To say that 2021 was an unprecedented year for local sports in the Twin Harbors would be a vast understatement.
With the onset of COVID-19 and the cancellations, suspensions and delays it brought to both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 prep and collegiate athletics seasons, 2021 was a year unlike any other when it came to athletics in the state of Washington.
Here are some of the top local sports stories from a year that none will soon forget.
There likely wasn’t an athletic director in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties that didn’t grow a few more gray hairs in 2021 due to the outright zaniness that the COVID pandemic produced.
After the powers that be in the state of Washington decided to delay the high school athletic season until early 2021, ADs across the region were put in the position of creating condensed schedules on the fly with little time to do so in hopes of getting the 2021 seniors some semblance of prep competition they were robbed of the season prior.
This created arguably the oddest season of high school sports on the Harbor in history.
No state playoffs, a condensed schedule, no out of region games all with the threat of the entire thing being canceled due to ambiguous and ever-changing guidelines made the 2020-21 prep season — which was completed February through June — one filled with challenges.
The prep season kicked off in early February with typical fall sports, and in the very first week of competition we got a glimpse of just how odd the season would be.
After a winter storm blanketed the area with snow, the prep football season began with a double-header at Montesano on Feb. 15 that felt more like a late-December game in Buffalo than a prep football game on the Harbor.
The sports year went by in a blur, culminating with another oddity in Montesano hosting a for-all-intents-and-purposes district championship wrestling meet outdoors at Jack Rottle Field.
But COVID didn’t stop there, making sure to put its mark on the fall/winter 2021 prep seasons as well.
Though the schedules were back to normal, the seasons turned out to be anything but.
Multiple teams across all sports dealt with games being canceled due to positive tests and/or contact tracing while some schools — namely Hoquiam and Ocosta — canceled whole chunks of seasons outright.
It’s safe to say COVID consumed the 2021 sports calendar.
Montesano emerges as state girls soccer power
In early 2021, Montesano earned its first ever district title in girls soccer with a victory over league-rival Tenino.
In late 2021, the Bulldogs turned heads with a thrilling shootout victory over Tenino in the state quarterfinals, earning Montesano the program’s first ever trip to the state final four.
Midfielder Brooke Streeter eclipsed the illustrious 50/50 club (50 goals, 50 assists) for her prep career in leading Monte to its first ever district championship in March.
Midfielder Paige Lisherness and forward Mikayla Stanfield earned first team all-state honors for their efforts in the 2021-22 season, held in the fall.
It was an outstanding year for the Montesano girls soccer program as head coach Fidel Sanchez’s Bulldogs emerged as the top 1A team in Southwest Washington and a premiere state program.
Add the girls soccer team as another district and state power in Monte’s repertoire.
Raymond volleyball places fourth at state
The Raymond Seagulls were one of the top teams all season in the 2B classification and proved it with a fourth-place finish in the state tournament in November.
Led by one of the classes top athletes and Pacific League MVP in senior Kyra Gardner, Raymond finished 18-4 overall.
After falling to Kalama in the 2B District 4 Championship game, the Seagulls went on an incredible run through the state playoffs which included an upset of No. 2 Colfax in the quarterfinals.
The Seagulls placed fourth overall in the state after nearly pulling off an incredible comeback in a 3-2 semifinal loss to Walla Walla Academy.
Aberdeen’s football resurgence
The seniors on Aberdeen’s 2021-22 football team felt the sting of a one-win season when they were freshman.
They went out and did something about it.
Aberdeen won six games in the fall — the most for a Bobcats program in 25 years — to earn a berth in the regional playoff in November.
Though they lost to Ridgefield 28-0 in a hard-fought game to end the season, the Bobcats showed they are a team on the rise and a program that is willing to play physical football in order to earn respect.
Aberdeen was led by a big offensive line and junior running back Jeremy Sawyer, who had more than 1,200 yards rushing on the season.
Montesano softball wins another district title
Though they were unable to compete for another state title, the Montesano Bulldogs softball team showed why they are still the cream of the crop in the 1A class with a district-title victory in the spring.
Due to state playoff tournaments being canceled due to COVID concerns, the Bulldogs did not get the opportunity to defend their state crown and had to settle for a 1A District 4 Championship showdown against the team they beat for the 2019 state title — Castle Rock.
But as with everything else in the year of COVID, if Montesano was going to claim another district crown it would have to do so in unconventional style.
The Bulldogs played three games in a one-day district tournament — beating Goldendale 14-1, Hoquiam 16-2 and Castle Rock 4-0 — to win the district championship in April.
Monte third baseman Jessica Stanfield earned league offensive MVP honors by breaking a school record with 10 home runs on the season.
Elma ends long spell with district title appearance
The last time the Elma Eagles boys basketball team appeared in a district championship game, none of the Elma student body had been born.
Yet, on June 5 the Elma Eagles took on King’s Way Christian in the 1A District 4 Championship game in Elma.
It was the Eagles’ first district title game appearance since 2001.
And Elma got there due to a bit of perseverance and a bit of luck. The Eagles sat in third place in the 1A Evergreen League standings before league-leading Hoquiam shut its season down due to COVID and second-place Montesano was forced to place leading scorer and co-league MVP Trace Ridgway on quarantine for the final two weeks of the shortened season.
Elma took advantage, beating La Center in the district semis to earn a spot in the championship and end a long dry spell.
Montesano wins boys and girls district track titles
Led by some top performances from Connar Hollatz and Madolyn Olson, Montesano claimed its first district track and field championship since 2014, sweeping the team titles at the 1A District 4 Championships April 30 in Vancouver.
Hollatz won three events (300 hurdles, discus, javelin) to lead the boys team to victory, while Olson won the 400 meter race and anchored two Monte winning relay teams.
Elma Little League wins state title
In the history of Little League baseball in the state of Washington, no team from Grays Harbor County had claimed a state title.
A group of 12-14 year-olds from Elma changed all that in June.
Elma’s Junior Division team defeated North Central (Seattle) 12-5 to claim the state championship at Funko Field in Everett, becoming the first team from the county to do so.
Legendary Aberdeen coach retires
Longtime Aberdeen girls swimming head coach Jan Simons announced her retirement shortly after she coached her Bobcats one last time against the Shelton Highclimbers on March 20.
Simons built the Aberdeen program into one of the premiere 2A programs in the state and has coached multiple state champions in her 29 years at the head of the program.
Simons was inducted into Aberdeen’s Hall of Fame class in September.
Raymond’s Gardner eclipses 1,000 points
In just her junior season, Raymond guard Kyra Gardner eclipsed 1,000 points in her prep career.
Gardner, who signed to play for Washington State in November, scored 38 points in a season-opening win over Ocosta in May, giving her more than 1,000 points in just her 48th varsity game.