Champion volleyball rivals in high school to team up, become roommates in college

Caroline Hansen, left, and Emily Vossenkuhl were fierce rivals in high school while friends off the volleyball court. Hansen, a graduate from Columbia River, and Vossenkuhl, a graduate from Ridgefield, both won state championships in their high school days. Now they are teaming up and will be roommates at Western Washington University. Photo by Paul Valencia
Caroline Hansen, left, and Emily Vossenkuhl were fierce rivals in high school while friends off the volleyball court. Hansen, a graduate from Columbia River, and Vossenkuhl, a graduate from Ridgefield, both won state championships in their high school days. Now they are teaming up and will be roommates at Western Washington University. Photo by Paul Valencia

Columbia River and Ridgefield graduates looking forward to joining forces at Western Washington University

They had known each other for a few years but really got close just before the pandemic.

Caroline Hansen and Emily Vossenkuhl really like each other. 

Their high school teams? Not so much.

In the regular season this past season, win or lose, they would find each other after a match to say hello.

At district and state, though? Not so much.

The rivalry was too intense.

It was Columbia River vs. Ridgefield. Ridgefield vs. Columbia River.

The two best volleyball teams in the state just happened to be in the same league … pretty much neighbors.

The Spudders cannot stand the Rapids.

The Rapids cannot stand the Spudders.

Just the way it is, right?

On the court, true. 

But off the court? There is a deep respect for one another. Any athlete good enough, strong enough, dedicated enough to compete for these programs has a love for volleyball that any competitor can appreciate.

Hansen and Vossenkuhl see that in each other.

Soon, they will experience that passion for volleyball on the same team, as roommates in college.

This Rapid and this Spudder have combined forces and will be playing for Western Washington University in Bellingham.

“Caroline has a really good energy. It always impressed me how she carries that on to the court,” Vossenkuhl said. “That’s something that is hard for me to do, so I kind of look up to her for that.”

“I’m so excited. We’re going to be great roommates,” Hansen said. “We’re going to balance each other out. Voss has a very calm energy. I’m very loud and energetic. She has a way of calming me.”

They have been teammates before, in club ball, getting to know each other in the months just prior to the pandemic. In high school competition, they were fierce rivals.

Ridgefield won back-to-back state titles in 2018 and 2019. Vossenkuhl was on varsity as a sophomore for the 2019 crown. There was no state tournament in 2020, but Ridgefield did go undefeated in the abbreviated pandemic season.

Columbia River, meanwhile, was always trying to keep up with the Spudders, but coming up just a bit short. River finished fourth in state 2018 and seventh in 2019.

This school year belonged to Columbia River.

Not at first, though. Ridgefield won the initial regular-season matchup.

“We always lost to them because we let Ridgefield get in our heads a lot,” Hansen said.

Still, that match was necessary for Columbia River.

“We all got closer after that big loss. Ridgefield, that night, had a ton of energy. They were on it,” Hansen said. “It was a rough game. Honestly, that game helped us move on.”

For the Spudders, it was business as usual. Columbia River, while a great team, was just the little sister trying to overtake the big sister. For the longest time, the Spudders weren’t having any of it.

“It was fierce,” Vossenkuhl said of the rivalry and the words. “Oftentimes I would get frustrated because my team would trash on River 24/7. ‘OK, let’s get past this.’ Definitely a lot of ‘River Rats’ thrown around. There was a lot of tension.”

The second meeting of the regular season went Columbia River’s way. The result snapped Ridgefield’s 51-match win streak that dated back nearly three years. For River, it was all about … finally.

“We talked about them all the time. Spudders? Potatoes? Why are we focusing on them so much?” Hansen said. “That’s what got us to win. We got to the point, ‘Let’s stop focusing on them. Let’s focus on ourselves and play our game.’”

The two teams would meet again at district and, later, in the state championship match.

Again, it was Columbia River’s time.

“It was the best. Just to be able to go out there, knowing we worked so hard,” Hansen said. “That game was proving a point. We got this. Those games that we won? They weren’t flukes. We deserved this.”

A tough loss for Vossenkuhl and the Spudders. But months later, she has come to terms with the result.

“All in all, it was still a really great year for me,” Vossenkuhl said. “I had fun bringing up younger girls on our team and rebuilding more of the Ridgefield program. It sucks to lose, but I remember the feeling of winning a state title so I’m also really happy they could experience that.”

Again, the rivalry is on the court, during the heated matches. But deep down, there is a love for volleyball that both programs share.

“I think we have a really great appreciation for Ridgefield. If we didn’t have Ridgefield, volleyball wouldn’t have been as fun,” Hansen said. “That was our challenge.”

Now these champions will team up in college. Vossenkuhl said yes to Western Washington before her senior season at Ridgefield. It will be a full-circle moment for her. Back in grade school, she attended a St. Martin’s University match against Western Washington. Vossenkuhl was particularly impressed with one of the Vikings.

“I turned to my mom and said, ‘I want to hit like that one day.’”

Hansen picked Western Washington after her senior season at Columbia River. She was impressed with the program when the Rapids visited Western during a summer camp prior to her sophomore year. Later, the Vikings reached out to Hansen. It was a perfect match.

Soon, it would be time to figure out living arrangements on campus. 

There was one more perfect match to be made.

Caroline Hansen and Emily Vossenkuhl.

Two club teammates. 

Two fierce rivals in high school. 

Two champions. 

One friendship.


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