Union, Prairie, Washougal, La Center thrilled to be in the elite eight
Eight high school basketball teams from Clark County have qualified for their dome destinations this week at the WIAA state championships. Class 4A and 3A boys and girls are going to the Tacoma Dome, while 2A and 1A boys and girls teams are headed to the Yakima Valley SunDome.
Today, we highlight the four teams — with a few notes on a top player from each squad — that qualified directly to the quarterfinals, which will begin Thursday.
On Tuesday, we posted a story on the other four teams, playing in round-of-12 elimination games.
Class 4A boys
Union Titans (24-1)
His game: A 3-point marksman. A year ago, he began the season as a reserve, coming in and draining 3-pointers. He became a starter. Yes, another one of those Union basketball players who comes along every couple years. No one really knows who is is, and then everyone knows who is is, almost immediately.
This year? Wow. Even though the defense knows who he is, he still finds room to reign down 3-pointers. Was voted the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League’s co-player of the year.
He made nine 3-pointers in the bi-district third-place game, breaking his own school record for most 3-pointers in a game.
Offbeat: The Union Titans are just grateful Smith did not leave the team to turn professional before his senior year. No, not in basketball. We’re talking Hollywood. Smith is a lock to become a voice actor, should he ever want to go that route. His voice is perfect. So much so that teammates and coaches always talk about that voice. Charlton Heston. James Earl Jones. Ethan Smith. One day maybe?
Bracket: Union will play at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals in the Tacoma Dome against either Glacier Peak (14-7) or Curtis (19-6). The semifinals are Friday at 3:45 p.m.
A little history: This is the fifth consecutive state appearance for the Union program, the fifth making it to Tacoma, too. Union won the Class 3A state championship in 2010. The Titans took second place in the 4A tournament two years ago.
Class 3A girls
Prairie Falcons (22-2)
Her game: “The fact that she can finish down low and also shoot the 3 is something special for a kid who is 6-foot-2,” Prairie coach Hala Corral.
The coach is more impressed, though, with her game beyond any numbers.
“She brings amazing leadership. The biggest asset is her leadership,” Corral said. “All the girls look up to here. She’s the one who can stop a practice and say, ‘C’mon, we need to refocus.’ She’s not just saying it. All the girls respect her when she calls them out.”
Walling was voted co-Player of the Year in the 3A Greater St. Helens League along with teammate Cassidy Gardner. (Both have signed with Division I programs, Walling going to Fresno State and Gardner going to Portland State.)
Offbeat: Sometimes, the Falcons have to tell Walling to take a break from basketball. Walling was one of three finalists for the Outstanding Youth of the Year award by the Battle Ground Recognition Banquet, put on by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. The banquet was close to the same time as basketball practice. Walling intended to stay for the entire practice. Her coach said no. “Go home, get dressed up. It’s a big deal,” Corral told Walling. “When you get to college, (basketball) is a job. Right now, it’s fun.”
Bracket: Prairie will play at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals in the Tacoma Dome against either Edmonds-Woodway (14-9) or Bethel (20-4). If it’s Bethel, that will be a rematch. Bethel stunned Prairie in the bi-district tournament. The semifinals are at 3:45 p.m. Friday.
A little history: This is Prairie girls basketball. No such thing as “a little history.” This is the 22nd consecutive state tournament appearance. The Falcons have won six state championships. Still, for a program such as Prairie’s, this is what one would consider a slump. The team has not placed at state since winning the 2012 title.
Class 2A girls
Washougal Panthers (20-4)
Her game: Just the greatest player in Washougal history. That’s all. Made an impact from the beginning, too, scoring 31 points in an elimination game her freshman season. Now a senior, she is the program’s all-time leading scorer and is five rebounds shy of 1,000 for her career. And if she gets eight assists this week, she will be the program’s all-time leader in that category, as well. Has signed with Idaho.
It is more than skill, though, says Washougal coach Britney Knotts. Bea also brings a winning approach to every practice.
“She elevates our level of play. The girls follow her,” Knotts said. “She just works her butt off. Really nice when your best player works so hard. Other girls look up to that.”
Offbeat: “She’s a super farm girl,” Knotts said.
Bea raises sheep, bulls, goats, pigs. She shows that at fairs. Knotts, who has more of a city background, just loves that Bea, and some of her teammates, are so dedicated to something beyond basketball. “They put in a lot of time. It takes a lot of responsibility to take care of the animals.”
Fits perfectly with Bea’s personality, the coach said.
“It’s just her. A country girl. A farm girl who plays basketball.”
Bracket: Washougal will play at 9 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals at the Yakima Valley SunDome against either Burlington-Edison (19-5) or W.F. West (17-7). Washougal has topped W.F. West twice this year, one in a non-league game and the other in the district title game. The semifinals are 9 p.m. Friday.
A little history: This is the fourth consecutive trip to state for Washougal. The program had been to state just once before this run. The Panthers placed fourth in 2016.
Class 1A boys
La Center Wildcats (22-2)
His game: He just led the county in scoring for most of the year. Not just his league. That’s all classifications. Voted the Trico League Player of the Year. He is so much more than scoring, though. He has court awareness to find open teammates, even if there is just a little room for a pass. Oh, and that speed.
“He can get the ball up the court in two, three seconds,” coach Jeremy Ecklund said.
Offbeat: Hunter is in the perfect town for his passion.
“He’s kind of a redneck,” Jeremy said, referring to the term in the positive way. “He loves to hunt and fish.”
During those recent snow days, with no school? Hunter jumped at the chance to go fishing.
“He was freezing his butt off down by the river,” Jeremy Ecklund said. “He doesn’t do a lot of catching. Just a lot of fishing.”
The Wildcats also listen to a lot of music in the locker, preparing for games.
“He doesn’t understand any of the rap music the other kids are listening to,” Jeremy said.
Bracket: La Center plays 9 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals at the Yakima Valley SunDome against either Royal (19-5) or Connell (19-5). The semifinals are 9 p.m. Friday.
A little history: This is the third consecutive state tournament appearance. However, last year, the Wildcats did not make it to Yakima. The team placed fourth in 2017. La Center has a proud basketball tradition, though. The Wildcats won back-to-back state titles in 1996 and 1997.