‘High expectations’ for local athletes as fall prep sports get underway

Coaches predict good times ahead for Washougal volleyball, Camas boys golf, Washougal cross country teams

Washougal volleyball player Samantha Jackson (right) returns a serve as Madeline King looks on during an intrasquad scrimmage at Washougal High School on on Aug. 31, 2021. The Panthers volleyball team began its 2021 season with a match against Ridgefield on Sept. 7.

Doug Flanagan/Post-Record Washougal volleyball players celebrate after winning a set during an intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 31 at Washougal High School. The Panthers began their 2021 season with a match against Ridgefield on Sept. 7. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

After a tumultuous 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prep sports in Camas-Washougal are off to a more normal start this fall. Following is a preview of three local teams — Washougal volleyball, Camas boys golf and Washougal cross country — that have set their aspirations high for the 2021 prep sports season:

Washougal volleyball

After Juno Cruz stepped down as Rainier Christian (Auburn, Washington) High School’s head volleyball coach earlier this year, he told himself that he would apply for literally the first available coaching job he could find.

The first position he discovered was at Washougal High School. Even though Cruz didn’t know much about the city, the school or the players, he followed through on his commitment to “go 100 percent, no matter where (the job) is.”

He’s hoping to bring similar enthusiasm to his role as the Panthers’ new head volleyball coach.

“I love it here,” Cruz said. “Everybody has been so kind and awesome. They’ve treated me so well. I’m super excited.”

The Washougal volleyball team went 3-7 (1-7 2A Greater St. Helens League) in the abbreviated 2020 season and 3-11 (2-10) in their last full campaign in 2019, and are now being led by their third head coach in the past four years. But Cruz believes that his team, which consists of mostly upperclassmen, can turn into a “Cinderella story” this fall and qualify for postseason play.

“This might be premature, but I’d say we can get into at least the top four (in league),” said Cruz, who has 17 years of coaching experience at the high school and club level in Florida and Washington. “The last banner is from 1989. I told them that our goal this year is to just get something up there, no matter what, and their mindset is, ‘Let’s do it.’ I’ve always been someone who strives no matter what I do, no matter where I coach. I push the girls to be their best, and they’re living up to it. I have high expectations.”

The team is being led by outside hitter Anna Poen, middle blocker Aspen Olsen, libero Madeline King and setter Riley Harding.

“Those (players) are going to be the foundation,” Cruz said. “I think Madeline is actually a top-10 libero in the state. She’s really good. I’m surprised she’s not being recruited. Aspen is really good; I’m surprised she’s not being recruited. They have an opportunity to play at the next level. And Riley is going to do well.”

The Panthers opened their season at home against Ridgefield on Sept. 7.

Camas boys golf

The Camas boys golf team has dominated the 4A Greater St. Helens League over the past two years, winning every one of its league matches, as well as two district tournaments. Papermakers golf coach Ed Givens believes his squad has the potential to finish on top once again this fall.

“It should be an OK year,” Givens said. “We’re pretty deep. I have seven returning lettermen, and all of them are ready to step in. My seven returning players could play varsity for anybody. I’m pretty excited. I think I’ve got a pretty good team.”

Camas will be led by juniors Eli Huntington and Evan Chen, two of Clark County’s top players who have hopes of placing highly at the 4A state tournament in the spring of 2022. But Givens is equally excited about the potential of the rest of his squad, which includes Easton Rheaume, Drew Scott and Leo Cassel.

“Eli is really good and Evan is really good,” Givens said. “Drew Scott has really stepped it up, and Easton Rheaume is really ready to (take off).”

The Papermakers placed first in a jamboree event that featured most of their 4A GSHL rivals at Tri-Mountain Golf Course on Aug. 30, a strong indicator they are entering the new season as the team to beat.

“I think we’re going to do well this year,” said Huntington. “Obviously, we lost some (experienced golfer) from last year, but I think we’re still going to be really good. Everyone’s putting in the work.”

The Papermakers began their season Sept. 2, against Mountain View at Camas Meadows Golf Course.

Washougal cross country

This season could be the start of something special for Washougal cross country, some of whom have already made their mark among the state’s best.

“The girls are definitely excited for the state meet. They’re hoping to do really well,” Panthers cross country coach Tracey Stinchfield said. “The boys are looking forward to it as well. They feel like they’ve got some potential there to do really well. These kids have the potential to do some incredible things, this year and next.”

The Panthers have two of the top runners in the state on the girls side in sophomore Elle Thomas and junior Sydnee Boothby. Both of them could finish in the top five — or even higher — at the 2A state meet in November.

Thomas lived up to her “phenom” reputation during her freshman campaign, setting a personal record of 18 minutes, 19 seconds at the 2A GSHL meet, then finishing second at the 2A District 1 meet. Boothby, who placed 26th at the 2019 2A state meet, ran a personal-best 18:23.8 at last season’s league meet, nearly a minute faster than her best time from her freshman season.

“Elle is still looking so strong and loving every minute of running, and Sydnee is stepping up and pushing her, which is fantastic. They are neck-and-neck in a lot of races, which is great,” Stinchfield said. “I’m really excited to see what they can pull off this year. They finished so strong last year and stayed healthy all summer and ran all summer and hit the ground running at every practice we’ve had so far. It’s going to be fun to see how far these two girls go.”

The Panthers’ hopes of winning a team title at the 2A state meet took a hit when Jamie Maas declined to turn out for the squad, but Stinchfield is counting on runners like senior Savea Mansfield, junior Chloe Johhnson, and sophomores Danica Stinchfield and Aubrey Grice to fill the void and round out the varsity lineup.

“It’s going to be a little bit tricky,” Stinchfield said. “We did lose (Maas), one of our really fast runners, but we’ve got a few coming in right behind where she was, and I’m hoping they’ll come in and fill her spot. We were sad to lose (Maas), and that was definitely a hit to our team, but hopefully I’ll get one of the other girls to take over for her.”

Sophomore Samuel Grice will assume the role of No. 1 runner once again for the boys team after a stellar freshman campaign in 2020, which he completed by running a personal-best 16:13 at the 2A District 1 meet to take third place.

“He finished really strong last year, ran well all summer and is coming back healthy and strong. It’s going to be exciting to watch him,” Stinchfield said. “He would love to be in that top 10 (at the state meet). That’s definitely his goal while in high school. He has that potential.”

Junior Trey Keyser and freshman William Logan will start the season as the team’s Nos. 2 and 3 runners.

“Trey is coming on really strong, and William has shown a lot of potential if we can get him reigned in,” Stinchfield said. “Then I’ve got three other guys who are just pushing each other, and it’s so fun to watch how at every practice they want to push each other to do better and pull each other along.”