Commentary: Championship moments from a second-place team

Reporter Paul Valencia said this is the image he will remember the most from the 2023 Camas Papermakers, in victory, or in defeat, always together, always supporting one another. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Reporter Paul Valencia said this is the image he will remember the most from the 2023 Camas Papermakers, in victory, or in defeat, always together, always supporting one another. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

The Camas Papermakers showed grace in their run to the state finals

Paul Valencia
Clark County Today

Always remember.

I’ll remember the grace they showed right after the championship game, when asked to perform one of the most difficult tasks in high school sports.

I’ll remember the greeting, two fingers raised up to their eyes, and how this gesture that meant nothing meant everything.

Paul Valencia

I’ll remember being taken to school — basketball school — by one of their leaders, a teenager with a veteran coach’s mentality.

I’ll remember the championship game, how they failed — on the scoreboard but nowhere else.

I write about these memories because I fully expect to be watching this Camas girls basketball team go back to the WIAA’s Class 4A state tournament next March and go on another run.

I want to remember these things next year if — when? — these Papermakers complete the job and bring home a state championship.

There is no guarantee that it will happen. The only guarantee is the players will be doing everything they can to make it happen.

It’s my job to remember.

Last week, the Camas Papermakers helped me understand just what it takes to be an elite basketball team. They allowed me extra access. I was in the hotel lobby for player interviews throughout the three days in Tacoma. Practices. Team meals. In the stands of the Tacoma Dome as they waited to play. In the locker room for pre-game. In the locker for post-game. Win or lose. 

Later this week, we will be posting a video of those three days in Tacoma, to show you the spirit of the Papermakers.

But here, I must share the thoughts of Class 4A Greater St. Helens League co-Player of the Year Addison Harris. This was an off-camera interview and won’t be in the video. 

Addison Harris, shown here in the state semifinals, had a huge second half in that game. In foul trouble, she was on the bench for much of the first half, but, it turns out, she had a strong performance from the bench, too. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Addison Harris, shown here in the state semifinals, had a huge second half in that game. In foul trouble, she was on the bench for much of the first half, but, it turns out, she had a strong performance from the bench, too. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

In the semifinals on Friday, Harris spent most of the first half on the bench. She had picked up two fouls in less than three minutes. After the game, I asked:

“What are your thoughts when you’re sitting there (on the bench) and you can’t help your team right then?”

Harris didn’t miss a beat, and she did not agree with the premise of the question.

“I CAN help my team right then,” she said emphatically. 

“You just cheer louder. You’re up on your feet clapping. Even when you’re not on the court, you’re still part of this team. You have to pay attention, knowing what’s going on in there.”

Harris and every Papermaker not in the game are encouraging those on the floor. 

Harris also knew that she’d be back in the game soon enough. Being relegated to the bench is no excuse to check out mentally.

“Bench scouting is what I like to call it,” Harris said. “You’re envisioning yourself succeeding the entire time on the bench so you’re not getting down on yourself. And you just support your teammates. That’s what you can do.”

Harris would return to the floor and scored all 12 of her points in the second half, including eight Camas points in a row in the third quarter.

The Papermakers lift each other up all the time. Some are big moments, such as the player of the year picking up two fouls in three minutes and a teammate filling in that role admirably.

Other times, it’s a simple move that might go unnoticed, unless one was looking for it.

Before the Papermakers played their first game in the dome Thursday, coaches told me how often these players pick one another up without being told by a coach. The “I-got-your-back” philosophy is contagious. 

There was a simple inbound play. A Papermaker threw a ball that was deflected out of bounds again. Not a good pass. It happens. As she was about to receive the ball from the official for another attempt, teammate Kendall Mairs came over and said, “I got this.”

Mairs did not need to do this. And the one who threw the first bad pass would have done the job. But after one bad pass, it might get in her head a bit. No one wants to make two bad passes in a row. So Mairs stepped in. 

No drama. No hard feelings. Mairs just didn’t want her teammate to feel any unnecessary stress.

Those moments happened all season with this team.

Then there are some silly moments. For example, a couple of teammates started greeting each other by raising two fingers to their eyes, with a smile. Soon, the whole team was doing it. Then the student body. It spread. What does it mean? Nothing. But it became their thing at the end of this season, so, yes, it meant everything.

I’ll also recall how the players handled a most difficult task: The second-place trophy presentation.

Every year, in just a matter of seconds after the game concludes, the WIAA asks players from the losing squad to gather at midcourt for a photo op. Every year, the second-place team has to do this, while the championship team is just off to the side, in euphoria. 

The players didn’t want to be there, but they managed to smile through their tears. They also invited the Camas cheerleaders to join them. 

It was pure class.

The Papermakers then left the court to take the long walk back to the locker room.

Photographer Heather Tianen took a shot that I’ll remember forever. Coach Scott Thompson is trailing his team, and we see ahead of him, the players

Notice, they are not just walking as individuals. They have their arms around one another.

In victory. 

In defeat. 

Together.

The 2023 Camas Papermakers.


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