This spring, Washougal High School athletes will have the chance to qualify for a Washington Interscholastic Interactivities Association (WIAA) State Championship for the first time since 2019.
The WIAA canceled its entire 2020 spring sports season and 2021 state championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to help the players become student-athletes again,” said new Panthers women’s tennis coach Alysia Noriega. “This is the first season in two years where COVID has not had such a direct impact on the season and our athletes’ ability to be on the pitch.”
Washougal High’s baseball, girls’ golf, boys’ soccer, fast softball, girls’ tennis and track and field teams began their 2022 seasons earlier this month. Here’s a look at how five of those teams are preparing for the new season. Women’s golf coach AJ LaBree did not return Post-Record requests for comment in time for that newspaper’s printing deadline.
The Washougal High baseball team is looking to build on a successful 2021 campaign that ended with an appearance in the 2A District 4 Tournament.
“We’ll have a strong pitching team, we’ll be a rock wall on defense and we’ll create chaos at home plate,” Panthers coach Zach Carter said. “I have high hopes that we’re going to be a league contender again this year, right up there with Ridgefield and Columbia River. The other coaches and I have great confidence in this team. The attitude and drive of these players sets them apart from previous teams I have coached. These players show up every day ready and eager to learn and improve their craft.
Junior Travis Gibson returns as Washougal’s undisputed ace and one of the top pitchers in League 2A Greater St. Helens. He will be joined on the pitching team by college newcomer Kohner Robledo, who has the ability to be a “strong force” on the mound this season, according to Carter.
The Panthers roster is made up of several talented athletes, including junior outfielder Blake Mattern, second-year wide receiver Nate Olmos, senior second baseman Trenton Hamilton, senior shortstop Damian Panko and infielder Junior Thad McDonald.
“Our goal for this year is to be part of the district tournament again as one of the top three teams,” Carter said. “I believe we can get there as long as we stay true to who we are as a team, encourage each other and keep working hard as the season progresses.”
Kemal Vejo takes over as the boys’ football coach at Washougal High, replacing Shane Jundt. Vejo is also the head coach of the Benson (Oregon) High School boys’ football team, which plays in the fall, and previously coached the Kelso High School boys’ and girls’ teams.
He takes over a “very young” squad at Washougal, with a roster that includes 11 underclassmen and only two seniors.
“I was told we lost eight seniors last season,” he said. “I think we have four or five returning starters.”
The Panthers’ best returning players include senior midfielder/forward Rantin Reynolds, junior goaltender Alexander Holden, junior midfielder Gary Lyman and sophomore midfielder Colton Patronaggio. Vejo also expects senior transfer Matthew Jehne “to be an essential part” of the squad “and to have a significant impact”.
“Despite the youth of our team and my first season coaching this team, my goal is to be competitive,” Vejo said. “It won’t be easy because our league is very competitive, but our players are enthusiastic and ready to do their best to play well. It will take time for the boys to adapt to my coaching style and my playing style. We would consider it a good season if we end up in the top five teams in our league.
Washougal High’s fastpitch softball team enters the 2022 season with a mix of veterans and new players, according to coach John Carver.
The Panthers are bringing back five returning starters (senior Natalie Collins, second Grace Dahl, Emma Camp, junior Lailah Partridge and senior Peyton Robb), as well as “rotational players” Ziniaya Trask and Emma Seekins, both seniors.
“I think all of these players will have a positive impact on our team’s success this season,” Carver said.
Carver is also excited about potential Addysen Case and Catharine Dewey, “two very promising freshmen who will also be on the varsity team.”
“The main goals for the season are to continue to improve over the last week, to scrap and fight every game in anticipation of success, to beat our opponents and to make defensive plays that we are known for year after year. year.”
Noriega, who was hired to replace former coach Angela Watts, played tennis at Everett High School, coached a co-ed middle school team for several years and worked for the United States Tennis Association, implementing after-school programs in Bellingham, Washington.
She takes charge of a team which she says has “an excellent chance of being one of the best teams in the league this year”.
“We want to help our athletes build their individual skills while building our overall team camaraderie,” she said. “During a tennis match, there are usually five to six matches going on at the same time, and it’s easy for players to just focus on their own match rather than how we’re doing as a team. We want our players to feel invested not only in themselves, but also in the success of their teammates.
Elise Moore, Avery Berg and Anika Adams start the season as the Panthers’ top three singles players. Jaisa Wilson and Hadley Jones are Washougal’s No. 1 doubles team, followed by the tandems of Sammy Mederos and Lauren Rabus, and Brooklyn Curtis and Molly Rabus.
“We have a full roster of talent,” Noriega said. “A lot of our junior varsity athletes could easily play at the varsity level, and it’s exciting that we can be so versatile when looking at different rosters and team placements.”
In 2019, 75 student-athletes showed up for Washougal High’s track and field team. That number dipped slightly during a shortened season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, but rebounded strongly this spring.
“Right now we’re at 104, so our numbers have gone up dramatically,” Panthers coach Dave Hajek said. “We are quite happy with our situation and the fact that we are going to have a (full) season.”
The Panthers are full of talented athletes, especially on the girls’ side. Sophomore Elle Thomas and junior Sydney Boothby, who will compete in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races, finished sixth and ninth respectively at the 2A cross-country meet last fall, while senior Bella Juhl won the record title at the 2A District 4 rendezvous in the spring of 2021.
Hajek is also expecting big things from senior middle distance runner Jamie Maas, sophomore middle distance runner Paige Maas, senior high jumper Carissa de la Rocha, high jumper/ javelin thrower Jaiden Bea and freshman discus thrower Iris Hancock.
“We have veterans coming back with us for the past two years who are very talented,” Hajek said. “Girls have more proven options for ranking at state with distance runners and Bella Juhl winning the district title in discus last year. “I could see them doing well. I could see them scoring at least top 10, if not top four. I think we’re a very strong contender on the girls’ side, not just for the league title – I think we’ll be chasing a district title and maybe also bring home a state trophy .
There’s plenty of talent but less certainty on the boys’ side, who will be led by junior Tucker Kneipp, who hopes to be a state contender in the high jump and triple jump.
The Panthers also return sophomore long distance runner Samuel Grice; sophomore sprinter Liam Churchman; and pitchers Holden Bea, a sophomore, and Zach Phillips, a junior; and welcome transfer talent Alex Juhl, a pitcher, and second-year Jayson Graham, a middle-distance runner. “We have a lot of question marks, so it’s a bit too early to speculate (how the boys will fare),” Hajek said. “We will have to put some of these pieces together like a puzzle. We have a lot of good athletes, but we have to find places for them. Last year was our worst year as a men’s team we’ve had in the last 12-15 years – we didn’t really compete for a league title. But this year, we think we will.