The signing period for NWAC schools opened up on Nov. 1 and schools around the region have been busy restocking the cupboards before they ever go bare. So, while the 2020-21 crop of freshmen athletes continues to pace the halls in anticipation of their first real game action the next wave of commits are already signing on the dotted line.
Few schools have been as busy as Lower Columbia College over the first few weeks of the signing period as nearly 30 players have signed already. Those future Devils will soon share parts of their heart and soul with the baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball teams. Meanwhile, the signing period of men’s and women’s basketball coaches have a few more months to scour their stack of recruitment film since the signing period for those sports does not open until April.
The following roster update and assessment was compiled with the help of LCC coaches.
The Red Devils of the diamond have been the busiest of the bunch with 15 recruits putting their autograph on a letter of intent this month.
Jacob Matlock, from Lake Oswego, will join the pitching staff from the right side. LCC coach Eric Lane only saw a handful of innings and he filled up the zone.
LCC didn’t recruit Kaleb Edwards. Edwards recruited himself.
A St. Helens Lion, Edwards reached out to Lane and the coaching staff, threw some live batting practice, and picked up an offer as a right-handed pitcher out of the bullpen.
Rainier’s Brayden Marcum did nothing but dominate this summer as LCBC found ways to get games even in a pandemic. With pinpoint control and a bulldog mentality, Marcum figures to enter into the Red Devils rotation early.
“He’s got the ability to change speeds, throw a lot of strikes,” Lane said. “I liked him the more and more I saw him.”
Tyler Peterson is a middle infielder who Lane called a “playmaker.” His size coming out of Gig Harbor might have kept him from getting any major four-year offers, but that benefits the Red Devils.
“He’s a traditional old-school baseball player,” Lane said.
One of two Kelso signees, and projected as a shortstop, Nick Miller has a great feel for the game of baseball already. Lane expects him to get stronger as he goes through the rigorous Red Devil program.
“He’s got the instincts for the game and controls the barrel really well, just like a Kelso kid would,” Lane said.
A left-handed first baseman from Ridgevue High School in Nampa, Idaho, Easton Amundson figures to be a middle-of-the-order mainstay in LCC’s roster, capable of ringing doubles or big flies.
Brayden Wells figures to be something like one-year wunderkind Tyson Guerrero, a two-way guy who will contribute on the hill and in the box.
“We see him as a more of a left-handed pitcher starter for us,” Lane said, but added that he’ll get some at-bats and maybe innings at first base. “He can strike a lot of guys out at this level.”
The other Hilander in the group, Jase Schueller is more of a project right now as a right-handed pitcher. Lane said he’s already put in a ton of work to get stronger since his commitment, and has a lot more potential to grow.
Lane called Drake Bird a “typical backstop.” Polished behind the plate and a good receiver out of Chelan, Lane compared him to Zach Threlfall. He has some room to grow at the plate, but his defensive prowess will get him on the field in LCC’s two-catcher system.
Brayden Munger didn’t waste any time committing during his recruiting process out of Westview High School in Beaverton. Like Peterson, Munger’s size might’ve kept him from securing a four-year offer, but that’s LCC’s gain now.
A right-handed pitcher, Munger has a chance to compete for a rotation spot on LCC’s crowded and talented staff.
The younger brother of current Red Devil shortstop Matthew, Michael Schwartz is another two-way player who can patrol the outfield or deal from the left side out of Spokane’s Central Valley.
“A quiet kid who can throw a lot of strikes and spin a breaking ball and get a lot of outs at this level,” Lane said. “We’re gonna have a lot of left-handed pitching in this class.”
Kyle Parkman, a high school teammate of the Schwartz brothers, is maybe the best pure hitter in the class. He is likely to slot into the middle of the Red Devil order quickly, if not immediately, and will be a run-producing force in the blue and red. Lane called him a bat first, glove second kind of player who will find a defensive spot simply because his bat is too good to keep stashed away in the dugout. Something like Shane Jamison.
“Probably the most polished hitter we’ve had coming out of high school,” Lane said. “I think the only thing keeping him from the next level, like I said with other guys, is he’s maybe a little bit undersized and not as quick with the feet, but he can definitely rake.”
One of the earliest commitments in the class, Tumwater’s Camden Oram is another right-handed pitcher whose velocity will come along as he gets stronger.
“We didn’t get so see him a whole ton, because when he committed it was really COVID time,” Lane said. “He loves our program and he’s a projectable body guy.”
A defense-first center fielder from Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, Matthew Lewis can cover loads of ground. That particular skill is a must in David Story Field’s roomy outfield. Lane sees him as comparable to Kyle Sandstrom, another long-strider who’s now playing at Charleston Southern.
“It’s something that we needed in this class,” Lane said. “He can really run down balls in the gap.”
Justin Stransky will join Bird behind the dish in LCC’s dual catcher system. More of the hitter of the pair, the Emerald Ridge (Puyallup) product is continuing to fill out and get stronger, which means more power and production.
“We’ve been actually very impressed since we committed him with where he’s at with that,” Lane said. “And will be that one-two punch with Drake. He loves baseball and wants to be really good.”
LCC softball has added three players already with another signee likely in the coming days.
Alexis Smith of Clatskanie is a second baseman with considerable pop in her bat. She figures to jump right in the lineup as the Red Devils are short on middle infielders at the moment.
As a junior, Smith hit a solo home run in the State championship game against Dayton. A first-inning bomb to right field, that smash demonstrated the power lurking in her diminutive frame. That skillset fits with Traci Fuller’s preference for power bats up and down the lineup.
“It doesn’t really matter the size of the kid,” Fuller said. “They can learn some power. That’s what we teach kids. I like to have that power. We’re looking forward to having her come in next year and help us out.”
Kendal Bennett of Toutle Lake doesn’t look like a traditional catcher. She’s athletic and quick, but smaller than a backstop might’ve been in the past.
But don’t let that distract you. Bennett has all the traits of a rock solid battery mate while remaining versatile enough to play anywhere else on the field, including outside the familiar confines of the circle.
“She’s kind of small in stature for a catcher,” Fuller said. “You would look at her and not think she’s a catcher. A little lefty hitter, and she’s speedy. It’s kind of different from what you’d see in catchers.”
Jada Cargo of Port Angeles is another power bat for the Red Devils. If one thing is for certain, it’s that the former Roughrider does not get cheated at the plate.
Fuller described Cargo as “raw” and “naturally really strong and aggressive,” noting that she enters the box looking to do maximum damage with each swing. After coming to practice with the Red Devils last fall, Fuller quickly saw her physical ability and potential and big swings and fell in love.
“She takes a hack when she’s up to bat. I love it,” Fuller said. “I love how aggressive she is and just how powerful she is naturally. And she plays shortstop. She’s not afraid of anything, really.”
In his first season in charge of Red Devil soccer, head coach Joe Chicks went back to what’s familiar when it came time to draft up his inaugural recruiting class. A group fo seven signees so far includes two players from his last stop as head coach at Hockinson, along with a smattering of familiar faces from around the Greater St. Helens League.
“We’re really excited. I think it’s a good presence out of Southwest Washington and some local kids out of Longview and Kelso,” Chicks said. “As coaches we’re really excited by technical play and I think we landed a lot of kids who have very technical skills.”
Kati Waggoner and Alyssa Pfaender are the two Hawks that Chicks was able to persuade to move their talents north on I-5 starting next fall. Chicks noted that both players can play multiple spots with Waggoner providing a steady foot and Pfaender providing a power leg.
Emersyn Finn certainly managed to catch the eye of her future head coach during their league battles in the past. Chicks foresees Finn logging minutes in the midfield, or perhaps on the forward attack, and called her the “best distributor in Southwest Washington.”
Alexis Richard of Kelso won’t have to travel far to begin her career at LCC. An outside back for the Hilanders, she is likely to be utilized similarly for the Red Devils but Chicks wouldn’t rule out the possibility of moving her out on the wing as well.
Megan Mahoney of R.A. Long earned praise from Chicks for her strong technical understanding of the game. He noted that her skillset demands that she stay in the middle of the field whether it’s as a center back or midfield.
Iris Campesino-Londono will be joining LCC after wrapping up her senior year at Tenino. Last year she was essential to a storybook run by the Beavers into the State tournament that included league and district titles. Chicks called her a “high IQ student of the game,” with the ability to play at midfield or on the wing.
Fiona Andrews of Mountain View rounds out the current commitment class. A very physical and smart player she plays center-forward for her high school team. However, Chicks noted that next year he “might have her drop back in the middle to help control the ball, and the game.”
“I’ve seen all of these kids throughout the year coaching in the 2A GSHL,” Chicks said. “I honestly think we’ve got some kids who are really capable of playing at a very high level.”
Red Devil volleyball has bucked the trend a bit with just one signee with their name in ink so far. However, head coach Carri Smith is expecting another commit to land in the next day or two and there’s another red wave of recruits she’s sifting through behind that.
Smith noted that due to the eligibility waiver recently announced by the NWAC due to COVID-19 complications, she has had to recalibrate her recruiting technique a bit.
“I feel like it’s really changed the tempo of recruiting,” Smith said. “I had a big wave of players that I talked to right away. Now we’re sitting back to see which ones we’re actually going to sign.”
So far, all Smith knows is she’ll have Ashley Noah joining the fray starting next fall. Kelso fans will know Noah as the setter and court general for the Hilanders during their run to third place in State last year.
“I went after her because watching her play this last year she did such a great job of being an important leader for that team,” Smith explained.
Moreover, Smith was Noah’s teacher during her freshman year of high school, so the Red Devil coach has already been able to look behind the curtain a bit.
“I know her as a student and she’s a great student. She’s also a great kid,” Smith said. “She just ticked off every box that we’re looking for as far as a player and a student.”
The Red Devils have also recently added another player to their roster for this long-delayed and oh so strange 2020-21 season. Earlier in the fall Smith noted that she was running a slightly smaller roster than normal and now she’s gone out and fixed that by signing Emily Borgstedt, a 2020 graduate of Ridgefield.
“I was looking to pick up another player because of our circumstances. We need another body and she was the right player. I actually recruited her last year,” Smith said. “She won a State championship and she’s a 6’1” outside hitter so I’m pretty excited about it.”
*Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect the Kelso volleyball team placing third at the 2019 State tournament.