The 2021 season was a very good one for the Washougal High School cross country program. The 2022 campaign could be even better.
The Panthers’ girls and boys squads both competed at the 2021 2A state meet, with the girls taking third place thanks to a pair of top-10 finishes. And the majority of the runners from both teams return this fall.
“I think if all the kids stay healthy, we are stronger than last year and have even more potential, which is pretty exciting,” Washougal coach Tracey Stinchfield said. “For the girls, I’m really hoping for something similar (as last year). The boys, we did not see their full potential last year. They walked away from the state (meet) quite disappointed. I think that if things go well, they definitely have the potential to do much better.”
The Panthers’ girls team will once again be led by junior Elle Thomas and senior Sydnee Boothby, two of the best runners in the state. Thomas placed sixth at the 2021 state meet, and Boothby took ninth place.
“I know they both want to definitely get higher on that podium this season,” Stinchfield said. “They definitely have worked hard all summer and are really hoping to improve.”
Freshman Gracie Perry has earned a spot as Washougal’s No. 3 runner. Emily Swigert, Audrey Grice, Danica Stinchfied and Lauren Filipczak will fill the remaining positions for most meets.
“Grace is coming in really fast. It may be a little too soon to tell (how good she will be), but the potential is definitely there,” Stinchfield said. “One of the cool things about the other four girls is that they really work together and push each other. We do a lot of ‘pack’ running where they help each other. They just kind of take turns in turns of who’s really ‘feeling it’ that day and who’s going to take the lead. It’s a really great example of teamwork as they help each other out.”
On the boys’ side, junior Samuel Grice has taken a step forward and is performing at a level that indicates that he has the potential to do much better than his 11th-place state meet finish from a year ago.
“The sky’s the limit for him right now,” Tracey Stinchfield said. “He is feeling great and working hard. I would not be surprised at all to see him right there at the top of that podium if things continue to go the way they have for him. Hopefully, that will be the case.”
The rest of the Panthers’ lineup includes Carson Holmes, William Logan, Trey Keyser, Liam Churchman, Gavin Haynese and Nolan Johnson.
“Behind Samuel right now, they’re all kind of scrambling to get those spots, which is great,” Tracey Stinchfield said. “Boys get motivated by competing with one another, and so it’s been fun watching them go back and forth, and take turns to take the lead. William was real solid last year, but he got injured, so he didn’t get to compete with us at state. But he’s feeling great this year, so it’s going to be fun to see how far he can go.”
Michael Minnis is the new coach for the Washougal boys golf team, replacing Greg Lewis.
“I’m not a pro by any stretch of the imagination, but I know the basics and I know how to teach and I know how to inspire kids,” he said. “All of my varsity players for the most part are better players than I am, but I have a passion for golf, and I can see things in the swing and see things in their thinking and help them manage the game emotionally, and I think so far (all of that has) paid off. We’ve had a great start so far.”
Keegan Payne, a 2021 2A state meet participant, returns, as does Brayden Kassel. Newcomers Mason Acker and Mather Minnis give the Panthers a solid quartet that will keep them competitive in plenty of matches this fall.
“We really do have a solid group of kids,” Michael Minnis said. “I think every single one of my varsity guys has an opportunity to get (to the state tournament), and that’s not me being (overly optimistic). I’m convinced of that. I’ve seen them all play. I think that if they can learn how to compete and relax and enjoy the time out there, I think that not only will you see the team scores drop, but the door will also open up for them to receive that invitation.”
Courtney Wilkinson, the Washougal volleyball team’s fourth coach in the past five years, is hoping to bring some stability to a program that’s in desperate need of continuity and a consistent direction.
“I’ve actually coached almost all of them before, so I came into it knowing what the talent was,” said Wilkinson, who coaches the Washougal-based River Warriors cub team and previously coached at Jemtegaard Middle School for 10 years. “I think we’ve just needed a culture. I want them to love volleyball, and I know a lot of them do, but I think it starts at the foundational level and goes all the way up in the program. That’s my long-term goal, that we would start to build something. I know it’s possible here. We have a lot of good athletes. I know we can compete. There are good things happening. It’s going to be a building process. It’s not going to happen overnight. But I’m in it for the long haul.”
The team returns eight seniors, including outside hitter/middle blocker Aspen Olson, who sat out the first two weeks of the season while recovering from a foot injury but is ready to prove that she belongs in conversations about the best players in Clark County.
“She’s already getting offers to go play (in college). She’s just a powerhouse,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve been looking for Riley Harding, my senior center, to be a leader. And Allie Reyes-Cruz has been really helping the offense with her passing. But I think all the seniors coming together and really working as a team, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m super proud of them and a little sentimental, I guess, because they’ve been through so much, and I know how hard they’ve worked.”
Wilkinson is hoping the team can finish “at least where (it) did last year,” when it placed sixth in the eight-team 2A Greater St. Helens League and ended up with a 7-13 overall record.
“We’re very strong defensively, and serving is one of our top strengths, so I think if we can attack from that perspective, (that would be great),” Wilkinson said. “I think what we’re going to have to work on is our offense, our hitting, (getting our) hitters to be more proficient. They’re still trying to figure some of these things out. Hitting is going to be our opportunity (to get better).”
The fact that the Washougal girls soccer team hasn’t won the 2A GSHL or advanced to the 2A state tournament during the past several years has more to do with the quality of the league than the Panthers themselves; in two of the past three seasons, three 2A GSHL teams qualified for the state tournament semifinal round.
But Washougal coach Kristin Beauchamp believes her team is capable of joining the league’s elite tier this fall.
“We historically have been right below those top teams in the standings, and we just feel like this could be our year,” said Beauchamp, who led the Panthers to a 12-8 record in 2021, her first year at the helm. “We really want to break through and show that we are as good as any other team in this league. We believe in ourselves, and we believe that we can compete with any team in our league. Ultimately, we want to be one of the top teams at the end of the season, and we’d love to make it to the state playoffs. We were so close last year, one game away.”
Defense should be one of Washougal’s main strengths this fall, with three-year starting defenders Ella Morris, Bre Alldrin and Anna Chaffee leading the way, along with returning all-league goalkeeper Makenzie Gehrke.
“Makenzie has this special factor about her that I don’t think is necessarily coached — it’s just you have it or you don’t,” Beauchamp said. “She just steps up and makes the big saves when we need her to. In our first game against Battle Ground, she had nine saves, and some of those saves were very impressive — girls were right in front of the goal and somehow she blocked the shot. She just kind of has this ‘it’ factor of being clutch when we need her. She just steps up and makes those big saves. Everyone trusts her, and the backline plays with more confidence knowing that she’s back there to support them.”
The Panthers’ offense, meanwhile, will have a different look after losing Lauren Rabus, the league’s leading scorer in 2021, to graduation. But Beauchamp has confidence in several players, including senior forwards Sydnee Momakov and Olivia Buck, senior midfielder Jaden Leonard and junior midfielder Jamie Maas, to fill in the gap.
“I do see us having a more balanced offense, and I’m excited to see if anyone’s going to kind of step up into that leading goal-scoring role,” she said. “But right now, I think it’s great to have options. We have a number of different options that I think could, on any given day, step up and score a goal.”