The Yelm girls basketball team finished a stainless season last week, as they dominated their competition each game.
Senior Bayleigh Harder was named league MVP, senior My’Kel Jones was given all-league first team honors, freshman Lilli Williams was named to the second team and freshman Henlee Sherman made third team.
In the final game of the season, played against River Ridge High School on June 11 at home, the Tornados won 70-42, the kind of blowout that has become typical of the team.
Coach Russ Riches, who finished his 25th and final year as Yelm head girls basketball coach, said he was interested to see how the girls, which had a large age difference between them, would do as far as cohesion went.
“It was almost from day one we were playing together,” Riches said. “It was such a great feeling to see them come together and do the things they needed to do to be successful.”
He said the girls exceeded his expectations.
“They encourage each other,” he said. “They work with each other. There’s no, ‘if I help this kid she’s going to take my spot’ type of thing. It was such a great season to watch the kids work together toward a common goal.”
He said all the girls played to their full potential, which was something truly special. And the girls lived up to the goals he set for them to the letter, he said.
“It has always been our goal that we wanted to leave the program in better shape than it was in when we found it,” Riches said. “And the second goal was always to hopefully be better people as a result of our program than when they came in.
“All of the other things around it — the wins and losses and the basketball part of it — they were byproducts of that particular goal,” he continued. “And so to watch them manifest that on a day-by-day basis, being great teammates and better people, was just something that meant so much to me.”
Riches said to leave the program on such a triumphant note is a wonderful send off for retirement and the next phase of his life.
“I just feel really fulfilled in the career that I’ve had, knowing that that was the kind of message we sent, that it was received by our players doing their part to make our goals successful,” he said.
Riches said the Yelm community has been a huge part of his life. He raised his kids in Yelm, and lived in the city for 27 years.
“The community itself means a lot to me,” he said. “The friendships that have been built over the years were really special and I know that I’ll have them forever as memories. It’s just a special place to be from.”
Throughout the years, Riches said, the kids and the coaching staff brought him fulfillment.
“I have no regrets,” he said.