‘The Win’ Continues to Resonate in Camas

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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— CAMAS — The Camas girls basketball team is coming off the most impressive win in the program’s history — or at least the biggest win in more than 30 years.

Interestingly, their epic victory over Prairie on Friday night was not necessarily the history they were trying to make.

The Papermakers all wear No. 78 on their practice jerseys, a reminder of the last time Camas reached the state girls basketball tournament: 1978.

Through the years, the team has suffered many losing campaigns, enduring two-, three- and four-win seasons. The perception and the reality of the program changed Friday night.

“I feel like we’ve come from nothing to something,” junior Melissa Williams said. “People at our school actually know what Camas girls basketball is now.”

Still, as impressive as beating Prairie, as ending The Streak, and as winning the district tournament are, none of those things advance Camas to the Class 3A state tournament.

The Papermakers must finish in the top eight of the 16-team bi-district tournament, which begins Friday. Camas will take on Mount Rainier of Des Moines at 5 p.m. Friday night at Hudson’s Bay High School. The winner will qualify for state, while the loser will fall into the consolation bracket and have to win two in a row to make it to the Tacoma Dome.

So the Papermakers are trying to balance the emotion of last week with the focus of this week.

The Papermakers never want to forget that feeling of stopping Prairie’s 136-game league and district streak. A string that began more than 10 years ago is over now, thanks to Camas’ 59-46 victory in the district championship game.

Friday night turned into Saturday, then Sunday, and all anyone could talk about was “The Win.”

Monday came, and the same buzz was all over campus.

But by Monday’s practice, the Papermakers had to try to put last week in the memory bank and prepare for Mount Rainier. Not the easiest thing to do.

In a way, the Papermakers are still trying to come to grips with the Friday’s result. Even with a double-digit lead in the closing seconds, they weren’t sure of themselves.

On Monday, the team’s three captains — Katelyn Henson, Kelsi Krill, and Williams — as well as coach Kent Thomas described last week, talked about the last 32 years, and explained the importance of this week.

“Oh my gosh, they’re going to hit a 3-pointer, they’re going to come back,” Williams said, recalling those final minutes against Prairie. “We just kept pushing it until the final buzzer. It wasn’t over until that final buzzer. We just kept pushing because we could not believe it.”

“They played great, and we had a great game,” is how Henson remembers it. “I just kept expecting them to make a run.”

It never happened. The seconds ticked down, and Camas secured The Win that ended The Streak.

“It was like we were in a dream,” Krill said. “It didn’t seem real at the time.”

The players all found each other on the court.

“It was just a big mosh pit with big group hugs,” Krill said. “People were crying. It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had in my life.”

Belief can be a fickle thing in sports. The Papermakers knew they could beat the Falcons. Earlier this season, Camas had the lead in the second half before losing by two points. But to actually win played tricks on the players’ minds.

“It still is questionable right now,” Krill said. “Do I really believe?”

She does. It just took a while for it to sink in.

It helped the players that just about everybody they knew were congratulating them. And then, at school on Monday, they were meeting new friends of the program.

“I had people I didn’t even know coming up to me, saying, ‘Wow. That’s awesome.’ Everyone heard about it,” Henson said. “It’s really cool that word spread so fast. I hope our win sparks other people being interested in girls basketball.”

Thomas said he was emotional Friday night just thinking of all the players who came before this group, the ones who endured some three-win seasons.

There were even low moments this season, as the Papermakers opened the campaign by losing five of their first six games. And now this — a district title with a win over Prairie.

That brings the team back to this week. Because it was a win over Prairie, the Papermakers know that most fans will think of that game as the marquee result of the season. Camas wants more, though.

Prior to the season, the players were asked to record their goals. Beating Prairie “wasn’t written down,” Henson said.

“We wrote down, ‘Going to state.’ That’s ultimately what our goal is,” she said.

So the focus is on Mount Rainier now.

“We have to find a happy medium between celebrating what we did and what we have to do,” Henson said.

“The most disappointing thing would be to come out and lay an egg on Friday because we weren’t prepared,” Thomas said. “We’ve come this far.”

After all, one team’s long win streak might be over, but another team’s long drought from state competition remains ... unless the Papermakers take care of business at bi-district.

“I still can’t believe we’re district champions. That’s insane,” Williams said. “To actually accomplish something for this program ... just feels amazing. At the same time, we’re not done yet.

“It’s great that we beat Prairie, but we have bigger things in front of us. We beat Prairie, but we want state.”