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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

What I did this summer: Local athletes gear up for school year with clubs, camps, tournaments

Students in all grades are often prompted by teachers at the start of the school year to provide an essay on what they did over the summer.

Most kids write about family vacations, visits to an amusement or water park, camping trips or, for the older kids, maybe a summer job.

But for potential college-bound athletes, summer doesn’t mean a time of rest. Student-athletes across the region are participating in summer clubs or in camps in preparation for the upcoming season, in many cases showcasing skills that could carry them to a college scholarship or beyond.

Here are a few stories about how prominent local athletes are spending their summer.

Returning champ

Anton Watson, entering his senior year at Gonzaga Prep, continues to build upon his impressive basketball résumé.

Watson, who committed to Gonzaga last year, was invited to participate in the USA Men’s Under-18 National Team tryout camp earlier this summer.

Watson was among a list of 18 finalists to make the initial cut. There were 33 original invitees, including other notable Washington athletes Jaden McDaniel (Federal Way) and Kevin Porter Jr. (Rainier Beach), neither of whom survived the initial cut.

“I think it was a great opportunity for him, to play against some of the best basketball players in the country,” G-Prep coach Matty McIntyre said.

Although Watson was not among the 12 players to represent the United States at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, being part of the tryout process was invaluable.

“He was right there, one of the last guys,” McIntyre said. “It was a great experience and it will serve him well moving forward.”

Watson led G-Prep to an undefeated (27-0) season and a State 4A title as a junior in 2017-18. He was named Greater Spokane League MVP, the Associated Press and Seattle Times all-state boys player of the year and was MVP of the state tournament.

Watson averaged 21.9 points and 8.2 rebounds last season.

“It was tough getting it to 12,” said Bill Self, USA U18 and University of Kansas head coach, via press release. “It was tough getting it from 33 to 18, but even with the 18 we had a couple of extra days with them and know how committed they all are to trying to make the team.”

Team USA went undefeated (6-0) through the tournament and dominated Canada (5-1) 113-74 in the final on June 16.

But that’s not all Watson has been up to. He’s currently playing with NBA Hall of Famer and Gonzaga alum John Stockton’s AAU program with some G-Prep teammates in tournaments in Las Vegas, Anaheim, California, and Georgia.

“He’s been getting a lot of exposure at some of those bigger national tournaments,” McIntyre said.

Watson also attended a top-100 prospect camp in Virginia earlier this summer where he not only saw elevated competition on the floor, but attended sessions on off-court issues such as social media and how to handle the hype.

“Anton does such a great job representing our school and our program and his family,” McIntyre said. “Amongst all of the accolades he remains incredibly humble.”

It’s hard to imagine what Watson still has to prove. But at least he doesn’t have the pressure of trying to impress college scouts his senior year.

“I don’t think Anton was ever interested in playing the recruiting game,” McIntyre said. “He always knew what he wanted and he went out and made it happen.”

McIntyre said through it all, Watson has remained grounded.

“He recognizes the big picture and what this is all about,” he said. “But at the same time, I think he’s hungry to make the most of his final season of high school and make the most of his abilities before he moves on to Gonzaga.”

‘Area’ selection

Between bailing hay on his family’s farm and tending to the cows and chicken, and his part-time job washing cars, Mt. Spokane rising senior Stu Flesland has had a busy summer.

Flesland was one of four area players invited to try out for the Pacific Northwest Area Code Games team, and the only one to make the cut.

“It was a really great honor and it was cool to even be selected for the tryout,” Flesland said.

High school players from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 graduation classes are eligible to attend a tryout and play in the Area Code Baseball Games Aug. 10-12.

Tryout attendance is by invitation only. Invitations are sent to players based on recommendations from major league scouts from all 30 teams and the Major League Scouting Bureau, and the eventual rosters vary from 22 to 26 players.

Josh Warner, from Baseball Northwest and an area scout for the Kansas City Royals, recommended Flesland for the tryout.

Flesland said the tryout process was nerve-racking. He said report time for the tryout was 8 a.m., but the pitchers were made to wait several hours before finally getting a chance to show their stuff.

“We had to wait until the end of the day in the dugout, just waiting for the position players to go through infield practice and batting practice,” he said. “We had to wait around for about four hours or so.”

Once they finally started throwing, their actual audition was surprisingly short.

“There was about 20 pitchers and once we got going we (each) got about 20 pitches, throwing all the pitches we’d normally throw during a game.”

A handful of college coaches and MLB scouts were behind the plate evaluating each pitch.

“I was pretty nervous when I walked out there,” Flesland said.

Six regional teams, representing six MLB teams, will travel to California to compete in a three-day underclass tournament. The Royals represent the Pacific Northwest region.

Flesland said it’s an honor to be the only Spokane player to make the team.

“It’s really special representing my school and the whole area,” he said.

Mt. Spokane had two other players invited to try out – catcher Quentin Ayers and shortstop/pitcher Brady Hill, along with Ferris senior SS/P Brock Bozett.

Rising star

A group of regional wrestlers recently participated in the U.S. Mariner Corps Cadet & Junior Greco and Freestyle National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota. The Washington team, bolstered by a strong contingent of Eastern Washington athletes, placed second and produced five national champions, six finalists and 21 All-America honors.

If you’re a wrestling fan in the area, most of the names are familiar ones, including Greco-Roman national champion Braxton Mikesell (220 pounds) from Central Valley, Mead’s Chase Randall (third, 113) and Chase Tebbetts (seventh, 126), and Post Falls rising senior Ridge Lovett, who collected his third straight national Greco championship to go along with his undefeated high school record and three state titles.

But the biggest surprise was in the 100-pound wight class, as North Central incoming freshman Kenndyl Mobley won Cadet Greco national champion.

Mobley hasn’t wrestled in high school yet and is a national champion.

Mike Bundy, wrestling coach at NC, said Mobley is one of the most motivated wrestlers he’s worked with.

“He knows what he wants and he wants to be great,” Bundy said. “In life and on the mat.

“He put the time in. He didn’t let the limelight get to him. He didn’t get starstruck from being on the big stage in Fargo. He stayed composed.”

That calmness in the circle will bode well for Mobley once his high school career begins this winter.

“The Mat Classic will still be cool, but after being in Fargo with 100-man brackets, that’s kind of the pinnacle,” Bundy said. “It’s the No. 1 tournament for recruiting for college coaches. I don’t think he’ll have any problems with nerves.”

The day after the 2018 Mat Classic, Mobley wrestled the second-place finisher in the 100-pound class in a tournament and beat him twice.

Bundy said Mobley isn’t intimidated by any opponent.

“Honestly, he’s a brawler,” he said. “He’s not afraid to be physical. He understands that part and that’s what he likes about the sport.”

As a youngster, Mobley had some discipline issues on the mat that resulted in disqualifications. Bundy took him under his wing and guided the youngster.

“To see where he was when he was 11 and to see where he is now … honestly, I was emotional,” Bundy said. “He’s been ‘my kid.’ I coached him in club. I take him everywhere. His dad has put his trust in me to help mentor him.”

Bundy said Mobley attended a tournament and missed a test that would have cemented a 4.0 grade-point average. Mobley made arrangements on his own to go back and take the test. Bundy cited that as a testament to how Mobley has matured in a short time frame.

“That’s the goal,” Bundy said. “To have a sport take a kid and move him in the right direction – change him for the better. That’s what makes it all worth it.”

Playing together

For a group of regional volleyball players, summer means competing at a higher level than high school or club.

Four local players, along with several others from the Tri-Cities area, Idaho and Montana, were selected to play on the USA Volleyball Evergreen Region’s High Performance volleyball team.

The locals included Joliana Poplawski (University), Lucy Gao (Pullman), Sarah Wilkey (Coeur d’Alene), and Maya Blake (Post Falls).

Evergreen Volleyball Association is a region of USA Volleyball.

This is the first year Evergreen has fielded a High Performance team. The event features tournaments for boys and girls that include more than 100 teams from USA Volleyball regions, international teams and teams from the USAV High Performance pipeline.

The team, led by Washington State coach Jen Greeny and University of Montana assistant coach Giedre Tarnauskaite, competed at the High Performance Championship at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week.

“It’s very exciting for the volleyball players in the Pacific Northwest and in our region to be able to have an opportunity like this,” Greeny said.

More than 90 players tried out in April. The coaches selected roughly 50 to attend a three-day camp in June. From there, they whittled it down to the 11-player roster and had two practices earlier this week at HUB Sports Center before leaving for Tulsa.

“It’s hard to put together a group and only have a couple of practices then travel to play against really good competition,” Greeny said. “We were really happy with the attitudes and the willingness of all the players and parents to sacrifice the time and money this year.”

Greeny said the Evergreen Region had discussed developing a High Performance squad for several years, but had trouble finding the coaches to volunteer. So she did it.

“I had done some USA Volleyball stuff before – helped coach a collegiate national team, things like that – but just really believe that we need more opportunities in the Evergreen Region to get the higher level players playing together,” she said.

“To be able to give back and help the level of volleyball in out area grow, all of us as collegiate coaches should be involved in one shape or another to help the area evolve.”

Greeny said the results weren’t the most important thing in the tournament – the team went over the four-day event.

“I think just the exposure has been great and the experience for these players to get to play together – a lot of them play against each other in club and high school – it was really fun to get them all together and coach them,” she said.