It’s June, 2010. The first school year of the 2010s is over and, to be honest, things are looking pretty outstanding in the Lewis County sports scene.
Pe Ell won a state boys basketball championship a few short months earlier. W.F. West won its first state baseball championship. Pe Ell beat Adna, 1-0, in extra innings in the state softball finals. East Lewis County could even claim a hand in a championship as River Ridge won the 2A girls basketball title with Randle-grown Tom Kelly at the helm.
Ten years later, those championships — and the players involved — are still on the short list of the decade’s best, though we’ve seen a lot of big wins, big plays, and big-time players over the decade. Here’s a look at the best of Lewis County sports over that span by someone who covered it from the press box.
(Note: Some of these are probably wrong. If you find one, just assume I was playing favorites and the correct pick is, in fact, whatever you had in mind. Enjoy!)
Best Boys Athlete
Mitch Gueller, W.F. West. Gueller graduated in 2012 and is, at this moment, an All-Big Sky Conference first-team wide receiver. That’s a story in and of itself, but we’re talking about local prep sports here, so we’ll focus on what he did in three years at W.F. West High School:
- Led the Bearcats to their only state semifinal football appearance;
- Threw down some pretty sweet dunks;
- Was the winning pitcher in a state championship baseball game as a sophomore and the 51st pick in the 2012 MLB draft as a senior.
And that doesn’t really tell the story. He was a kid that could outrun everyone on a football field, outjump everyone on a basketball court, and throw a fastball by anyone in the batter’s box.
As a football player, in the state playoffs, Gueller shouldered a bigger load than probably any other player in the state. As a basketball player, he could play any position and wound up at point guard in the final minutes of tight games. And in the last year of his prep baseball career, the expectation — not the hope — any time he took the mound was that he’d throw a no-hitter. That’s not even hyperbole; if he gave up more than one hit, you had to wonder what was wrong with the big guy.
(He also, it’s worth noting, stopped puking in the dugout long enough to hit a game-winning grand slam in a regional baseball game on the final afternoon of his prep career. You know, typical stuff.)
The most impressive thing about Gueller, though, was that despite the lofty expectations constantly piling up around him, he never seemed particularly concerned, flustered or overwhelmed. He just laced up his shoes and played the game — and did it better than anyone else.
Best Girls Athlete
There’s two ways to look at this.
On the one hand, there’s Pe Ell’s Alissa Brooks-Johnson, who went on to be a top-10 heptathlete at the national level. And in her prep days, she did pretty much whatever she wanted: She won Central 2B League MVP awards in volleyball and basketball and led the Trojans to state in both sports, won 12 individual state track championships, and did the heavy lifting on three Trojan team state track titles. (There was also a rumor at one point that, when she was in high school and Pe Ell was winning a softball title every other year, she would have been one of the team’s best players had she not found track.) Brooks-Johnson was a phenom and proved it at Washington State University, where she finished twice took sixth in the heptathlon — literally a feat of overall athleticism — at the NCAA Track and Field championships.
And on the other hand, there’s Nike McClure. What she lacked on her prep resume — she sat out her junior year after transferring from Tenino to W.F. West — she made up for with an in-person “wow” factor. Standing 6-foot-3, McClure led the Bearcats to the 2014 state basketball title without a jaw-dropping stat line (12 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, three assists a game), and at one point her senior season had the best time in the 800 meters and the best shot-put mark in the state. She then went on to set a handful of block records at Washington State University before finishing her college career at the University of New Mexico and take a job playing professionally in Greece.
Feel free to treat this like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book and pick whichever one makes you the happiest.
Best Baseball Team
W.F. West, 2013. Two years after the UW-bound Robert Pehl-Erik Forgione duo graduated, and one year after the pre-draft scout circus that tailed Mitch Gueller, the 2013 Bearcats were a little overlooked. The ace pitcher was a golfer. The cleanup hitter was an oversized quarterback. The coach was in his first year. And yet, despite not having a single immediate draft prospect on the roster, the Bearcats never seemed to be in any real trouble. W.F. West went 24-3, beat Tumwater 12-0 in a mercy-rule shortened championship game, and didn’t hit a home run — all season — until the second inning of that title game.
The 2013 Bearcats are a team that has aged extremely well, too: Ace pitcher Brady Calkins is now tearing up the Dakotas Tour as a pro golfer; first-baseman Tanner Gueller set records and started three years at quarterback for Idaho State University; and second baseman Toby Johnson (Arkansas State), catcher Keylen Steen (University of Tennessee-Martin), shortstop Michael Forgione (Portland), and center fielder Dugan Shirer (Washington State) all took the two-year college route and wound up playing NCAA Division 1 baseball.
Best Baseball Player
Robert Pehl, W.F. West. Pehl led three teams to the final four, won a state championship in 2010, and was named The Chronicle’s All-Area MVP three years in a row. He played college ball at the University of Washington and went on to play in the Kansas City Royals’ system. His stats were also pretty nifty: He batted over .500 for his prep career; set school records with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs as a junior; and went 9-1 with a 0.35 ERA as a senior.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t do justice to the sheer reliability of Pehl stepping into the batter’s box the last two years of his prep career. Over the past decade Lewis County hasn’t seen a more fearsome, disciplined hitter. He hit 18 homers and drove in 88 runs in those final two years, and was basically twice as likely to leave the yard as he was to get rung up (three strikeouts as a sophomore).
Best Softball Team
There’s soft of two levels of state championship-caliber softball around here, or at least two prep softball conversations.
There’s W.F. West, and there’s the C2BL.
For the W.F. West conversation, the 2012 state championship team stands out for a few reasons. Dani Braun, the Cats’ shortstop, had one error and one strikeout all season, was probably the most dangerous hitter in the 2As, and went on to play at the University of Washington. Haley Graham was a solid ace pitcher, there were sluggers all over the lineup, and the Bearcats dismantled Tumwater, 15-3, in the finals. It’s the most decisive of their three title game performances.
The C2BL side is a little trickier. Adna won titles in 2019, 2015 and 2011, and Pe Ell won titles in 2012 and 2010 and then teamed up with Willapa Valley to win a title as PWV in 2017. (The most entertaining game of all those was the 2010 finals, where Pe Ell beat Adna 1-0 in eight innings.)
And you could easily pick any of those teams as the best, but the 2017 PWV championship team was pretty solid.
- The Titans went 24-1, losing only to 1A champion Montesano.
- PWV got an excellent season from senior Dakota Brooks, who hit .564 with seven homers and 51 RBIs and went 17-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 111 strikeouts.
- PWV’s Ken Olson, who’s been a head coach for over 20 years, said it’s the best team he’s ever coached.
- PWV averaged over 14 runs a game and gave up less than one a game. That’s not bad, considering this was before the Titans moved to the Pacific 2B League and were facing C2BL teams every game.
Best Softball Player
This is another tricky one; there’s been a dozen or so top-tier college softball players come through Lewis County over the last 10 years. Just at W.F. West, we’ve seen Dani Braun, Jessica McKay, Marissa Reynolds, Kindra Davis, Lexie Strasser and (currently) Ashlyn Whalen — just to name a few — draw big-time interest, and another dozen or so college standouts came out of the Central 2B League.
The most complete career arc, though, was the Bearcats’ Ali Graham, who graduated in 2015 and went on to star at Oregon Tech. As a freshman, she started in the circle as W.F. West beat Tumwater for the state championship. As a senior, she pitched the Bearcats past White River in a tight 3-2 state title game. She hit a then-record eight homers during the regular season her senior year, won three EvCo Pitching MVP awards, and hit .553 as a senior (and .578 as a junior). She never lost a district game. She made three All-Area teams and consistently got better in the playoffs. The eventual NAIA All-American may not have hit the eye-popping homers or made jaw-dropping plays in the field, but it was hard to find a more reliable performer in playoff situations — and W.F. West was in a lot of them.
Best Boys Basketball Team
Morton-White Pass, 2015. The Timberwolves lost to Northwest Christian to end their 2012-13 season and then didn’t lose again until after Christmas in 2015. That streak included two undefeated 28-0 seasons, 60 total games, and, naturally, back-to-back state championships. The 2014-15 season, though, was the more impressive of the two; MWP was a known quantity and had a target on their backs, but still never gave up a game. The Zach Walton-Kaleb Poquette combo was literally unbeatable, and once the Timberwolves arrived in Spokane for their third-straight state tournament there was hardly a doubt who was leaving with the gold ball. Walton is currently averaging 13 points a game at Drexel, Poquette played a little college ball, and Matt Poquette — a seldom-used freshman at that point — went on to have a decent prep career.
Honorable mentions: The 2010 Pe Ell boys team had perhaps the most electric playoff run of any team in the 2010s, and was the last team to win a true 16-team 2B state tournament. … The 2013 Toledo team had lots of size and defensive acumen, and certainly would have given 2015 MWP a good game.
Best Boys Basketball Player
Matt Poquette, MWP. There’s been a lot of “pretty good” basketball players in Lewis County. There’s been consistent scorers, flashy dunkers, defensive stoppers, future college stars, state champions, and playmakers. Poquette, though, did all of the above. By the time he was a senior, he knew well in advance he’d be seeing double-teams and gimmick defenses every night and still managed 23.9 points, 4.75 assists, 9 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks a game for a 21-8 state tournament team. He was also MWP’s defensive stopper, often guarding point guards, and shot 57 percent from the field while throwing down an array of dunks. He could score 40 or put up a triple double on any given night, and he’s currently starring for Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
Honorable Mentions: There’s plenty. Centralia’s Hodges Bailey was a lot of fun to watch score as many points as he could. Mossyrock’s Jaron Kirkley was a star for four years and led the Vikings to a surprise title-game run. Pe Ell’s Hank Robinson had one of the most impressive four-game state tournament runs back in 2010. W.F. West’s Brock Wade was a stone-faced basketball fundamentalist. The key members of the MWP crew during their rise to the top were excellent. There’s been a lot of fun basketball guys.
Best Girls Basketball Team
W.F. West, 2014. We’ve had a lot of good girls basketball teams in the last 10 years, but only two state champions (both, coincidentally, from Chehalis). This installment of the Bearcats had an interesting path to the top — the brief, intense rivalry with Mark Morris — and a tug-at-your-heartstrings storyline, with junior forward Julie Spencer attending her father’s funeral the morning of the state championship game and then flying in to join her teammates. Nike McClure, in her lone varsity season in Chehalis, was absolutely dominant on the defensive end, Tiana Parker and Katie Hankins were both big scoring options at forward, and Tori Weeks was an effective point guard. Spencer wound up starring at the University of Portland and heading to Sweden to play professionally, and Parker and Hankins both had productive four-year college careers.
Best Girls Basketball Player
Mollie Olson, Napavine. There’s been a bunch of really good players to come out of Chehalis over the past 10 years. From a top-to-bottom career standpoint, though, it’s tough to top Napavine’s Mollie Olson. Olson was a three-time All-Area pick and led Napavine to the state tournament in Spokane three times, and when she and fellow star Melissa Lee were humming the Tigers were nearly unbeatable. Olson averaged 17 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals as a senior, and always seemed to be at her best in the Tigers’ biggest games.
Honorable Mentions: All the W.F. West stars (Jamika and Tiana Parker, Julie Spencer, Kiara Steen, Julia Johnson, and Erika Brumfield, to name a few) were pretty good. Madi Crews, at Centralia, was always a gamer. Autumn Durand, from Onalaska, had a great prep career and an even better college career at Southern Oregon.
Best Football Team
Onalaska, 2019. Is this a case of recency bias? Maybe. Could you make an argument against it? Certainly. But, still, the 2019 incarnation of the Loggers were very good — they won all of the games, they scored the most points, and they didn’t let the other guys score many touchdowns. That’s a pretty basic, but sound, argument.
Here’s a few key points:
- The Loggers beat Kalama, 48-30, in the state championship. Nobody had scored that many points in a title game since 1998, when DeSales beat Orcas Island 48-28. Their 18-point margin of victory was the most since 2016, when Napavine beat Liberty 34-16; the last time anyone won a 2B title game by more than 18 was 2001, when Willapa Valley beat DeSales 39-18.
- Onalaska played in what was, without question, the toughest division in the state; three SWW 2B League Mountain Division teams made the state semifinals. And yet, in five games against Mountain Division opponents, the Loggers averaged 46.8 points a game and gave up just 9.8.
- Fullback Ashton Haight ran for 2,714 yards on 345 carries with 35 touchdowns, which is the fifth-highest running back rushing total over the course of a season in state history. He also set a championship game record for carries with 42. (Haight finished third on the career state rushing list, with 6,397 yards — behind Timberline’s Jonathan Stewart and Connell’s Matt Hadley.)
The fun comparison here is 2019 Onalaska against 2016 Napavine. The Loggers won their four playoff games by a combined score of 202-50; Napavine won its four playoff games 147-57. The Loggers’ closest game of the playoffs was a 48-30 win over Kalama in the finals; Napavine’s closest win was a 31-28 win over Toledo in the semifinals. If the two teams played indoors, Napavine probably has a slight edge, but as state championship games are now played outdoors, it’s Ony’s hypothetical game to lose.
Best Football Player
This is another cop out on my part, but I just can’t choose between two big, and big-armed, quarterbacks.
Option 1: W.F. West’s Tanner Gueller. Checking in at 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 240 pounds his senior year, Gueller threw for 2,371 yards and 36 touchdowns — breaking the former TD record of 25. The 2013 All-Area MVP added over 700 rushing yards with another eight touchdowns, all while moonlighting as an all-league caliber defensive end late in the season. He went on to star at Idaho State, where he owns the career passing touchdown record (74) and sits at second place in completions (708), attempts (1,241), and yards (9,061).
Option 2: Wyatt Stanley, Napavine. Stanley took over the starting quarterback job late in his freshman season and, like Tanner Gueller, was so adept at passing they reworked the offense around his big arm. He led Napavine to three straight state championships — including the 2016 title in an undefeated season — and passed for 3,197 yards and 46 touchdowns as a senior. Stanley, by his senior year, was hands-down the best 2B player in the state and the most fun to watch. At his size, most 2B guys would have been stuck on the line; he was a legitimate dual-threat quarterback and linebacker, leading one of the most entertaining teams Lewis County’s ever seen.