Ready to compete: more spring sports return as COVID-19 rates drop

Slowpitch softball, volleyball and soccer teams start seasons amid pandemic reopenings

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Washougal High School senior Lauren Snedeker (7), a Seattle Pacific University commit, is a midfielder -- and top scorer -- for the Washougal Panthers' girls soccer team. (Post-Record file photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned fall sports into winter-and-early-spring sports for most Washington high schools, including Camas and Washougal, where athletes and coaches have returned to their softball diamonds, volleyball courts and soccer pitches with great enthusiasm.

“Seeing all the girls and their big smiles makes me so happy,” said Camas volleyball coach Michelle Ford. “It’s so good to be back in the gym.”

Camas and Washougal girls soccer, volleyball and slowpitch softball squads began their abbreviated 2020-21 seasons last month after the Southwest Region moved into the second phase of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Roadmap to Recovery” plan.

“Things have been up and down for quite a while. (When we heard that the season was definitely going to happen), we were relieved and very excited,” said Washougal girls soccer coach Shane Jundt. “The girls really wanted to play. We’ll take whatever (kind of season) we can get. They need it.”

Camas slowpitch softball

The Camas slowpitch softball team is old and young at the same time, with a roster filled with mostly seniors and freshmen.

“They are all ready to start competing and working together,” said Papermakers coach Mandy Cervantas. “I think the strength of our team comes from the leadership and camaraderie they have built. Our sophomores, juniors and seniors who play fastpitch are super excited to get back to competing since they didn’t have a season last spring.”

Camas (2-0) has three returning starters, including seniors Chloe Parker and Ali Snyder, “the heart of the program who will bring a lot of leadership to the season.”

“Molly Peebles is a junior that I’m really looking forward to seeing compete this season as well. She is a really versatile defender and is also super consistent at the plate,” Cervantes said. “We also have a freshman that I’m excited about — Grace Barsness is going to be a force defensively, and we are excited about what she can bring to the table offensively.”

Washougal slowpitch softball

The Washougal slowpitch softball team returns five starters from its 2019 squad, which took fifth place at the 2A/3A state tournament in the program’s first year of existence.

“We have some good hitters,” said Washougal coach John Carver. “We will see how our hitting and fielding goes in this year’s shortened season.”

The Panthers will be led by seniors Ciarrah Piller and Lilly Finucane.

“We have girls who are embracing this rollercoaster ride,” Carver said. “Their attitudes are great. I believe they feel that any season is a good season for softball. Conducting infield/outfield and hitting (drills) in two weeks of 40-degree weather lets you know the girls are tough. They embrace the elements — snow, rain, flooded infield — and are enthusiastic and working together.”

Camas girls soccer

The Camas girls soccer team has posted two shutout victories this season, results which should bolster the squad’s already solid chemistry.

“We have an amazing mix of ages, personalities and strengths. These are all great young ladies,” Papermakers coach Keri Tomasetti said. “They are so excited to play. They have fun with one another. There is no drama, and they are very coachable.”

Camas’ core includes senior senior defender Josie Rein, junior midfielders Maya Parman and Lily Loughney, sophomore defender Madeline Johnson and sophomore goalkeeper Keely Wieczorek.

Tomasetti also has high hopes for freshman defender Parker Mairs.

“She’s athletic, coachable, positive, and has a high soccer IQ,” Tomasetti said.

Washougal girls soccer

The Washougal girls soccer team (2-1) plays in the best 2A league in the state, but the Panthers return enough talent to give defending state champion Columbia River, runner-up Hockinson and third-place Ridgefield some problems this winter.

“The connection between the girls is really strong,” Jundt said. “Their passing is much better this year than it was last year. We’ve added some strength to our attack. Between our returning girls and the new players that we picked up, our offense has improved a lot. This year we’ve got the players in the right spots to be a stronger offensive-minded team.”

Senior midfielder Lauren Snedeker, a Seattle Pacific University commit, is the Panthers’ top goal scorer, but sophomore forward Jaden Leonard, freshman forward Anna Chaffee, junior midfielder Molly Rabus and junior midfielder Lauren Rabus will help to ensure they have a well-rounded offensive attack.

Defensively, the Panthers will be anchored by junior defenders Lillian Mucha, Ella Morris and Samantha Mederos, and sophomore goalkeeper Makenzie Gehrke.

“Makenzie was our starting goalie last year as a freshman and is a club player, so we have high expectations for her,” Jundt said. “She’s a solid goalie, and we’re very happy to have her back there.”

Camas volleyball

The Camas volleyball team has a different look this year without two-time 4A Greater St. Helens League player of the year Emma Villaluz, now a member of Oregon State University’s volleyball program. But Ford likes what she sees from her squad so far.

“Our strength is our drive,” said Ford, who led her team to a seventh-place finish at the 2019 4A state tournament. “These girls are driven and wanting to learn and get better.”

Emmy Hansen, a junior outside hitter, has replaced Villaluz as the Papermakers’ (2-0) go-to player, while promising freshman libero Halle Reiter has taken the former Papermakers star’s position on the court.

“Halle is a hard worker and wants to get better every day at practices and games,” Ford said.

Ford will also rely on the contributions of her two seniors — defensive specialist Jessie Westby and outside hitter Grace Varsek, an all-4AGSHL first-team selection in 2019.

Washougal volleyball

New Washougal volleyball coach Kara Prynne has asked her players to concentrate on “four pillars” — working hard, making healthy choices, focusing only on things that they can control and having fun.

“If we do those things,” Prynne said, “the rest will fall into place.”

Washougal (1-3) is led by senior setter Erika Barnes, “a great leader and a great asset to have on the court,” according to Prynne, who served as a coach at Jemtegaard Middle School for the past two years before taking over for Mallorie Henker in the summer of 2020.

The Panthers’ nucleus also includes senior middle blocker Skylar Bea; junior outside hitter Jaiden Bea; senior middle blocker Lauren Bennett; senior defensive specialist Kyana Yun; junior setter/outside hitter Anna Poen; and junior libero Madeline King, a transfer from Idaho “who’s been a great addition to the team,” according to Prynne.

“We have a lot of girls who have played together for a long time on club teams,” Prynne said, “so they know each other really well, have fun and like to play together. All of our goals revolve around communication, getting to know each other, gaining flexibility to play different positions, having fun, and working hard, all of the things that are going to set us up well for what we want to do (in future seasons).”