to choosing which of the two is more exciting, Gill’s decision is an easy one.

“Most definitely (a) strikeout,” Gill said. “I like the feeling after I do that because I know that I’m a big arm. … Me throwing and I get a big strikeout, it’s something special.”

Battle Ground went into the last day of the regular season with a chance to clinch a share of the league title, but those hopes were dashed when the Tigers suffered a 6-3 loss to Union and settled for the league’s No. 2 seed entering the bi-district playoffs. Though players were disappointed, the result also taught them a valuable lesson, according to Gill.

“After that, it was just like a reality check,” he said. “Everything’s not given to you, and you gotta go into the next thing prepared, ready to go and come in as hard as you can. Just go and not back down.”

Fueled by that loss, Battle Ground posted three crucial wins the following week against Graham-Kapowsin, Decatur and Kentwood. In the latter game May 11, Gill tossed four perfect innings in relief, allowing the Tigers to earn a walk-off, 5-4 win in extra innings to clinch a state berth.

“I’m always pretty confident … and even if I don’t feel the most confident I don’t show it and just throw my best,” Gill said. “Even when my arm is not the best, I still go into it confident and ready to go.”

Though the Tigers’ season came to an end the following week in the round of 16 at state, their season was a resounding success, Gill believes. In particular, the postseason run was an important two weeks for returning players who will go into next season with more experience playing in high-stakes games. That’s a scary proposition for opponents facing Gill, who already has plenty of big games under his belt halfway through high school.

“He’s special. He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached,” Johnson said.

— Will Denner

All-Region Softball:
Maddie Milhorn, Skyview


Skyview junior Maddie Milhorn delivers a pitch in a first-round game against Puyallup at the District 3/4 softball tournament May 17 in Kent.

Micah Rice of The Columbian

Whether building toward the future or contending for a state title, this era of Skyview softball had centered around one player — Maddie Milhorn.

The pitcher burst onto the local softball scene two years ago when the freshman led Skyview to the Class 4A state championship game.

She remained consistently great last season, one which she described as a rebuilding year as the Storm tried to replace the large senior class of 2022.

Now in 2024, Skyview is back among the state’s best. The Storm enter this weekend’s Class 4A state tournament in Richland as the No. 1 seed with a 22-0 record.

Milhorn has been nothing short of dominant. She has allowed just six earned runs over 96 2/3 innings with 193 strikeouts and 18 walks.

Factor in Milhorn’s hitting (a .486 batting average, seven home runs and 39 RBI) and you have a complete player.

That’s why for the third consecutive year, Milhorn is The Columbian’s All-Region softball player of the year.

“I always joke that I’ve been waiting for her since she was 10 years old and showed up to camp,” Skyview coach Kim Anthony said. “I always knew she had something special.”

The University of Oregon also saw something special in Milhorn. Prior to the season, she made her verbal commitment to play college softball for the Ducks.

“I grew up an Oregon fan,” Milhorn said. “The facilities were amazing, but just the family environment they had was something special. The team dinners, we never went out, they were always at the field. We played games and listened to music. It made my heart feel full there.”

With an eye toward Division-I collegiate softball, Milhorn has doubled down on her fitness and expanding her pitch repertoire.

“I’ve been hitting the gym a little bit more,” Milhorn said. “I’m going start throwing a screwball since Oregon wants me to have one. I’m going to figure that out this summer. I’m working on my riseball and that’s something that’s starting to work a bit better.”

Milhorn has also taken on more of a leadership role as she and eight other juniors on Skyview’s roster embrace their new roles as upperclassmen.

“She’s really smart in knowing what the team needs,” Anthony said. “Sometimes it’s ‘let’s go you guys.’ Sometimes she cracks a joke to break the tension. She’s smart in reading the room.”

Milhorn also has sisters in arms in the pitcher’s circle. Reese Perdue, Avery Henderson and Malea Figueroa have borne some of the workload, serving both as a change of pace for opposing hitters but also ensuring Milhorn is fresh headed into the state tournament.

After rolling through the regular season, Skyview outscored opponents 40-14 in four games at the District 3/4 tournament last weekend in Kent.

Milhorn hopes to be holding another first-place trophy this weekend. That would be the program’s second state title, joining the 2001 champions.

“This year, I feel that we’re unstoppable,” Milhorn said. “We’re all connected. We’re all working. We’re all best friends. I think winning is cool but winning with your best friends is something special and something not everyone gets to experience.”

—Micah Rice

All-Region Boys Soccer:
Luke Jones, Camas


Luke Jones of Camas plays in a Class 4A boys soccer state first-round match against Mount Rainier at Doc Harris Stadium in Camas on May 14.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

To watch the Camas boys soccer team play, it can be a challenge to find the star on the team.

In every match, particularly during the Papermakers’ 14-game winning streak that put Camas into the Class 4A state semifinals, it seems like a different player is stepping up to make a big play.

“We’re a unit,” senior Luke Jones said. “We all love to see each other succeed. If one guy’s scoring a goal, that’s awesome, right? You can’t do without the whole team. Every one of these guys has a role, and we can’t do it without any of them, whether playing every minute or they’re on the bench. It doesn’t matter. We’re one.”

As the Papermakers’ center defensive midfielder, Jones is the pivot, keeping the defensive backline where it needs to be while also directing the ball forward to set up on the attack. So he’s involved in everything Camas does, even if he isn’t the one scoring goals.

It’s a role Jones did so well, he was selected as The Columbian’s All-Region boys soccer player of the year.

“I’d say communication is definitely the biggest thing,” Jones said of his role. “I sit in front of the center back, so it’s super important that I stay connected with my center backs and the midfield in front of me. I’m maintaining that position in the middle of the field because I act as the pivot. The ball swings through me.”

On his club team, the Washington Timbers, Jones plays a more forward position, putting him in more scoring opportunities.

“But I’m not the fastest player, so feel like I fit better here,” he said. “Just because I can see more of the field, and I can track more easily. Also, I’m not sprinting down the line the whole time.

“I love high school soccer, just because there’s so much passion. I love the atmosphere.”

Jones then looks up to see one of Camas’ coaches loudly barking orders during practice.

“You see that?” Jones said. “I love that. This is great.”

The high school soccer season will also be the end of the road for Jones. He said he plans to attend the University of Washington in the fall and studying international business.

“I decided I wanted to pursue my education over soccer and maybe play at a smaller school,” he said. “But it’s definitely tough. I don’t know what life is going to be like after this weekend. However it goes, it’s going to be my last real soccer game. And soccer has been a big part of my life.”

How far does it go back?

“I was playing on those fields when I was four,” Jones said, nodding to the grass fields behind Doc Harris Stadium. “My dad was the coach. I’ve been playing with (Camas teammate) Austin Fewel since I was like eight. I’ll still play the game for fun, but it’s definitely going to be weird.”

Jones said Camas’ bumpy start to the season helped pull the team together.

“We’ve always had the talent, but I feel like in the beginning what was difficult for us was really just synching,” he said. “You know, putting our egos aside as individuals and just bond as a team. Once we started doing that, we were more successful.”

It led to 14 straight wins that included a 1-0 win over Chiawana last weekend to send Camas into the state semifinals.

But making it to the state final four felt like icing on the cake for Jones.

“Every game we win is great, obviously just getting to go further,” he said. “But for me, I just look at it as an opportunity to spend more time with these guys because we’re never going to get this team back. This is the last time we’ll be together. So for me, beating Chiawana meant two more games with these guys, another week with these guys. That’s the most important thing to me, as much as I want to win.”

— Tim Martinez

All-Region Boys Golf:
Grady Millar, Mountain View


Grady Millar of Mountain View tees off on the No. 10 tee at Heron Lakes Golf Club Great Blue course at the Class 3A boys golf district tournament Oct. 11.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

A subtle fist pump was the only difference.

Otherwise, Grady Millar’s mood did not budge as he went through both golf’s frustration and elation.

Golf can humble even its best players, as the 14th hole did to Millar last Wednesday at the Class 3A state championships in Lacey.

Yet two holes after carding that double bogie, the Mountain View junior rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole at The Golf Club at Hawks Prairie.

The clenching of his fist as the ball rolled into the cup was a modest gesture compared to the significance of the shot. Mountain View went on to win its first boys golf team championship by one shot over Roosevelt of Seattle.

According to longtime Mountain View coach James Peterson, that unflappability is what makes Millar a special golfer.

“He’s extremely competitive, but outwardly he’s extremely calm,” Peterson said. “A lot of golfers are extremely emotional. You saw it out here, a lot of guys let their emotions get the best of them. He gets happy. He gets pissed like anyone does. But he never lets it outwardly come out.”

Millar’s high school career has had more celebration than frustration. The University of Washington commit wrapped up his third consecutive individual district championship last fall and was named the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League boys golfer of the year for a third time.

For his accomplishments, Millar is The Columbian’s All-Region boys golfer of the year.

After taking up the sport at 3 years old, Millar compiled an impressive record at amateur tournaments. That included a second-place finish at the 2022 Pacific Northwest PGA Junior Championship and several top-10 finishes a junior events across the country.

Millar’s calmness and confidence comes from countless hours working on his craft.

“I play this game every day and I know how good I am,” Millar said. “I just go off that confidence I have from playing the game every day.”

For as much as golf can be about the individual, Millar relishes the team element of high school competition. For as little emotion he showed on the course, Millar donned a wide grin after Mountain View secured its state championship.

In fact, Millar loves the higher stakes of playing for more than himself.

“The pressure aspect, your teammates are relying on you when you’re going down the stretch,” he said. “I think that’s a big part of team golf.”

Millar’s length off the tee and ball-striking are already elite. Yet he knows a good short game is vital to succeed in the higher levels of collegiate and amateur golf.

“On an average practice day I practice 75 percent of the time inside of 150 yards,” he said. “Hitting those wedge shots consistently, getting the yardages down and practicing them everyday for the last year has me going really good.”

Not that you’d be able to tell how good it’s going by Millar’s mood alone.

“His dedication to keeping his head, even when things aren’t going his way, sets him apart,” Peterson said. “His bad golf days are anybody else’s best days.”

— Micah Rice

All-Region Girls Golf:
Jacinda Lee, Camas


Jacinda Lee of Camas won the district title for a third year in a row, followed that up by winning the bi-district title, and capped the season by placing second at 4A state by 1 shot.

Will Denner of The Columbian

This spring, it seems like there were three certainties of life — death, taxes and Jacinda Lee putting up a really good round of golf.

The Camas senior has been a model of consistency in three postseason tournaments this month, averaging 73 strokes per round.

And there wasn’t a lot of deviation from the mean.

Lee shot a 74 and 73 to win the 4A district tournament title two weeks ago.

She shot a 73 and 67 to win the 4A bi-district tournament last week.

And her 76 and 74 at The Creek at Qualchan in Spokane, good enough for a runner-up finish at the 4A state tournament.

“That’s just Jacinda,” Camas coach Robert Foster said. “She is just a very consistent golfer. We can always rely on her to put up a good score. It’s been a real pleasure to have her on the team these past four years.”

For her consistency, Lee was selected as The Columbian’s All-Region girls golfer of the year.

Next fall, Lee will take her consistent play to Colorado State, where she plans to study business and finance.

“I chose Colorado State for the golf and for their business school,” Lee said. “They have a really good golf team there. They’ve been able to send players on to the NCAA Tournament. And I felt it was a place where I could really grow my game more.”

Last month at the Pasco Invitational, Lee showed her ability to put up a really low score by matching the course record at Sun Willows Golf Course with a 65.

“I was hitting all my putts that day,” Lee said. “And I stayed out of trouble. Even if my drives weren’t that great, the course was wide open that I was able to stay in good shape.”

Lee has been consistent at the state tournament, too.

Her freshman year at Camas there was no state tournament because of COVID. But her sophomore season she tied for fifth place and placed sixth last year.

Lee found herself in fourth place after Tuesday’s first round in Spokane. But she rallied in the second round to get within one shot of the lead heading to the 18th hole.

But an eagle on No. 18 by Chanyoung Park of Henry Jackson sealed the title for Park.

Lee wasn’t too upset about finishing second. Her Camas teammates dominated the team standings to earn the Papermakers’ first team title.

“I’m really happy about that,” Lee said. “It’s something we’ve been working toward all season, and it’s great to finally get it.”

— Tim Martinez

All-Region Boys Tennis:
Aiden Brasier and Tommy James, Camas


Tommy James (left) and Aiden Brasier of Camas pose for a photo after winning the boys doubles state title at the 4A state tennis tournament at The Pacific Clinic in Kennewick on May 25.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

As singles players, Tommy James and Aiden Brasier of Camas already had impressive resumes.

James was The Columbian All-Region tennis player of the year in 2022 after placing at the state tournament.

Brasier won the honor 2023 after finishing third last season.

But together, they were dominant, winning the 4A state title in doubles last week without dropping a set.

That led to the two friends to share the honor as All-Region boys tennis players of the year in 2024.

Titles and honors are great. But the biggest thing Brasier and James wanted was to have fun.

“It was a really fun season,” James said. “We had a lot of good memories together, and that’s what is most important.”

In 11 postseason matches — district, bi-district and state — the pair only dropped one set.

That one set came in the district championship match last October, when they faced off with Camas teammates Nathan Chen and Kyle Wen.

After breezing through the first set 6-0, Brasier and James tried to have fun in the second set, attempting some difficult shots, trick shots. Chen and Wen took the second set 6-3.

Then Brasier and James won the third set, 6-0.

“We have fun,” James said. “We try not to do too much weird stuff but … sometimes we will mix in weird shots.”

Brasier: “But we try to keep it serious, too.”

“Serious, but interesting,” James added.

When they are not on the tennis court, Brasier and James like the hang out, maybe get something to eat. Chick-fil-A is a favorite spot.

“But we play a lot of tennis,” Brasier said. “Tennis is the big main thing that we do.”

And that includes table tennis, or ping pong.

Who wins there?

“I do, every single time,” James said. “He’s never beaten me.”

“That’s not true,” Brasier interjected. “When you were 12 …”

“Yeah, when he was 12, he actually beat me,” James added. “But ever since then …”

Opponents at the state tournament can relate to that feeling.

Brasier and James dropped only six games in four matches at the state tournament. And they captured the state championship with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Jacob Tan and Herkey Briggs of Bellarmine Prep.

The decision to play doubles this high school season started last summer where the two friends so much of their time — on the tennis court.

“Basically, we were just hitting one day,” James said. “And we were like ‘You want to play together?’ And we both said yes.”

And the rest was history for the two Camas juniors.

— Tim Martinez

All-Region Boys Track and Field:
Revac Banfield, Columbia River


Columbia River’s Revac Banfield, center, finishes a 2A boys 100 meter dash prelim race May 24 during the WIAA State Track and Field Championships at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.

Taylor Balkom of The Columbian

The story of how Revac Banfield, Columbia River High’s standout sprinter, became the school’s first state champion at 100 and 200 meters didn’t begin this season.

Banfield points to the moment after the 2023 state track and field championships in Tacoma — capping his first year in track and field — when he returned to the school’s parking lot with coaches and teammates. Before family picked him up, the teenager walked to the track at John O’Rourke Field, paused, and made a big decision.

He wanted greatness.

“I realized (track and field) is what I like,” Banfield said. “This is my thing. I like doing this, and I wanted to keep working at it.

“I eventually came to the realization that I want to be the athlete I want to be.”

Banfield, The Columbian’s All-Region boys track and field athlete of the year, grew up dreaming of reaching the NBA. Not a track athlete who now is River’s school record holder at 100 meters (10.54 seconds), has two Class 2A individual sprints titles and helped the school win its first boys track and field team title.

So, after making the junior-varsity boys basketball roster for a third year last winter, Banfield shifted full-time focus to track and field. He already was a different sprinter physically and mentally by the time the 2024 season began in late February. He credits work with a personal trainer and a new-found 100 percent all-in attitude.

“I had to start actually committing to things and put forth more effort than I usually do,” the junior said. “Track is one of the first things I’ve ever actually committed to, and I put more effort into that than anything I’ve ever done.”

The results were instant. He went undefeated in the 100 and 200 in all but one meet — the prestigious Oregon Relays as Historic Hayward Field — and both personal-best times ranked in the top-10 across all classifications.

In the postseason, Banfield found a new gear: grit. A quadricep injury over the final two meets kept Banfield not at 100 percent. At state last weekend, he estimated his quad was at 50 percent when racing six times over 24 hours between preliminary heats and finals in the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay. Despite steady head-winds Saturday, Banfield won the 100 meters (11.26), 200 (21.97) and anchored River’s relay to a school-record time (42.22) placing third.

In fact, his grit shined most in the 200 final. River and Anacortes were neck-and-neck in the team-title chase, and Banfield’s 200 was the final event with a River participant.

Banfield knew it, too, which is why he had a team-first approach when he stepped into the blocks. Reflecting on River’s historic weekend, a team title is what he’s proud of most.

“All of those guys out there,” Banfield said, “it was so, so hyped. I felt happy for them.

“I’m more happy and excited and thrilled about the fact that we won. It’s even cooler, because I think we can do it again.”

— Meg Wochnick

All-Region Girls Track and Field:
Shaela Bradley, La Center


Shaela Bradley of La Center runs to victory in the girls 100 meters at the 1A District 4 track and field championships at Seton Catholic High School in Vancouver on May 16.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

Soccer ranks No. 1 in Shaela Bradley’s heart, but track and field is right behind.

“I don’t think I would do it if I didn’t love it, too,” the La Center High senior said. “… It’s pretty close to my family.”

That’s why when an ankle injury occurred at a January club soccer tournament in Florida, Bradley never considered sitting out this spring’s track and field season to prepare for her next step after high school graduation — playing women’s soccer at Rutgers University.

“Not in the slightest,” she said. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind. I was just getting back into things and this really helped me get prepared for soccer, in a way.”

After missing the first six weeks of the season, Bradley, The Columbian’s All-Region girls track and field athlete of the year, made the most of an abbreviated season once she made her mid-April competition debut.

Bradley was one of only two girls in the region to run the 400 meters under 58 seconds.

The other? Fellow Trico League sprinter Casie Kleine of Castle Rock, who edged Bradley at state to repeat as state champion. Bradley was the 1A state champion in 2022.

In fact, Bradley said the two bring out the best in each other over the past three seasons. Both ran sub-58-second times at the state-qualifying 1A district meet May 16, where Kleine edged Bradley by three-one-hundredths of a second, 57.96 to 57.99.

“I love racing against her,” Bradley said of the junior. “She always pushes me.”

At the Class 1A state meet in Yakima last weekend, Bradley reached the podium in all four of her events: 100 meters (12.77, eighth), 400 (59.49, second), long jump (17 feet, 7.25 inches, second), and ran the anchor leg on the Wildcats’ 4×200 relay (1:46.92, fifth).

Of the frequent trips to the podium at Yakima’s Zaepfel Stadium, Bradley said returning to the podium for long jump — her favorite event — was the most memorable. As a sophomore, she also placed second in the long jump.

“I just love the long jump so much,” Bradley said.

But being part of the historic 4×200 relay was memorable in its own right. The quartet of Olivia Bankhead, Paige Sherry, Mikaela Bright and Bradley capped their season running a school-record time in the finals at Yakima.

Bradley spoke of the commitment and determination from all relay members that led the team to drop more than 4 seconds off their debut race together April 19. The Wildcats ran their first sub-1:50 time April 26, and from there, lowered their time each of the final four meets. La Center had the fourth-best time of any 4×200 relay team locally this spring.

“We were really just really committed to it, and we wanted to do well collectively,” Bradley said. (At state), we just knew this was our race. We wanted to break the school record, and we did it multiple times.

“We just all had a drive and I think that really helped us throughout the season.”

— Meg Wochnick

All-Region Girls Tennis:
Hailey Kerker, Camas


Hailey Kerker of Camas hits a return during the girls singles third-place match at the 4A state tennis tournament at The Pacific Clinic in Kennewick on May 25.

Tim Martinez of The Columbian

It’s hard enough to win one state tennis title, let alone two.

Three titles doesn’t happened often. And it’s rare air to just get a chance at four.

Four individual state titles may no longer be in the cards for Camas junior Hailey Kerker, but four team titles is still in play after the 4A state tournament. Kerker came in as the two-time defending singles champion but had to settle for third place this time around.

Still, her nine points helped the Papermakers to a third consecutive 4A team championship.

Kerker, the All-Region girls tennis player of the year for a third time, had another dominating season on the courts even if it came just short of a third state singles title and spoiling a long-term goal of trying to win four in a row.

“I think there’s pressure, but a little more last year because I was going for two, if that makes sense,” Kerker said of being a defending state champion. “Like when I play club, there is just as much pressure, so I think I’m pretty good handling that.

“But there’s nerves in any match.”

Those comments came after winning a third 4A district title without dropping a set back in mid-May. She then went on to win the 4A bi-district title on her way to state in Kennewick, where her first two matches were a breeze.

The margin of victory or defeat can be small in tennis. One break, one unforced error and suddenly the match can be over just like that.

In the state semifinals against Mia Yoon of Newport, Kerker lost the first set 6-1. She regrouped to win the second set 6-3, but then would lose a heartbreaker in a third-set tiebreak 8-6.

Again, Kerker regrouped and stormed to a 6-0, 6-1 win in the third-place match over Kayla Duong of Puyallup. In her three wins at state, Kerker dropped just four games.

During the season, Kerker got some advice from a former local four-time state high school champion in Skyview High alum Sammi (Hampton) Ekmark, who was state champ from 2012-2015 and went on to play at Arizona State.

They even hit a few tennis balls along with Kerker’s sister Taryn and Sammi’s husband Andrew.

“Sammi is the best! The main thing she said is to be confident in your game,” Kerker said. “Like, ‘I’ve done this before and know what to do so I just need to rely on my game.’ “

Kerker is looking to a summer of USTA tournaments. As of May 29 for girls 16-and-under, she has a ranking of No. 6 in the USTA Pacific Northwest Section, is No. 1 in the Northern Oregon region in and No. 233 nationally.

One other piece of advice Kerker received from Ekmark: “Just know I’m a good player and to use that. Sammi was very wise.”

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