Camas-Washougal hoops teams don’t let COVID keep them down

Despite pandemic’s recent impacts on players and coaches, three local teams rank among best in state

Three local high school basketball teams have not allowed COVID-19 — which has temporarily sidelined the majority of their players and coaches over the past few weeks — to impede their success during the 2021-22 season.

The Washougal girls boast a 9-2 record and a No. 4 ranking in the first 2A state girls poll, released earlier this month, while the Camas girls (10-5) are ranked seventh in the 4A state poll. The Papermakers boys squad has won 12 of 14 games and is ranked sixth.

“Everybody’s had to navigate on the fly,” said Camas boys coach Ryan Josephson. “It’s difficult, but it’s just the situation we’re in. I think all of the coaches and players understand that they have to be adaptable. My hat is off to the athletic directors around the state that are just trying to keep teams going and make this all possible, because it’s really a lot.”

The Washougal girls got hit hard by the virus in early January and had to postpone their Jan. 14 against Hockinson due to a lack of players.

“Once (COVID hits) your team, it starts taking girls out one by one,” Washougal coach Britney Ervin said. “It’s hitting us or has hit most of us already. It started on junior varsity, worked its way to varsity and is now working down to the C-team. It’s kind of hectic. You don’t know if games are going to be canceled, so every day we’re on the edge of our seats, waiting (to find out if) we’re going to play or practice. It’s definitely kept us on our toes.”

The Camas girls temporarily lost some of their players to the virus earlier in the season, but weren’t forced to postpone any of their games until Jan. 18, when they couldn’t take the court against Clackamas after head coach Scott Thompson and two assistant coaches tested positive for COVID-19.

Two of the Papermakers’ home games were postponed by their opponents, however. Camas, in fact, has only played two games in its gymnasium so far this season.

“I do think there’s a little bit of an impact from an anxiety standpoint when you’re testing three times a week,” Thompson said. “You pull into the parking lot and test before a big game, and you’re literally taking a deep breath before you (test) because you know if it shakes out wrong, you’re down three of your top five players and you have to play anyway. Your league title might be in the balance of your COVID test, not necessarily your preparation. It’s been challenging for sure.”

The Camas boys team’s non-league showdown against Glacier Peak, scheduled for Dec. 18, 2021, was canceled after multiple Grizzlies players tested positive for the virus, which also impacted the Papermakers’ slate of games at the prestigious Holiday Classic tournament in San Diego in late December.

Camas “took a week off” in early January due to a lack of coaches and players, postponing or canceling three scheduled contests.

“It’s a different dynamic because we weren’t sure if the season was going to happen last year, so the appreciation for what we were able to get was so strong, but as we were playing, there wasn’t really a doubt that the season was going to go away,” Josephson said.

“Now it’s a different dynamic because so much has returned to normal, at least in the sense of playing a game, but now there’s a danger of, could our season disappear as teams drop out? What’s going to happen with cases in our area? The guys are approaching (every game) like, ‘This is the most important game,’ because you don’t know what’s going to happen next week.”

Teams finding on-court success

Ervin believes that her team is capable of returning to the 2A state tournament for the first time since its title-winning season of 2019, citing a sense of urgency for the seniors who fell short of the tournament in 2020 and were denied an opportunity to return to the Yakima SunDome in 2021 due to the pandemic.

“We are making hustle plays,” Ervin said. “I think that every girl on the court is willing to sacrifice themselves for the team. They want to dive on those loose balls and make plays for each other. They’re all in it together. I think that’s been the biggest difference this year from previous years, when maybe (the players) didn’t really have the same mindset or same direction. (They didn’t play) for each other. This year it definitely feels different.”

Senior all-leaguers Jaiden Bea and Savea Mansfield are leading the Panthers in scoring, as expected, and other players, such as seniors Sammy Maderos and Carissa de la Rocha, junior Chloe Johnson and sophomore Bella Albaugh, have developed into a solid supporting core.

“Our seniors have always been great leaders, ever since they were freshmen. They just understand leadership, understand each other, and understand the bigger picture,” Ervin said. “And a lot of (the younger) players are growing and maturing, which I think has made a big difference. They’ve played those (big) games and know what their jobs are.”

On paper, the Camas girls are a very young team — eight of the Papermakers’ nine rotation players are underclassmen. But their age belies their experience, talent, focus and work ethic, qualities that have put them in a position to make a deep playoff run this season.

Camas’ overall record is relatively underwhelming for a would-be state title contender, but was affected by early-season losses to two of the best teams in Oregon and a top team from Ohio, and a loss to Tumwater, the top-ranked team in Washington’s 2A state poll.

“This team is incredibly focused. Every day I show up to coach them, they prepare like they’re trying to play for a state title,” Thompson said. “They play like this is very, very important to them. This team has grown more than any team I’ve been around. We look at those early December losses, and it’s like, we’re not that team anymore. We’re (10-5) right now, but we’re not a (10-5) team. We could’ve rolled these girls out on a softer schedule and be sitting here at (14-1) right now, but we just didn’t do that.”

Sophomore Addison Harris is averaging a team-leading 15 points per game, and lately she’s received help from sophomore Ava Smith, who has worked her way out of an early-season shooting slump to average 17 points per game in January.

Sophomore Reagan Jamison has also “had some great games,” according to Thompson, who added that the team “gets production from a lot of players in a lot of different ways.”

“These kids don’t need to work on their ball handling and their skill sets because they’re just really, really good. (They had to work on) the team stuff and the details,” Thompson said. “And here we are, (late)-January, getting ready to make a run, and we’re starting to excel at those. It’s going to be a special end-of-the-season. I feel like I’ve come to see the writing on the wall with this team, and they’re going to make a really, really good run down the stretch. If we get going, I just don’t think there’s very many teams in the state that can beat us.”

Josephson believes his team can compete for a league title — although Union, ranked second in the state poll, will certainly present a stiff challenge — and win playoff games thanks to its strong shooting ability and rugged defensive play.

“We can certainly shoot the ball pretty well, but I don’t think that’s what’s been leading us to victories, because we’ve certainly had plenty of off nights in terms of shooting the ball,” Josephson said. “What’s been allowing them to (succeed) is their defense. They put a lot of care into trying to protect the rim and applying pressure and fighting for everything. They play with an extreme amount of intensity and hustle, and they’re so much fun to watch because they’re really giving it their all each night they step out there.”

The Papermakers are led by senior forward Carson Frawley, one of the best pure scorers in Clark County. He tied a 58-year-old school record for points in a game by scoring 43 during Camas’ win over Evergreen on Jan. 18.

He’s supported by junior guard Theo McMillan, who’s “filling up the stat sheets with rebounds, assists and steals on a regular basis,” according to Josephson.

“It’s funny to say that (Carson) actually had a slow start, because he still had multiple games scoring 20 points,” Josephson said. “But I think we all knew what he was capable of, and it’s really starting to manifest. He’s just finding a new level as the season progresses, and he’s going to carry us as we move forward through the remainder of the season. And Theo is the catalyst for the energy on this team. His play motivates everybody else to play that much harder. He really does it all in terms of powering us defensively and also organizing us on offense.”