Prairie dreams of another state title, while Camas wants a return trip to the Tacoma Dome
BRUSH PRAIRIE — There are two words that stand out on the cover of the program for the Prairie girls basketball team this season.
The Falcons were not satisfied with the result last winter. Oh sure, they made it to the state round of 16 for the 20th consecutive season. But that is as far as they got, and that simply was not acceptable to them.
“We’re coming back better and more determined than ever to make it to the dome and win a championship,” junior Brooke Walling said Wednesday night after helping Prairie to a 55-41 victory over Camas — a team that did reach the Tacoma Dome last winter.
“Our business was unfinished last year, so we are carrying it over to this year,” Walling added.
“Unfinished business” is the rallying cry for the Falcons, who expect to cruise to another Class 3A Greater St. Helens League title this season.
In the 4A GSHL, Camas hopes for a repeat performance from a year ago when the Papermakers won the league title, advanced to the state round of 16 for the third time this decade, and then did even better, advancing to the Tacoma Dome. Camas won its opener there, making it to the state quarterfinals.
Camas senior Courtney Clemmer said the team has improved every year since her freshman year, earning several “firsts” for the program, such as the first outright league title a year ago.
“This year we want to make it to the Saturday games in the dome,” she said, referring to the trophy games on the final day of the season in March. “We want to get another first for the program.”
At Prairie, the goal is never to just get to state. The program has six state championships. The Falcons want No. 7.
“These kids are more focused and more determined,” Prairie coach Hala Corral said. “It’s weird because we’re still young — no seniors — but they’re not rookies.”
Walling, now a junior, was named the best player in the region last year. Cassidy Gardner, a junior, was all-league as a sophomore. Allison Corral started most of last season as a freshman. Mallory Williams, now a junior, had a huge role last season after putting up quality postseason minutes as a freshman, too.
Tuesday against Camas, Sydney Weber came off the bench and nailed three 3-pointers in the second quarter to send the Falcons on their way. She missed most of last season with a knee injury.
“They are more focused in practice. They’re getting their work in. They’re listening. Practice is fun every day. We have great leaders,” Hala Corral said. “It’s a different team this year. A different dynamic. A different feel.”
Also different this season is the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) system the WIAA will be using to seed teams that make it to the round of 16. Out-of-state games and bi-district playoff contests will count.
There is no sugarcoating this: Prairie has little to no competition in its league. So Prairie annually travels over the holiday break to find three or four quality opponents. Last year, the first using RPI, those out-of-state games did not count, and the Falcons did not get a preferred seeding. So when the Falcons lost in the round of 16, they were done. Had they been seeded in the top eight in state, they would have gone to the dome.
No matter where Prairie is seeded this season, though, the Falcons have last year to motivate them. After all, still gotta win in the postseason to bring home a trophy.
Sure, it is early in this campaign but the coach already has seen positive signs. The Falcons got off to a slow start Wednesday against Camas.
“They didn’t panic,” Corral said. “I put Sydney Weber in. She drained three 3’s in a row. And everybody was like, ‘Yeah, we’re alright.’”
Prairie, over the last few years, has seemingly adopted the philosophy that no 3-point attempt is a bad one. The Falcons attempted 31 on Wednesday. Walling also made three from long range, but at 6-foot-2, she also can be a force inside. She grabbed six offensive rebounds and finished with 21 points.
“We’ve been working really, really hard. Everyone’s been putting in a lot of work, and it’s great to be back,” Walling said of this week, Prairie’s first in competition. (The Falcons beat Tumwater on Monday.)
The Falcons scored 22 points in the second quarter Wednesday at Prairie High School, erasing a two-point deficit to go up eight at the half. Walling and Weber scored all the points that period.
“When you’re hitting the shots or you’re making the pass that leads to the shot, everyone’s clicking,” Walling said. “Our defense gets better, then our offense gets better. It’s all just working together.”
The Falcons believe that combination will work for them deep into the season.
The Papermakers still expect to go on a long run, too, but they are having to make quick adjustments after suffering tough news. Madison Freemon is out for the season after a knee injury suffered in practice. In all, Camas is going into this season without four of the top six in last season’s rotation. Three graduated and now this injury setback to Freemon.
“To hear that news, it was just beyond what words can say,” Clemmer said. “We’re going to keep going in honor of her. We’re going to go as hard as we can. I’m playing for her.”
Camas coach Scott Preuninger said the team will have to rely even more on players such as Clemmer, Haley Hanson, and Marianna Payne.
“We’re using the next couple weeks to figure things out,” Preuninger said. “We have some question marks. We’re getting experience. Everybody’s roles have changed.”
The schedule is tough, too. Just like last season. Preuninger recalled that the team started 3-6 last year but still improved and got to the dome.
“I have a lot of confidence in this team,” Preuninger said.
Clark County girls basketball returning 1st- and 2nd-Team All-Leaguers:
1st Team: Courtney Clemmer (Camas); Haley Hanson (Camas); Mason Oberg (Union. Was 1st team in 2A GSHL while playing for Washougal)
2nd Team: Courtney Cranston (Union); Morgan Stradley (Battle Ground)
1st Team: Brooke Walling (Prairie); Cassidy Gardner (Prairie)
2nd Team: Ahna Burney (Evergreen); Ja’Vonne Williams (Evergreen)
1st Team: Beyonce Bea (Washougal); Payton Wangler (Hockinson)
2nd Team: Grace Russell (Hockinson)
1st Team: Taylor Stephens (La Center); Taylor Mills (La Center); Molly Edwards (La Center); Bethany Whitten (La Center); Whitley Seter (La Center); Jasmine Morgan (Seton Catholic)
2nd Team: Hannah Moats (King’s Way Christian)