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Aug. 4, 2020

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All-Region female athlete of the year: Meri Dunford, Prairie

Senior made right decisions to become standout three-sport athlete

By , Columbian sports reporter
4 Photos
All-Region multi-sport female athlete of the year, Meri Dunford, is pictured at Prairie High School on Monday morning, June 15, 2020.
All-Region multi-sport female athlete of the year, Meri Dunford, is pictured at Prairie High School on Monday morning, June 15, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Track and field started as an afterthought of sorts for Prairie’s Meri Dunford.

She didn’t participate in a spring sport entering high school and several of her friends ran track. The then-freshman figured: “I might as well try it out.”

She won nearly every 1,600- and 3,200-meter races that year, finishing with a second-place state finish in the former. Four years later, she is preparing to run for Brigham Young University.

She ends her Falcon career as a three-time state medalist in track and field, a three-time state podium finisher in cross country and was an all-league first-team basketball player this past season. She has also been named The Columbian’s All-Region female multi-sport athlete of the year.

“I’ve played three sports all four years of high school. That’s a lot of hours in the gym, on the soccer field or on the track,” Dunford said. “Being able to spend all those hours with people I love and are fun to hang out with has made it just so memorable.”

Dunford never predicted she’d flourish on the track. But when she excelled to such great heights in her first season, she made the commitment to drop her once-favorite sport, soccer, for cross country in the fall. At the time, it was a difficult decision.

“Looking back as a senior now, I can’t imagine having not done that,” she said.

She finished on the state podium all three years of cross country, capping her career with a 10th-place finish this fall.

On the track, she never got a final chance to showcase her growth after the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to spring sports. She finished third in the 3,200 and second in the 1,600 at state her junior year. She holds school records in both events and had her eyes on setting a record in the 800 this spring.

Instead of having a state medal or two on her neck, Dunford’s final appearance in a Prairie uniform came on the basketball court in a sport she pondered giving up to prepare for her senior track season. She was a key reserve on the 2019 state championship Falcons’ girls basketball team and already had a BYU commitment awaiting her on the track.

“I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind, but I’m so glad I did play,” Dunford explained. “We came together as a team and saw what we could really do when we worked together.”

Dunford led the Falcons in scoring, particularly flourishing in late-game clutch situations, and was selected to the 3A Greater St. Helens all-league team.

Now Dunford, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gets to go to a college she’s dreamed of attending long before she ever thought she had a chance to be a collegiate athlete.

“While sports are super important to me and I love them, I also know it’s not everything,” Dunford said. “Some day sports are going to come to an end. Having that faith to fall back on and knowing there’s so much more to life and so much more to me as a person has helped my self-confidence in everything I do.”

Best of the Rest

Mikelle Anthony, Skyview

The senior returned to basketball and earned first-team all-league honors. She was an All-Region selection in softball in 2019.

Kaily Christensen, Woodland

The senior was a second-team all-league pick in basketball. She was an All-Region selection in softball for the Beavers in 2019.

Allie Corral, Prairie

Another three-sport athlete at Prairie, Corral was All-Region in basketball and also played soccer last fall and softball in 2019.

Abby Cummins, King’s Way Christian

The junior was the Trico League co-offensive player of the year in volleyball and first-team all-league pick in basketball.

Payten Foster, Woodland

A three-sport all-league performer was second-team in volleyball, first-team in basketball and second team in softball in 2019.

Nicole Guthrie, Woodland

Guthrie was a first-team all-league pick in volleyball, second-team in basketball and All-Region in track and field in 2019.

Luci Ianello, Columbia River

Ianello was an All-Region pick in soccer for the state champion Chieftains, and was All-Region in track and field in 2019.

Jaydia Martin, Hudson’s Bay

An All-Region pick in volleyball was also the 3A GSHL co-player of the year. She was also the 3A GSHL player of the year in basketball.

Shea McGee, Camas

The All-Region gymnast of the year for a third time also went to state in diving and was a regional qualifier in track and field in 2019.

Mallory Meyer, Battle Ground

An All-Region selection in softball in 2019 as pitcher, Meyer was also a second-team all-league pick in basketball for the Tigers.

Katie Peneueta, Heritage

Peneueta was an All-Region selection in volleyball and basketball. In 2019, she was the league co-field athlete of the year in track.

Katie Rathgeber, Stevenson         

The senior was the Trico League player of the year in soccer, a first-team all-league pick in basketball and a state qualifier in track in 2019.