Bryan Johnson was a member of a State A championship team in 1979 during the glory years of Colfax boys basketball.
“My favorite memory was winning that one title,” said Johnson, today a Colfax physician.
Then, marveling at the thought, he added, “Kayla has six.”
Kayla Johnson is the eldest of Bryan and Debbie’s four children and will be going for her seventh state title beginning today when the Bulldogs play DeSales at 5:30 p.m. in the State 2B girls tourney.
Not only has she been a part of four state volleyball titles, but last year’s 2B basketball championship and team track victory in the spring completed the 2008-09 school trifecta. She was tournament MVP during last year’s Spokane Arena tourney and MVP in state volleyball this fall.
Such individual honors carry little relevance to Johnson. She considers herself lucky simply to be part of a superb group of longtime teammates, several of them related and most of whom have been integral to all facets of the continued run of Colfax success, primarily under coaches Sue Doering (volleyball) and Corey Baerlocher (basketball).
“The tradition down here has been incredible,” her father said. “The girls grow up expecting to win state.”
Last year’s 2B girls basketball title followed a move down from 1A and was Colfax’s fifth in six years. In November the Bulldogs won their sixth straight volleyball title. Combined over an 11-year span, the sports have produced 14 team state girls championships and been in 18 finals. Kayla and her teammates have done their part.
“We are almost the same team,” said Kayla, estimating that three-quarters of each includes the same players. “It’s a small town and everybody has to play (multiple sports). We’ve played together since we were little, little, little.”
Kayla began her career in gymnastics before gravitating to basketball in fifth grade and volleyball two years later. In part, it was to be with her cousin Rachel, another integral piece of the Colfax team puzzle.
“I had to make a decision,” Kayla says of the switch. “Gymnastics is a big-time commitment. I was always jealous of my friends playing basketball and wanted to be part of the Colfax tradition.”
Colfax is no one-dimensional team. Eight players have scored in double figures at least once. But there is something that sets Kayla apart, befitting her MVP status, Baerlocher said. He saw her inordinate will to win when she was a sophomore and the Bulldogs were losing in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Lynden Christian.
“It became apparent that Kayla hated to lose and became our primary option,” Baerlocher said. “When a game is on the line and there’s a chance we might not win, she’s going to bring extra energy. One of her biggest attributes is her jumping ability. It is incredible.”
Those who know Kayla best say she is the consummate team player and totally unselfish. Standing 5-foot-8 – “on a good day,” she said – Kayla has gone from playing post in basketball to guard alternating inside-outside with Emily Shaw. She moved to middle blocker from outside hitter to best help the volleyball team.
She played basketball last summer on a traveling team, Steve Klees’ Spokane Blazers, to improve her perimeter game and now scores consistently from 15-feet, said Baerlocher. She averages 15.5 points per game with a high of 32.
Colfax will again be among the State 2B favorites, although Baerlocher cautions it is a loaded field that includes last year’s runner-up Napavine, third-place La Salle, fourth-place Liberty Bell and fifth-place Orcas Island.
Throw in fellow Bi-County League foe Reardan, which beat Colfax earlier this year, before losing three times down the stretch. Kelsey Moos averages 17 points per game for the Indians.
“We’re a young bunch that starts two sophomores, two freshmen and a senior, and one of the fastest teams in state,” Reardan coach Tiger Peone said. “We intend to make some noise.”
The excitement in Colfax doesn’t just extend to the girls team. The Bulldogs boys are also in the tournament under second-year coach Reece Jenkin, who is a Reardan product.
“Depending upon who you’re talking to, I’m part of the Dark Side,” Jenkin said.
Colfax starts four seniors, but also has young players helping off the bench. James Robinson leads in scoring, but isn’t the only weapon. Eight have scored in double figures.
“I think one of our strengths is our depth and, realistically, our league is one of the toughest in state,” Jenkin said. “It will prepare us for this week.”
Returning state runner-up Davenport is paced by Morgan Scharff and Jarod Gunning and has played well of late, just like last year. Fourth-through-sixth finishers Napavine, Liberty Christian and White Swan return.
“We have everybody back except two,” Davenport coach Tim Zeiler said. “And I believe we are stronger than last year because we have a better bench. At midseason we hit a few rocks in the road and had to go around them. The kids want to do better than last year.”
Though targeted by the field, Kayla Johnson and Colfax’s girls are hoping the result is the same.