Papermakers looking to 3-peat as state champions

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4A all-around state champion Shea McGee says she looks forward to the pressure that comes with trying to repeat this season. (Photos courtesy of Camas High Sophomore Olivia Bane smiles after her bar performance in the Papermakers' first meet of the season in Battle Ground on Dec. 7.)

Five years ago, Camas High School (CHS) launched its gymnastics program with head coach Carol Willson at the helm.

“That first season we only had six girls turn out, and just 10 the second year,” Willson said.

The Papermakers quickly became a powerhouse, however, and won 4A state championships in 2018 and 2019.

This season 40 athletes turned out to be a part of what has quickly become one of the state’s most elite high school gymnastics programs.

“I have 22 (athletes) that I could pull for any event at any time, which is just incredible depth,” Willson said.

With a goal of three-peating, CHS is deeper and stronger than ever before.

Wealth of experience returns to loaded roster

Last season then-sophomore Shea McGee took first place in the all-around competition at the 4A state meet.

“Gymnastics have helped me grow as a person and learn to have better communication with teammates and coaches,” she said. “It’s a big part of who I am.”

Also returning are three others who qualified for the all-around finals at the state meet last season. Alyssa Shibata placed sixth as a sophomore, Peyton Cody tied for eighth as a freshman and Lili Ford was 11th as a sophomore.

Shibata is in a leadership role as co-captain this season.

“It’s fun to get the team dynamic going, and we have so many choices on this team,” she said. “Other teams don’t have this luxury.”

McGee injured her hand and could not compete in the first Papermakers’ meet of the season, Dec. 7 in Battle Ground. But CHS didn’t miss a beat, posting a meet-winning score of 173, four points higher than Willson’s goal.

Seniors Lizzy Wing and Morgan MacIntyre also bring state meet experience to the Papermakers’ huge roster. Wing, a co-captain, didn’t even know that CHS had a gymnastics team when she was a freshman.

“During my freshman year they got second at state, so it (gymnastics) became a bigger deal, and I joined the team as a sophomore,” Wing said.

Sophomore Olivia Bane also returns after qualifying for last season’s state meet in the bars event.

“I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was 5 or 6,” she said. “Last year I got to the finals at state but got hurt, so I hope I can get through finals and place.”

If all these talented athletes were not enough, the program has attracted a few high-caliber club gymnasts, including freshman Emma Crawford and junior Katerina Baden, both of whom are competing in high school gymnastics for the first time this season.

“I really thought I needed to bond with my Camas classmates more, and this has really been fun,” Baden said.

For Willson, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure the 40 Camas athletes, plus the five Washougal High School gymnasts who she also coaches, get proper practice time in the small facility (Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy) where they train.

To make room for everyone, the gymnasts train on different days, with part of the group training on Mondays and Wednesdays and another group training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is also conditioning on Fridays, plus practices on Saturdays and Sundays.

Willson said that many people have been asking her why she doesn’t make it a bit easier on herself and just cut athletes to streamline the program.

“I certainly could cut, but I just love the kids,” she said. “I mean, at home I have eight kids. I adopted four, so I have a heart for kids, and the sport comes next. Helping their lives comes first, and I love it.”

Junior Katerina Baden has been a successful club gymnast for years, and this season became a member of the Camas High School team.
Junior Katerina Baden has been a successful club gymnast for years, and this season became a member of the Camas High School team. (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record) Photo