Candace Buckner: Many have come oh-so-close to state

Candace Buckner: Commentary

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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photoDeAnna Riggs

(/The Columbian)

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DeAnna Riggs placed her hands on her hips and stood close to a fellow senior Heritage teammate while her thoughts flew off on far-flung fantasies.

She had just completed her second attempt in the shot put event at the Class 4A district track and field meet. Only one more try to keep alive the ultimate achievement that has eluded Riggs throughout her four-year high school career: State.

"I can do this," Riggs said to the teammate. But really, she was speaking to herself.

All around McKenzie Stadium on Thursday afternoon, the top competitors in the meet advanced to regionals, the last step before the state meet.

While the elite moved on, many more wore their skimpy uniforms for one last time without ever experiencing the thrill of state. They would sprint or leap or throw their hearts out but close their careers on this lovely May afternoon defeated and disappointed.

I did not show up at this meet to welcome kids into the oh-so-close club, but I felt their pain. For I, too, never made it to big one. My career in organized sports ended long ago in high school — back when floppy discs and the concept of having friends in real life were all the rage. Nearly four years of giving it my all and nada — not one trip to the coveted state meet or game.

Still, it's easy to grasp the importance of making it to state when I see a high school athlete experience that magic moment.

Heritage assistant head coach Al Campbell explained it best.

"To know that for this day, this year, this event, I am one of the best in my state at what I do," Campbell said. "There was a sense of pride and achievement in that."

Campbell's telling the truth. Twenty-four years after competing in his final moment as a high school athlete, the fifth-place decathlon state plaque he won still hangs on his wall.

Riggs wanted that same sense of pride. So, she competed on Wednesday but her javelin landed just one spot short of advancing to regionals. Then on Thursday, Riggs returned to the field with one more chance to keep her dreams of state alive.

"I really, really want this. Like, I feel like I can do this right now," Riggs said, her words coming at rapid-fire. "I'm really pumped right now. I feel like I can do this."

When I met Riggs on Thursday afternoon, she was taking one last hike from the shot put area all the way back to her gym bag. The first thing I noticed was her blaze of auburn hair, statuesque six-foot physique and confidence that could fill the stadium bleachers.

Not giving one care about who was looking, Riggs ripped off her warm-up top and changed into her Heritage jersey. It's easy to feel good about yourself when you squat 250 pounds and press 110. However, that self-assurance has not always been on public display.

Though Riggs has competed in three sports, only this year, her senior year, has she played a full season in volleyball and track and field.

"I didn't have the motivation because I thought I sucked," said Riggs, who explained she only took up sports to be like her older sister. When she did not meet the bar in which she felt Tiffaney would make, she would quit.

"My mom was so happy with her, I wanted her to be happy with me, too. So I really want to be the best. If my sister did this good, I had to do better. I never told her that. She's the standard — I want to be above it."

Riggs said that Tiffaney had advanced to state before she graduated from Heritage in 2008. And in classic little sister fashion, she wanted to do so, too. Riggs even had a little more motivation: earlier in the day, a coach provided the intel that some of her competitors have not been throwing well. Riggs felt the competition was opening up just for her.

"My best right now is a 35-3," Riggs said, "but I need to push 36."

The two-round event would start by advancing the top seven performers to the finals, then the best three finishers would continue on at regionals next week.

With the number 36 still in her head, Riggs waited on deck for her turn. The starter announced her name, and she walked to the circle. She looked like a diagram ripped from a shot-put technique textbook, griping the gold-metal shot firmly between her neck and right shoulder while twice pushing her left leg towards the sand pit. Then, she tossed 32 feet.

While girls from Skyview, Battle Ground and Union were reaching upwards of 36 feet already on their first attempts, Riggs searched out Heritage throwing coach Jeff Brick. She nodded along to his advice, understanding that she needed to explode from her legs. Riggs knew she had bounced up too soon, so on her second attempt she tweaked her release and added nine more inches to her distance.

Better, but not quite there.

While waiting for her third and final attempt, Riggs watched alongside Heritage senior Hayley Clark then encouraged herself.

I can do this.

Riggs returned to the practice circle to mime her technique, and Skyview's Aubrey Ward-El became the leader of the pack with a 41-5. No doubt intimidating, but if Riggs could still push out that 36, she would advance to the finals.

So, Riggs once again started her calculated motion but as she spun and released, the shot squirted to the right of the pit. The tape measure came out, and it was her worst distance of the day.

"I tried to give it so much power," Riggs told her coaches, "it slipped away."

The names of the finalists were announced and Riggs had already walked under the plastic rope and right into the oh-so-close club.

Now, she turns her focus to the next step. Riggs said that she has been in contact with coaches at Clark College, where she expects to compete in volleyball and track and field.

"I have my entire college career to get better," Riggs said, smiling. "I never been to state before, I will always wish that I would've gone, but I can't say that I'm going to miss it."

Candace Buckner is a sports reporter for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at candace.buckner@columbian.com. Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter.