When a challenge comes her way, Sophie Buzzard doesn’t back down.
Just her Camas Papermakers teammates. Ask her head coach. Even ask ex-Portland Trail Blazer and two-time NBA All-Star Zach Randolph.
With a challenge comes confidence, and with confidence comes growth. Buzzard, a sophomore all-league guard, is playing her best stretch of basketball ahead of this week’s Hardwood Classic at the Tacoma Dome.
The Papermakers (21-3) are a Class 4A girls state title favorite and face the winner of Wednesday’s Richland vs. Woodinville game in the 9 p.m. Thursday quarterfinal.
As big of a season Camas has had — another 4A Greater St. Helens League title, a beefy nonleague schedule and a return trip to the Tacoma Dome — Buzzard has been a big part of it.
And a big part of her game is more than shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range or being a standout defensive player.
Her biggest growth is her confidence on the court.
Buzzard admits struggles in that area last season as a freshman. As a rotation player who came off the bench on a roster with many shooters and scorers, Buzzard found other ways to make an impact with her passing and defense.
Now as a sophomore, her offensive game is thriving as a starter. Since Jan. 16, Buzzard is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. She had all eight of her points on 3 of 5 shooting in the first half of Saturday’s 52-48 victory over Kamiakin to help send Camas straight to Thursday’s quarterfinal.
“I think I’ve honestly improved a lot from last year, confidence-wise,” Buzzard said, “just because I’ve seen the ball going in more. … Even with our team, once the ball starts to go in, my overall confidence goes up. Our team’s confidence goes up.”
Head coach Scott Thompson said Buzzard is good about accepting what the opposition’s defense gives her, and is selective in her shots.
“She doesn’t force anything; she doesn’t take bad shots, ever,” Thompson said. “When the defense gives us Sophie, she makes them pay.
“Now that her confidence is there and the reps are there, she’s a flame thrower right now.”
But Buzzard still takes pride in defense, and that’s shown in the team’s biggest games.
Perhaps no Class 4A team has as difficult of a nonleague slate as Camas, and that includes a narrow loss to the nation’s top-ranked team, Sierra Canyon (Calif.), 58-53, in late December.
Buzzard’s defensive assignment that game was 6-foot forward MacKenley Randolph, a five-star prospect for the Class of 2024 whose father played for the Trail Blazers from 2001-07 and also had two All-Star seasons with Memphis before retiring from the NBA in 2019.
“I had to get mentally bigger,” the 5-9 Buzzard said, “and I know my team’s got my back on help side (defense).”
After the game, a surprise awaited Buzzard. Zach Randolph introduced himself to Buzzard, praised her tenaciousness and Camas’ overall team play. The two also posed for a photo.
“I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity,” Buzzard said.
And Camas isn’t passing up on the opportunity to set more program history to follow up on last year’s first-ever state trophy (fourth place). Should Camas face Woodinville on Thursday, it will be a matchup of the tournament’s top-two seeds in the quarterfinals.
Buzzard said she and the rest of the team are ready.
“I wouldn’t even call it a team — I think this is family,” she said. “I love playing with these girls. I’m always just happy to be here. I’ll always be happy no matter what position I’m in, no matter what role I’m trying to fill, I’ll always be happy trying to do it.”
Another challenge Buzzard happily accepts.