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Net Gains: Hampton, Eagles have sights set on state basketball trophy

Hudson’s Bay senior crafted her game playing AAU with, against boys

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 24, 2022, 7:33pm
6 Photos
Hudson's Bay senior Aniyah Hampton, right, celebrates with a teammate Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, during the Eagles' 57-54 loss to Washougal at Washougal High School.
Hudson's Bay senior Aniyah Hampton, right, celebrates with a teammate Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, during the Eagles' 57-54 loss to Washougal at Washougal High School. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Aniyah Hampton’s wide smile gave away the answer to perhaps the simplest of questions.

Amid the postgame celebration of another 2A Greater St. Helens League title for Hudson’s Bay girls basketball three weeks ago, the Eagles’ point guard was last seen wearing around her neck the basketball net she and her teammates took turns cutting down.

So, where is the net now? Hampton smiled at the question.

“It’s currently at my house,” the senior said.

Hampton promises it’s safe and secure, and will probably return it to the school “maybe as a graduation gift.”

It sits inside her bedroom next to other basketball accolades as a symbol of what’s made her high school career so rewarding and memorable, despite ups and downs.

Three years ago as a freshman, Hampton burst onto the scene as Bay’s all-league starting point guard and leading scorer on a young team that reached past districts for just the second time in 35 seasons.

Now as a senior and an unquestionable leader of Bay’s state-bound team, she aims to put a final stamp on four years of program-changing success with something that’s never been accomplished at Bay: a state trophy in girls basketball.

That’s what Hampton, the 2A GSHL’s co-MVP, wants more than anything for her teammates, the program, and the Hudson’s Bay community.

“Everybody is backing us,” she said. “It means the world to have a league championship. We’ve been to district championship games, and we’ve been to regionals. The only thing left is getting that ring.”

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A first step in that quest is Saturday’s regional game against Port Angeles (17-4), which tips off at noon at Battle Ground High School. A victory advances the Eagles (17-3) straight to the quarterfinals next week at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

* * *

A scan of the basketball banner hanging high inside Hudson’s Bay gymnasium gives a glimpse into its girls basketball past. League titles exist in 1974 and 2007; waiting to be hung are the 2021 and 2022 league championship placards.

Since 1986, the girls basketball win-loss record is 264-429, and two of the three league titles in that stretch came the past two seasons in Class 2A. Only an undefeated 12-0 campaign under coach Art Rojas in 2007 has a better league mark.

Hampton said she chose to attend Bay to be part of change. Over the past five seasons, Bay is 81-31 with two league titles, two second-place finishes at districts/bi-districts, and two Dome appearances.

She doesn’t take success and opportunity for granted.

“It’s pretty special,” Hampton said, “not just this year’s team, but this program. This school doesn’t have a whole lot of success when it comes to girls basketball.”

Holding herself to a high standard on and off the court is who Hampton is, from student leadership responsibilities to supporting countless other sports at Bay. But she also thinks about her own time lost.

Hampton is closing in on 1,000 career points — an impressive feat, but even more so given the COVID-condensed spring schedule her junior season, and missing all but two games as a sophomore. A ruptured Achilles tendon and a fractured bone near her elbow kept Hampton out most of the 2019-20 season when Bay reached the Class 3A state tournament and won 20 games.

While it was difficult to be on the bench, she said that experience made her better for it.

“It’s given me a different look into the game,” she said, “and definitely more respect for coaches for what they have to deal with. … But especially with my injury, learning that not everything has to be full speed, and I don’t have to always use my athleticism; sometimes, it’s just outsmarting people. The game of basketball, it’s physical, but it’s mental, too.”

* * *

Despite the Achilles injury, Hampton said her explosiveness hasn’t slowed. And if it feels like the game can be a slower pace at times to her, that’s because it is compared to playing basketball with boys.

Leading up to high school, Hampton played AAU basketball for Chrome Elite, a Vancouver-based boys team. Teammates included a handful of current area high school seniors, such as Union’s Evan Eschels, Kelso’s Michael Foust, Prairie’s Hayden Rose, La Center’s Julius Frazier and Seton Catholic’s Anthony Mancuso.

Crafting her game by playing with and against boys made Hampton the player she is today.

“That definitely made me more aggressive,” she said. “I was taller than all of them, so I was playing the post. … I don’t have a problem with contact or the speed of the game.

“It’s still fun to see each other, and see each other dominate.”

Eschels, an all-league honoree this season for Union, can attest to how Hampton went beyond holding her own.

“It was a sight to see,” he said. “I couldn’t even guard her in AAU. She was way stronger than me.”

Michael Rainville, in his sixth season as Bay’s head coach, said great point-guard play is easy to recognize. He’s coached high school basketball for more than 30 years, and Hampton’s intangibles go a step above.

“She really does everything you want a point guard to do,” Rainville said.

That’s why the final stretch of Hampton’s high school career is what she hopes is the most rewarding. In four prior state tournament appearances since the WIAA first’s girls basketball state tournament in 1974, Bay has never earned a trophy.

That can change within the next week. But the net Hampton has in her possession is proof of what success represents to her — and not just what’s been accomplished this season.

And a state trophy can do the same.

“Winning for this team,” she said, “it’s so much more than a team. Winning as a family and representing our community as Bay, especially with it being such a diverse community.

“Winning, she said, “means a lot.”