No more waking up at 3 a.m. to pore over pitching and hitting statistics of opposing teams. No more watching game film while every normal person sleeps.
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley softball coach Ken Olson — whose high school softball coaching career spans 27 years and over 400 wins — is hanging up his hat. He confirmed his retirement to The Chronicle in early May.
Olson first got his coaching start back in 1993 with a 12U recreation fastpitch team. At the same time, Centralia High School athletic director Steve Sorenson was looking for someone to take over for legendary coach Ron Brown, who had been helming the Tigers’ slowpitch softball team. Now, the Tigers were looking to convert to fastpitch.
Roger Gonzalez, a local pitching coach, mentioned to Sorenson that the only guy he could think of was Ken Olson.
“So Steve called me and at the beginning I said no,” Olson said. “And then I got to thinking about it and I thought, ‘You know what? I enjoy doing this so why not?’”
Olson’s first year with the Tigers, they went 1-15 — dead last in the league.
“I’m thinking, ‘What did I get myself into here?’” Olson said. “I really wasn’t very good. I was a rec coach for gosh sakes. Played a lot of baseball but I didn’t have a lot of experience in fastpitch. But I wasn’t gonna let that stop me.”
It took just a few years for Olson and the Tigers to transform themselves from a whipping post to a wrecking crew.
In Olson’s fourth year, the Tigers ripped off a 22-4 record and advanced to the state championship, where they lost 6-0 to Capital and its star pitcher, Bridget Wilcox, who would go on to pitch three seasons at the University of Washington.
Olson would go on to coach 19 total seasons at Centralia, racking up over 260 wins and advancing to the state tournament eight times, including the state championship match three times — all losses.
“To get yourself into that game, it’s a big thing,” Olson said. “We also finished fifth a few times but, overall, it was a good run.”
The Tigers also made the district championship game three times. They won districts in 2008 and 2011 — the latter being a 9-8 win over W.F. West that came down to a rundown between third and home with a Tiger base runner sliding under the tag at home plate for the district title.
“Any time you can beat that good of a team, those are good memories,” Olson said. “I’ve been on the other side of that a few times.”
That was Olson’s final year at Centralia as he took a three-year, temporary retirement. He thought he was done.
Olson was teaching hitting lessons in the meantime when in 2014, the parent of one of his future players, Britney Patrick’s mother, asked him if he had heard Pe Ell and Willapa Valley were combining to play fastpitch — and suggested he should apply to be the coach.
Olson, who was teaching hitting lessons to many of the future PWV players, knew the team had a solid group of incoming players. That group, with Olson at the helm, would go on to win the 2017 state championship.
“That was certainly a highlight for our program,” Olson said.
The Titans made it to the state semifinals in 2015 and 2016, won state in 2017, placed third in 2018 and second in 2019. There was no season in 2020 and no state tourney in 2021 due to the pandemic.
Olson — who reached the 400-win milestone on May 9 — credits his teams’ successes less on what he’s done and more on what the players and his assistants have contributed to the team.
“The bottom line, really, is who you associate yourself with,” Olson said.
Mike McDonald — who is now Adna softball coach Bruce Pocklington’s assistant — is one who joined Olson at Centralia back in the 2000s. When McDonald arrived, it turned the Tigers’ program around, Olson said.
Then along came Parker Pocklington, who helped Olson and the Tigers win the 2011 district title. And along with Parker came her father, Bruce Pocklington, who eventually became an assistant for Olson.
“So there’s a tie between all three of us that is pretty special,” Olson said of Pocklington and McDonald. “If you can surround yourself with that kind of talent, as a head coach, it’s an absolute blessing — because you can’t do this by yourself. They’re just great guys and knowledgeable about the game.”
Olson and his Titans squared off against Pocklington and McDonald and their Pirates in the 2B District 4 championship game on Saturday — a three-hour thriller that saw the Pirates hold on for a tight 14-13 win.
The Titans have won the Pacific 2B League three straight years. They’re the No. 3 seed into this weekend’s 2B state tournament, seeded below only No. 1 Adna and No. 2 Warden. The Titans open play against either Toledo or Okanogan at 2 p.m. on Friday at Gateway Sports Complex.
This year’s seniors were freshmen when the Titans lost the 2019 state title game to the Pirates.
“To say they’re on a mission to get back to that game; they played in it but they didn’t play much because we had such a good group,” Olson said. “It’s a good group of kids and they get along well and they have fun. It’s a good combination. But we always have teams in our way … Now they’re going to hopefully make it to state and see if we can make a run at it.”