The Lady Panthers are no longer looking to the future. Their time is now.
Haley Briggs, Crystal Chase, Mackenzie Kitchen, Brenna Vargo and Jolynn Wenick are back to lead the basketball program as seniors. Juniors RaeAnn Allen and Alyssa Blankenship are both coming off breakout seasons. Blankenship was named first team all-league and Allen earned an honorable mention nod for their abilities to shoot, pass, steal and rebound the basketball.
“We’ve created everlasting friendships playing the game that we love,” Briggs said. “It definitely hit in soccer how fast senior year flies by. This is our last chance to get as far as we want to. It’s not just me, and it’s not just the other seniors. Even the juniors, sophomores and freshmen are working hard every single day.”
Washougal finished third place in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, lost to River Ridge and Centralia in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and dropped out. This season, the Panthers hope to challenge Hockinson and Mark Morris for the top two playoff seeds. They will also have to contend with the arrivals of Hudson’s Bay and Woodland into the league.
“Seeing how quickly it ended for these girls in the playoffs opened their eyes to what needs to change this year,” said head coach Brian Oberg. “It humbled them, but at the same time, it’s driving them to not let it happen again.”
Oberg said the Panthers surprised some teams, but they were unable to put those scrappy squads away. Turnovers, missed foul shots and inexperience got the better of them down the stretch. But now, they are a year older and wiser.
“The love for the game is back. There’s just a different feel in the gym,” he said. “The desire is there. It’s just a matter of these girls trusting each other. Another big word is unselfish. So far, that’s what I’m seeing from them.”
Allen said the early exit out of the playoffs just added fuel to fire in the hearts of these Panthers.
“Getting that close and not tasting it just made us all more hungry,” she said. “Our goal is to sink our teeth into that first playoff victory. This is going to be the year for us to go as far as we possibly can.”
Briggs, Chase, Kitchen, Vargo and Wenick were a part of the first Future Lady Panthers team. Allen, Blankenship and company are ready to carry on that torch.
“It’s cool to see that connection coming to life,” Allen said. “From the moment I joined, we’ve been like a family. It’s great to be in this kind of basketball community and know that these girls have your back.”
Oberg said the youth program is coming around full circle. He coached these girls for the first time when they were in third grade, and now again in high school.
“I see a consistent future for years to come,” Oberg said.
Tomorrow can wait. These Future Lady Panthers have learned to live for today.