All of Southwest Washington’s high school sports seasons have been shorter than usual during the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2A Greater St. Helens League’s winter campaign, which begins this week, will be the shortest of them all.
The league’s boys and girls wrestling seasons will most likely be less than one month long, replacing traditional dual meets with multi-team “round-robin” events, according to Washougal boys wrestling coach John Carver.
“This is the quickest (season),” Panthers girls wrestling coach Heather Carver said. “They really want to make sure those seniors won’t have any chance of contamination before graduation, and rightly so. That’s the big prize in the end if we look at the perspective of things. We love winning at Washougal, but there’s more important things.”
The league’s basketball seasons are currently slated to extend into June, and to pack a lot of action into a one-month window.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Washougal boys basketball coach AJ LaBree. “We play four days in five days (this) week, and the rest of the season it’s pretty much a game every other day. It’ll be interesting. It’s going to be about staying healthy and keeping legs fresh. Depth is going to be an issue, but everybody’s dealing with the same thing. The guys are doing the best they can, trying to stay in shape.”
The Washougal girls basketball team has dominated the 2A GSHL during the past five years, winning 55 of its 60 league games. Thanks to another star-packed roster, the Panthers’ dominance should continue this spring.
“I think this team is going to be a lot of fun,” Washougal girls basketball coach Britney Ervin said. “They’re very fast, very athletic, run-and-gun and really aggressive on defense. Anyone who watches the games is really going to enjoy it.”
The Panthers will be led by three highly decorated players who boast significant big-game experience with Washougal as well as their club teams. Senior Skylar Bea has signed a letter of intent to continue her career at the University of Idaho. Junior Jaiden Bea recently received an offer to play for the United States Air Force Academy. And Savea Mansfield has been ranked as one of the best class-of-2022 shooting guards in the state by Prep Girls Hoops Washington.
“I’m excited to see what (Skylar can do) this year, because I think she has more in the tank that she’s going to show us,” Ervin said. “And I’m excited to see Jaiden and Savea as upperclassmen. They grew a ton over the summer — they’ve gotten stronger, they’ve grown taller, they’ve developed so many other areas of their games, and mentally they’re coming in expecting to be top dogs instead of fighting for scraps.”
A pair of talented sophomores — Chloe Johnson and Sammy Mederos — will round out the starting five.
The Washougal boys basketball team hopes to build on its breakthrough 2019-20 season, when it tied for second place in the 2A GSHL and qualified for the 2A District 4 tournament.
“We have high expectations,” LaBree said. “I think we have a talented team, but eligibility and depth will mean a lot. Our goal is to play as many games as we can, and at the end of everything we’d like to be in the playoff bracket rather than the consolation bracket. We’re still playing to win and want to finish as high as we can.”
Sophomore guard Yanni Fassilis, a second-team all-league selection in 2020, is the Panthers’ top returning scorer. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by a trio of seniors — point guard Aaron Ackman and posts Gabriel Kent and Tristan Farrell.
“(Gabriel and Tristan) are 6-foot-5 and physical. If you put them out there with Yanni, at 6-3 and 200-whatever pounds, that’s a lot of meat on the court,” LaBree said. “Yanni is a special talent. He’s working hard and looks better than ever. Aaron has had some rotten luck with health over the last few years. He’s been on the varsity since his sophomore year and it’s finally his turn to be the point guard and run the show.”
LaBree is also excited about freshmen “impact players” Holden Bea and Sam Evers.
The Washougal girls wrestling team has “a couple of experienced wrestlers and a lot of kids who are learning,” according to coach Heather Carver.
The experience comes in the form of senior Melina Aguillar and junior Lacey Klopman, both of whom competed at Mat Classic XXXII in 2020.
“For Melina, this is her year,” Carver said. “(She has) all of those intangibles that every great wrestler has. She’s totally self-motivated, always asking to learn more. And I’m really looking forward to Lacey coming into her own, because she’d make it to the cusp and it seemed like she’d underperform a little bit. I think she didn’t believe she could or should be in a position to win at certain levels. Now I think, through summer wrestling and clinics and practicing, that she’s ready.”
Carver also expects freshmen Kiersten Lees and Alaina Kestner to make immediate impacts, and junior Lillian Mucha and sophomore Natalie Logan to continue to improve in the hopes of qualifying for the state tournament in 2022.
“Lillian by all rights could (make a leap this year),” she said. “She is wiry but has natural strength. She is fearless and fun to watch. She just goes 100 miles per hour. Natalie was a match away from qualifying for state last year as well as a freshman. She has a jiu-jitsu background, so she’s not afraid of grappling. She’s like a little lion heart. She’ll just keep going.”
Even in a vastly different season, the Washougal boys wrestling team’s goal remains the same — win a league championship. Coach John Carver believes his squad is capable of achieving that feat, but might not enter the season as the overwhelming favorite, as was the case in previous years.
“I think that our group will compete fine with anybody that we wrestle,” he said. “We have won nine league championships in a row, so we do have a little bit of tradition on our side, but we always try to focus on, ‘It’s a new year, and everybody’s always gunning for us, wanting to take us down.’ We’ve had a few injuries at the upper end, so we’re losing three pretty good guys that we counted for a lot of points, so this might be the year that somebody else might be going, ‘Hey, we might be able to take them down.'”
Senior Henry Jones brought home a medal from the 2020 Mat Classic XXXII, taking eighth place in the 2A 195-pound bracket. Skylar Boothby, Luke Golphenee, Hayden Jones, Blake Mattern and Stephen Warren also return after qualifying for the 2020 state tournament.
“We’re trying to build around (them),” the coach said. “The two brothers, Brody and Caleb Davis, we’re looking at them to step up. Fischer Lees hasn’t made it to state yet, but this (season) could be his breakthrough. Ryan Langston last year really put in a solid freshman season, and we’re looking to see some great things (from him), along with Dustin Lee and Garrett Mansfield. Those three will show us a lot of ability as sophomores this year. And there’s some real promise in the freshman class.”