Paul Valencia column: Camas setter playing in father's memory

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 
photoAbbie Younkin, Camas High School setter.

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Abbie Younkin is having a sensational senior season of volleyball with the Camas Papermakers.

The team's setter helped the Papermakers to a Class 4A Greater St. Helens League title in the program's first season as a 4A program. The team finished second at the bi-district tournament. This week, they hope to excel at the state tournament.

Younkin just wishes one of her biggest fans could be here to see all this.

Instead, she has dedicated this season to her dad.

Rick Younkin died in his sleep in January at the age of 44, leaving behind his wife, Pam, and their children, Abbie, and son Alex, now 14.

"I was really close to my dad. He inspired me to push myself and be the best I could be," Abbie said. "He worked a lot, but he always made time to come to my volleyball games. He worked so I could play club and pursue college. He loved volleyball. He worked for it."

He was always loud, Abbie said. She could always hear him above any crowd at her matches.

So she makes a point to "hear" his cheers in her mind.

"Every time I go back to serve, I take a deep breath, I close my eyes, and I think of him," she said. "Just seeing his passion and excitement for my game."

Abbie went to club volleyball practice the day that her father passed. The sport is a stress reliever for her, she said, and she wanted to keep her normal routine. She also needed to be around her friends.

Volleyball has given her so much, and now the sport was helping her transition to life without her father.

High school volleyball brought tears, but also joy.

"He would have been really excited," Abbie said, recalling how much Rick was looking forward to Camas in the 4A GSHL. "I know he was there. Maybe not literally."

The Papermakers rolled to an undefeated league season, then won the district tournament five-game thriller in the championship match.

Senior night was tough.

But Abbie's mom, strong throughout the ordeal, made it a positive. She invited a lot of friends and family members to that match.

"I had around 30 people there for me," Abbie said. "It was cool to see the support that I had."

Abbie and her mom have always been close, but Abbie said their relationship has strengthened since January. Abbie also has a new outlook on life.

"It's definitely shaped me into a different person. I appreciate a lot more, and I'm thankful for what I have," she said. "I'm always trying to be thankful to my mom. I'm more appreciative of what she does for me now and what he did for me while he was here."

Pam is a kindergarten teacher. More importantly, she is Abbie's "hero."

"She has a lot more responsibilities now as a single parent. She keeps up with me and my brother. She has a lot of courage, to take this on by herself and be the parent that she is."

Pam has an interesting story of survival, as well. She is a two-time cancer survivor.

Her two battles inspired Abbie when she was younger. Now, together and with Alex, they are facing the loss of Rick.

There are still tough days, but Rick would want Abbie to keep pursuing her dreams.

Abbie wants to play college volleyball. She is looking at attending Wartburg College, a Division III school in Iowa, where her mom has a lot of family.

Abbie was on the homecoming court this fall. She is a whiz with math and science. She is planning on being a pediatrician one day.

With the attitude to keep pushing herself, she tries not to dwell on the things she does not have.

Instead, she looks at the positives. She still has her fond memories of her dad. She can still hear him cheering in her mind.

And she still has her mom.

"I'm lucky to have her," Abbie said.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia@columbian.com