We didn’t know how good we had it. But we probably should have.
As is so often the case, time and distance have conspired to make us miss the good times that we hoped would never end. It just so happens that during times of nationwide quarantine those feelings of nostalgia strike particularly quick.
Just over a week after all athletic events were put on hiatus, and a little over a fortnight since the state basketball tournament, it’s a safe bet that most sports fans would settle for a front row seat at any sausage McMuffin morning 8 a.m. YMCA game to get their fix. However, as The Daily News reflects on the 2019-20 prep basketball season that was, we’ll take some extra time to shine a little light on those hoopers who took those lessons from their own not-so-long-ago recreational games and in order to forge the most fully formed basketball arsenals around.
After capturing their second straight OSAA 3A girls basketball championship a trio of Clatskanie Tigers came away with top honors on the 2020 All-Area team but the rest of the squad is comprised of girls from the fringes of Lewis and Pacific counties, the heart of Wahkiakum County, and along I-5’s main vein through Cowlitz County.
As always, these teams are compiled using an algorithm that is proprietary to The Daily News sports desk. Factors include, but are not limited to, personal counting stats, team success, grittiness, “Wow!-factor”, hot sauce quotient, quality of nickname, and overall willingness to engage with the media.
The TDN All-Area boys basketball team will be announced on Tuesday, but for now, we’ll let the ladies go first.
ALL -AREA Co-MVPs:
- Shelby Blodgett, Clatskanie, 5’10”, junior
- Olivia Sprague, Clatskanie, 5’7”, junior
- COACH of the YEAR: John Blodgett, Clatskanie, 2nd year, 44-6 record (Two state titles!)
One year ago, Shelby Blodgett and Olivia Sprague won the 3-point contest at the 3A OSAA State Tournament at North Bend High School on the southwest Oregon coast. It turned out to be a prelude to the finale of the next two seasons where the duo led the Tigers to consecutive state titles.
They are the only two girls state titles in school history and the first two titles since the years immediately following World War II.
Without Blodgett and/or Sprague, head coach John Blodgett wonders if his Tigers would even make the state tournament, let alone win the last two.
“I think it’s something you dream of, but you’re not sure if you’ll ever get there,” Shelby Blodgett said of the accomplishment.
“It still doesn’t register with me,” Sprague added.
When you look at their numbers, it’s clear why Clatskanie has only six losses over the past two seasons.
Blodgett, more of a forward but one that can play inside and outside, averages 21.5 points, 17.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 4.7 steals a 1.6 blocks over her three year career at Clatskanie. Barring unforeseen difficulties, Blodgett will go over 2.000 points next season and is approaching the Oregon state rebounding record with 1,316 boards.
“I hear it from college coaches that her demeanor doesn’t change too much,” John Blodgett said. “How does she react when things don’t go her way on the court? I think it burns on the inside but she doesn’t show it on the outside.”
Sprague’s numbers are just as impressive, if in different ways.
The point guard has averaged 19.6 points over her three years for the Tigers. She’s also grabbed an average of 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.1 steals per game and she, too, could go over 2,000 points next season.
“Two things that Sprague has done: Obviously she increased her assists and rebounding this year but also her strength. She’s gotten stronger,” John Blodgett said. “I think what really grew from last year was she spent a lot of time shooting it and really improved her shot and she was a lot smarter on not picking up a dumb foul 60 feet from the basket just because she’s aggressive.”
With a rotation of only seven players per game Clatskanie couldn’t have their stars sitting out for long.
Both players were first-team All-League in the 3A Coastal with Blodgett named player of the year. Both first were first-team All-Tournament at state in Coos Bay, with Blodgett again receiving the top honor.
“They are two players who have played in the Roots program since at least they were in the grade school and when you see the girls who are excelling now or who are 1,000 point scorers, are all kids who’ve been through that program,” John Blodgett noted.
Blodgett always wanted to coach high school sports, but his work schedule was prohibitive previously. When he took over last year the Tigers earned the four seed at the state tournament and won the historic title.
A year later his squad handled expectations and the target on their back and rolled through the season with only a couple of let downs.
The campaign ended with a 13-point win over the second-ranked Sutherlin Bulldogs in the OSAA final, a dominant performance that ended any debate about Clatskanie’s place as the best team at 3A.
“I don’t think the blue trophies and the white balls ever get old,” John Blodgett said. “It was super cool, the way the season went and knowing the target was on your back and having to play. We had a few downs with the ups, where we lost a couple games that we shouldn’t have. We learned a lot from those.”
It’s, of course, quite remarkable that John Blodgett has won two state titles in two years of coaching. It certainly helps when there are a pair of players to rely on so heavily — one that is a rebounding machine and another that can score from anywhere while doubling down as an elite defensive pest.
But John Blodgett doesn’t shy away from any of that. He doesn’t shy away from the expectations or the target on his team’s back. He doesn’t keep those realities from his team, either. He’s up front with it all, and his team plays with an unrivaled confidence.
A year ago in the state tournament final Clatskanie outlasted an experienced Blanchet Catholic group that, itself, had a previous state title. Clatskanie never looked rattled, though, even as the Cavaliers made a late run.
This season, with everything to lose, Clatskanie was again composed and relaxed. If you believe the adage that teams take the personality of their coach, then John Blodgett, and his argyle pants, was responsible for that.
“You don’t really think about those things as much — coach of the year, state titles — you think, ‘I want to coach because I like the competition, I want to be around kids and bring them along and make them better,” John Blodgett said. “But when you can start winning state titles and getting coach of the year awards and stuff like that, it’s just the cherry on top… It’s amazing and I never really thought about that, but now that it’s happening I’m very blessed for it to be happening.”
- Kal Schaplow, Toledo, 5’10”, senior
Kal Schaplow is no stranger to the All-Area team. The Toledo stalwart was a first team selection for the TDN coverage area in 2018-19 and was already selected as the MVP of the coverage area to the north of Cheese Town.
And there is good reason for her perennial selection to these upper tier teams. This season Schaplow helped Toledo to a Central 2B League title, a third place finish at districts, and an appearance at the state tournament. Along the way she averaged 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block per game while being named MVP of the C2BL.
“I think she just consistently got better. I don’t think there’s anybody in the area who puts in more time than her. Even after a game she’d be in the gym working on her game,” Toledo coach Brian Layton said of his outgoing star player.
This season especially, Schaplow, who was an LCC senior All-Stary, took it upon herself to be a force at both ends of the court as well as on the bench and in the locker room. Layton was quick to praise her leadership.
“She was the glue that kept our team together and if problems would arise she’d be the first one to take care of it,” Layton said. “As far as her game, I think this year she guarded the better players more often and whether she had 30 points or five points it didn’t matter as long as we won.”
- Paige Mace, Wahkiakum, 5’4”, junior
Paige Mace made considerable moves over the last year in order to rise from an All-Area honorable mention to floor general of the first team.
The diminutive point guard made a living this season by sneaking into tight spaces and picking opposing defenses, or offenses, apart. Her leadership on the hardwood put her teammates in prime position to succeed and helped the Mules turn a fifth place finish in the C2BL into a district championship and a third place finish at the state tournament. For her troubles Mace was named to the C2BL All-League first team.
“She really took over from a leadership standpoint,” Wahkiakum coach Rob Garrett noted. “As soon as she did she really got a lot more confidence and understood how good she can be with the ball.”
Mace averaged 13 points and three assists per game in her junior campaign while also deflecting six passes per contest. It was the defensive effort that helped to get the Mules over the hump in the end.
“I think both Mace and (Jansi) Merz work really hard on both ends of the court,” Garrett said. “She’s really realized how quick her hands are and how she can cause trouble for other point guards.”
- Jansi Merz, Wahkiakum, 6’0”, junior
Jansi Merz made the jump from second team All-Area last season to the front line this year thanks mainly to a change in mindset.
“She’s always had the work ethic,” explained Wahkiakum coach Rob Garrett. “Just her mindset of turning the page from being the second or third option and getting her points whenever they were convenient to being the main option and stepping up to score if we wanted to knock teams off.”
Like her mousy point guard, Merz was selected for the C2BL All-League first team.
Garrett noted that both Mace and Merz played well from wire-to-wire this season with big games right out of the chute and season defining performances in Wahkiakum’s district title victory over Mossyrock.
Merz’ change in approach paid dividends for the Mules all along the way as she averaged 14.5 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, and 1.8 steals per game in order to help bring a bronze state trophy back to Cathlamet.
- Payten Foster, Woodland, 5’9”, senior
Payten Foster parlayed a big senior season into a first team All-Area selection after finding herself on the TDN second team last year.
“Before she kind of thought she had to score but this year she knew she had to so she just took over games,” Woodland coach Glen Flanagan explained. “It was hard for her because we were quicker than we were last year but not as big so I had to move her to the four so she didn’t get as many three point opportunities as before but she was able to attack from the post.”
With a new role foisted upon her on the offensive end Foster was still able to put up 16.9 points, three steals, and 6.8 rebounds per game as the Beavers battled to a third place finish in the 2A Greater St. Helens League. As a result Foster was honored as a first team member of the GSHL All-League team to go with her game-high scoring tally of 26 points.
Foster also dedicated herself on the defensive end and often took the toughest assignment. Her efforts were rewarded with a spot on the Lower Columbia Senior All-Star roster where she made a memorable appearance that included a long-range shot into a garbage can.
“Her overall game and just being a year older and a senior was just the biggest thing,” Flanagan said.
- Natalie Fraley, Kelso, 5’10”, sophomore
A TDN All-Area honorable mention in 2018-19, Natalie Fraley leveraged her athleticism and well-honed skill set during her sophomore season at Kelso to land on the first team this time around.
A do-it-all point-forward on the court, Fraley averaged 16.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and five steals per game. On one occasion she notched a 34 point and 17 rebound performance. Another time, she turned in a triple-double.
As Fraley went, so went the Hilanders.
“Honestly she changed so much from last year as a freshman. Now as a sophomore she was just way more dominant,” Kelso coach Jen Hamilton said. “She just shot way less threes and really attacked the basket. She got to the free throw line a lot more and just her aggression and kind of her taking over the game was amplified.”
Fraley kept alive the All-Area trend toward defense as well by making life tough on opposing offenses.
“She was really our go-to player offensively,” Hamilton pointed out. “But also defensively, I think she had one or two blocks each game and always guarded the other team’s best player.”
- Erika Glenn, Ilwaco, 5’9”, junior
This season Erika Glenn did one of the hardest things in sports: Live up to the hype.
After a dominant sophomore season that landed her on the TDN All-Area first team the Ilwaco hooper had a lot to live up to this season. And she did.
In her junior campaign Glenn averaged 21.7 points per game for the Fishermen and shot well past the 1,000 career point mark on her way to a first-team All-League selection in the Pacific 2B League.
But Glenn enjoys the hustle stats too.
After an undefeated run to first place in the P2BL, Glenn went on to average 7.1 rebounds, 4.4 steals, and 1.5 blocks in the postseason on Ilwaco’s way to a state playoff berth.
“She hustles on offense. She hustles on defense. All the little stuff, she does that too. I was probably most impressed with her on the defensive side of the ball,” Ilwaco coach Ned Bittner said.
The coacher of Fishermen added that Glenn improved on her intangibles this year as well.
“This year she was pretty strong maturity-wise and took the pressures and the frustrations and we always talk about it, but there were only a couple of times that she let her body language get the best of her,” Bittner said. “She makes her teammates around her better.”
All-Area Bench Mob
Addison Hall, Winlock, sophomore, 1st Team C2BL
Miranda Lomax, R.A. Long, sophomore, 1st Team 2A GSHL
Bobbi Clark, R.A. Long, junior, 2nd Team 2A GSHL
Alexis Kleven, Kelso, senior, 1st Team 3A GSHL
Cooper Joy, Kelso, senior 2nd Team 3A GSHL
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