State champions: Columbia River volleyball lives up to its high standards

The Columbia River volleyball team has won three consecutive state championships. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Columbia River volleyball team has won three consecutive state championships. Photo by Paul Valencia

Culture of accountability leads Columbia River to its third consecutive state title

Paul Valencia

Set the standard.

That is the motto for the Columbia River volleyball program

It has become standard to be the last team standing when the season concludes.

The 2021 Class 2A state champions became the 2022 Class 2A state champions, who then became the 2023 Class 2A state champions.

“We don’t just hold varsity to a high standard. We hold JV and C-team to a high standard,” senior Lauren Dreves said. 

That way, when seniors graduate, the next wave is ready to step up, and maintain that standard.

This week, the Columbia River Rapids are celebrating their three-peat, they are saying goodbye to five incredible seniors, and they are looking forward to the future, the challenge of making it four in a row. 

On Tuesday, members of the team sat down with Clark County Today to talk about that championship feeling — again — who inspires them, and just what it is like to be part of this incredible program.

The seniors all talked about the River Relationships.

Evelyn Wenger called the program her safe space. She has played volleyball for years, with school and club teams.

“I’ve never felt so connected to every player on a team,” Wenger said. “In school, all of my friends, basically, are from this team. I’ve never relied on so many people at one time or connected with so many different types of people. I can go to anyone, including the coaches.”

“This group of girls is like my second family,” added Ellie Ogee. “I’m so close to each and every one of them. This program means hard work and dedication. You really have to work hard. Just being a part of that is really special.”

Lauren Dreves had an older sister in the program and has a younger sister in the program now. She’s got family within a family.

“This program is like a second home ever since I stepped into the building,” Lauren Dreves said. “Throughout all four years, I’ve always felt loved and supported no matter what I was going through or what was happening.”

Being on the court with her teammates, in practice or in matches, feels like a different world, she said. 

“You have people who really care about you,” Lauren Dreves said.

Macey McCoy seconded the notion that this team is a second family.

“They’ve seen me in my best and worst moments,” McCoy said. “I would not be the same person I am today without this program.”

Logan DeJong said it is difficult to articulate exactly what it means to play for Columbia River volleyball. But just like overcoming a challenge on the court, she crushed it.

“It’s such a special program,” DeJong said, noting coach Breanne Smedley and staff for making it so much more than just winning state championships.

“Bre has done such an incredible job of defining what our values are and really sticking to them and holding us accountable to them,” DeJong said. “I’ve learned so much from this program about how to overcome adversity, how to deal with pressure, how to compete, and how to stay true to myself. It’s just been really cool connecting with these girls.”

This past weekend was the last time for all of them to be on the volleyball court together, representing Columbia River. The Rapids swept rival Ridgefield in the championship match late Saturday night at the Yakima Valley SunDome. Then no one wanted to leave.

“Our celebration was all adrenaline. We were all so exhausted,” McCoy said. “We were celebrating for so long they had to kick us out. ‘OK, congratulations, but it’s time to go. Leave please.’”

WIAA volleyball tournaments are not known for running on time. The championship match started more than an hour later than the schedule. By the time Columbia River finished off the Spudders, and then were asked to leave the dome, there weren’t many restaurants open in the area. There was no celebration dinner.

In fact, many members of the team had to go straight home because they had tryouts for club volleyball on Sunday morning.

After tryouts, it was time to crash. It was an emotional, exhausting, and extraordinary weekend.

It capped off a season of excellence.

In 2021, Columbia River had to knock off the defending state champions. Ridgefield had won it in 2018 and 2019. (There was no tournament in 2020.) 

In 2022, Columbia River lost in the district tournament to Ridgefield before beating Ridgefield in the state finals for the repeat.

This year, though, River was everybody’s pick to win it all, from start to finish. The team lost one set all season. One.

Still, that brings a different kind of pressure. 

“Everyone’s going to play their best against you,” Lauren Dreves said. “We have to play our game at our level.”

Columbia River lost its first and only set in the district tournament. 

“Even though we wanted to win every set, losing that one set against Ridgefield really helped us as a team,” Wenger said. “Losing together as a team can show you what you need to fix, what we’re struggling on. Seeing that and fixing that the next set really helped us tie it all together.”

On social media posts, and on the NFHS broadcast, the River volleyball program was earning high praise for its perfect season.

“It makes me feel really proud that other people are noticing what Columbia River volleyball is all about,” McCoy said. “We do focus on the little things. We focus on the basics of volleyball, which is the reason we are so successful.”

The Rapids also credit the Spudders. Ridgefield and Columbia River have combined to win the past five state tournaments. 

“If we can take that pressure against them, we can take pressure against other teams,” Lauren Dreves said. “They’re so good. We push each other to be better.”

The Rapids also find inspiration from one another.

Lauren Dreves said her younger sister Sydney motivates her.

“Every day at practice, she works so hard,” Lauren said.

Sydney returned the favor, giving a salute to Lauren.

“In practice, in competition, she just always brings it to the next level,” Sydney said. “She’s one of my biggest mentors. I always want to be here.”

McCoy had to give a shout-out to DeJong.

“Logan is the most humble person I’ve ever met,” McCoy said. “She’s the definition of silent but deadly. She is the hardest worker. She is just amazing. I always look up to her. Every time I’m frustrated, I can always go to Logan and Logan is the person who grounds me and has a very calming presence. That’s something I can really appreciate.”

Katelynn Kessler, a junior, said she looks up to all the seniors. 

“They showed me what hard work looks like and how much it takes to get to where we want to go. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to get here,” Kessler said. 

She also noted that practices were intense. 

“We put in work every single day, and we’re playing against the No. 1 players in the state,” Kessler said. “It made us all better.”

Those five seniors, of course, will no longer be on the court for the Rapids. But the standard remains the standard.

“Of course it’s going to be hard,” Kessler said. “They’ve left such a big legacy.”

The returning Rapids, and the newcomers to varsity, already have a good start, though. Team chemistry is already there.

“I know we’re going to have a close bond,” Kessler said of the 2024 team. “That’s the biggest thing in volleyball. It’s not just playing well together, but trusting each other and having relationships outside of the court.”

“We are losing a very important part of our program with these five seniors leaving,” Sydney Dreves said. “We’re all going to be working, and we’re all staying close with each other so that next year, when we do start the season again, we will already have our connection, we already will have the family feeling. 

“Going for the four-peat is obviously the goal,” Sydney added. “The work everyone is going to put in before the actual season is what will set us apart.”

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