Volleyball: A chat with the new state champions from Columbia River


The Rapids relive their championship moment, as well as the following days after their epic accomplishment

It’s the rush of the Rapids, bringing wave after wave of championship emotions to Columbia River High School.

Columbia River has won 20 team state titles in various sports throughout its long history, but this past weekend, the Columbia River volleyball team won the school’s first team title … as the Rapids.

The Columbia River volleyball team showe off the state championship trophy in front of the school this week. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Columbia River volleyball team show off the state championship trophy in front of the school this week. Photo by Paul Valencia

On Tuesday, we sat down with members of the team to discuss the final match, the rivalry with Ridgefield, and all the emotions that victory brings in the days after a championship season comes to an end.

“It’s going to be a huge legacy,” said senior Aaliyah Turner. “This is our first state championship since the mascot change. That’s super big for my school. It kind of sets our team apart. It’s a great representation of our school. Even after that change and the difficult process … of having to adapt. That identity loss and identity crisis, almost. It allowed us to find a way and come together and not only do it for us, but do it for our school.”

In order to win it for the school, these Rapids had to get past one worthy opponent. 

The Class 2A state tournament was destined to come down to Columbia River vs. Ridgefield. 

Ridgefield beat River in the first match earlier this season in 2A Greater St. Helens League play. River responded in the second match, ending Ridgefield’s long win streak that dated back to 2018. 

The two teams squared off again at the district tournament, and Columbia River won in five sets.

That gave the Rapids the No. 1 seed in the WIAA state tournament. Ridgefield, the two-time defending state champions, ended up as a No. 3, but c’mon, we all knew these two teams would meet again.

River swept its first three opponents at state. So did Ridgefield. The championship match was set.

Ridgefield seemed poised to take the first set, up 23-20.

Nope.

The Rapids got a point to regain the serve. Sasha Pelkey stepped to the line.

“In that moment, you just take a deep breath and really trust you are going to make your serve,” Pelkey said.

She did her job, the Rapids got two more points to tie, then two more for the first set.

“It really hypes the entire team up and boosts everybody’s confidence,” Pelkey said.

The Rapids took control of the second set midway through the action and cruised to a 25-16 victory to go up 2-0.

The Spudders played like defending champions in the third set, getting back in the match with a 25-20 win.

Then Ridgefield seemed poised to take it to a fifth set, leading 23-19 in the fourth.

Columbia River was having none of that fifth-set talk. The Rapids made it 23-20, then setter Caroline Hansen stepped to the service line. No one else would serve for the rest of this match.

“I wasn’t really even thinking about the serve,” she said. “I know it’s going to get in, and I know I have to make a decently hard serve, but at the same time, I was really focusing on who I’m going to set next and who I can trust with the ball for hitting it down on the other side.”

Point. Point. Point. Point. And championship point.

Rylie Reeves got the kill to win the state title. 

“I have to get the kill. I need to put it down on their side now,” Reeves said of her mindset on that final rally. “Previously in practice, we had been working on swiping tips off the block. I thought it was the perfect time to use it because it’s basically a kill every time.”

Practice makes for a championship.

“It was kind of surreal. We were all like, wow, did that just really happen?” Reeves said. “Did we come back from that big deficit to win without going over 25? It felt amazing.”

“It was a fever dream,” Hansen said of that final point. “It was the most exciting moment of my high school career.”

The state trophies were placed near the front entrance of the school, for students and staff to celebrate the Columbia River volleyball team. The squad became the first team to win a state title for Columbia River since becoming the Rapids. Photo by Paul Valencia
The state trophies were placed near the front entrance of the school, for students and staff to celebrate the Columbia River volleyball team. The squad became the first team to win a state title for Columbia River since becoming the Rapids. Photo by Paul Valencia

Winning a state title is huge, no matter the opponent. Taking down Ridgefield made it extra sweet for the Rapids. After all, the Spudders had reigned in Washington since 2018. 

“That first loss we had against them this season, we needed that,” Hansen said. “That is where we saw our faults. That’s where we saw how we need to come together more as a team.”

On championship Saturday, the Rapids noticed the signs from Ridgefield’s fans.

“At least we don’t live in Hazel Dell.”

“Cry me a River.”

And also … “Three-peat.”

The Rapids said that fired them up even more. Especially the three-peat sign. Nope. Not this year, the Rapids said.

The team celebrated on court, then headed to Dairy Queen for some Blizzards and chicken strips.

“It was actually really fun because we got to reminisce as a team,” sophomore Lauren Dreves said. “I don’t think it really would have mattered where we went because we were together. It was just really fun.”

Three vans brought home the championship team to Vancouver from Yakima late Saturday night. Most of the Rapids had no time to take it all in.

“A lot of us had tryouts for club ball (on Sunday),” said Cora-jean Harding. “We had to get home really late and wake up early the next day to go play more volleyball.”

“It’s always worth winning state,” freshman Sydney Dreves said. “We all knew we had tryouts the next day, but we all wanted to play our hardest to win state. That’s the main goal.”

At least one player did not have club tryouts. 

“I retired my volleyball shoes,” senior Tatum McDowell said.

She says she might play volleyball recreationally, but that was it for competitive volleyball. She is going out as a state champion.

Come Monday, it was a triumphant return to school. Teachers and students congratulated the athletes. One teacher played the song “We are the Champions” as volleyball players entered the classroom.

“A lot of little things make you feel good,” Lauren Dreves said.

“It was really rewarding to come back and to know that our teachers and our classmates were really supporting us and were cheering for us the entire time,” Pelkey said. “Even if they weren’t there (in Yakima) they were all on the livestreams, watching our games.”

“I had teachers who were at events on Saturday. They had text threads with each other, keeping everybody updated,” said junior Sophie Worden. “Point. Point. Point.”

Columbia River volleyball players signed volleyballs, the state bracket, and a program Tuesday, all part of the program’s way of remembering the historic, state championship season. Photo by Paul Valencia
Columbia River volleyball players signed volleyballs, the state bracket, and a program Tuesday, all part of the program’s way of remembering the historic, state championship season. Photo by Paul Valencia

This was the volleyball team’s third state title in program history and first since 2000.

“It will mean a lot to the school,” Reeves said. “Any time you walk into the gym, you’re going to see our banner. You’ll remember this team because of what we accomplished this year.”

Columbia River volleyball, coached by Breanne Smedley, went 23-1 in 2021, with that state championship. 

Let that sink in for a minute.

“It will stick with us forever,” Pelkey said. “Life itself hasn’t really changed but it’s a really nice feeling to have that accomplishment in our back pocket. We’ll be able to reminisce on all those good memories, in the game and after, and our entire season.”

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Democrats are Evil
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Democrats are Evil
2 days ago

Way to go River! Or, should I say, Rapids!!

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