Girls basketball and softball have been perennial winners at La Center
LA CENTER — One is returning to coach the team she played for 14 years ago, the team that helped shape her.
One is becoming the official head coach for the first time for her hometown team.
Both hope to continue the tradition of success for these two programs at La Center High School.
Brittney Stryker is the new head coach for the girls basketball program. She starred at La Center as Brittney Roggenkamp, graduating in 2006.
Shelby Jones was the interim head coach for the softball program for all of 10 days this past spring before COVID-19 hit. Now, she is the official head coach for the Wildcats.
No one could have seen Stryker, including her, as the head coach just a couple of years ago. She played four years at Northwest Nazarene University but turned her focus to her career in graphic design. She did not go straight into coaching.
“I always used to come back to the games, at least one or two a year, to see Herm,” Stryker said, referring to La Center legendary coach-of-all-trades Herm Van Weerdhuizen. “I always had a connection here. I always liked coming back.”
A career move gave her some flexibility with her schedule. Her former high school coach seized on the opportunity and asked her to join him on the coaching staff last season.
“This is perfect,” Stryker thought. “I’d love to coach under the coach who coached me when I was there.”
Matt Cooke, La Center’s athletic director, said Stryker built a great relationship with the players in that one year.
“She’s a direct person. As the season progressed, the girls really learned to trust her, and she enjoyed working with the girls,” Cooke said. “That relationship piece was huge.”
“I’ve never been known to dance around things,” Stryker said. “I pride myself in being direct. It’s a good way to approach life. It’s a good way to approach coaching. They knew what they were getting with me. I wanted them to have an understanding of my personality.”
Still, she never figured on becoming the head coach. Stryker was taken aback when Van Weerdhuizen announced his retirement.
“I was really hoping to coach with him a couple more years,” she said. “My mind didn’t immediately go to, ‘I’m going to be the head coach.’ I think it took some more processing. Herm was actually the one who said, ‘You know, you can do this.’ That got my mind to, ‘He’s right, I can do this.’”
Cooke said it is a bonus any time he can hire a La Center graduate.
“It is beyond special,” Cooke said. “They have that passion for L.C. They have an investment already here from their days playing here.”
Jones did not attend La Center, but she was a frequent visitor. She was going to Fort Vancouver High School, and spending much of her off time with friends in La Center, Battle Ground, Yacolt, and Amboy. Jones ended up moving to California for her senior year of high school, in 1994, but returned to the Northwest soon after graduation. Now, La Center is her home.
Jones was named interim head coach just a couple weeks prior to the start of the 2020 season. She had been an assistant with the program the previous four seasons.
She ended up having nine practices this spring, then one last meeting with her team — the day before the team was to play in its jamboree — before school was suspended.
“We have so much talent here at La Center,” Jone said. “And the new talent coming up was exciting. We were going to have an awesome season. We saw so much in the girls right off the bat.”
Cooke said those two weeks of practice, plus Jones’ experience as an assistant, led to her being named the official head coach.
“She got the job because I’ve seen so much growth in her coaching,” Cooke said. “Organizing. Communication with kids and parents. And the positive attitude she brings to the team.”
“It’s pretty incredible to have someone say that about you and entrust you with the program,” Jones said. “He’s trusting that I will continue to grow the program, and that’s pretty cool.”
La Center’s girls basketball program has reached the state tournament 15 times, including four consecutive years from 2015-18.
“I have really high hopes for these girls,” Stryker said. “We have a lot of talent. Just excited to continue on with that and keep the continuity there for them. I know transitioning from Herm is a big job to fill.”
The La Center softball program has made it to state nine times. The Wildcats won the 2016 state title and finished second in 2017.
“As we continue to build and grow, we’re really going to be somebody to contend with and we’re going to be talked about once again,” Jones said.