The 2017 senior class. From left-to-right: Lauryn Rhinehart, Olivia Riener, Jordyn Boyd, Gina Wyner, Taylor Rhinehart and Paige Grover.
In the archives of the Woodinville Weekly sits an article from the 2017 softball season. The headline reads: FALCONS BEAT PUYALLUP TO WIN THIRD STATE CHAMPIONSHIP.
Toward the bottom of the article is a close-up photo of Olivia Riener. Beneath it, the caption reads: "Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday that senior Olivia Riener was a baby-faced freshman."
Three years have passed since that time. After Riener graduated from Woodinville, she went on to play softball for Bowling Green University.
Riener and I spoke again the other day. To prepare for the interview, she went through a scrapbook of Woodinville Weekly articles that I'd written about her teams from 2014-2017.
"It brought back good memories!" she said.
Her Woodinville teams went 77-7 in the 2015-17 seasons. But her senior season was the focus of our conversation. That squad won all the marbles.
Those Falcons featured six seniors. There was giggly Gina Wyner (and her inside jokes with Olivia about Vanilla Crunch power bars); there was shortstop Paige Grover, whom Riener felt was one of the smartest people she'd ever known; there was catcher Jordyn Boyd, who was Riener's best friend on the team; and of course, there were the Rhinehart Twins: Lauryn (whom Riener regarded as sweet-and-nice), and Taylor, (who was regarded as sweet-and-sassy).
Rounding it out was Riener (pronounced Ree-ner). She played first base and pitcher, and was smart, sensitive and capable of clubbing prodigious home runs.
"Our team was very superstitious," Riener said. "But we knew we were good and we knew we were capable."
The Falcons opened the season with a 9-0 record. But Riener said the team was nervous as it headed toward the Tri-Cities for two games against Richland. The powerhouse Bombers would serve as a good barometer.
But what emerged was perfection. Woodinville won the first game 7-0, behind Taylor Rhinehart's perfect game. The next day, Woodinville beat Richland again 3-2, and Kamiakan 10-3. Now, as the girls rode back home, they possessed a 12-0 record -- and a sense that the sky was the limit.
As it turned out, Taylor Rhinehart was only getting warmed up. She helped Woodinville close out the regular season with six straight shutouts, and a 20-0 record.
Riener and the other seniors savored the fleeting time.
"We knew these were our last games together, so we wanted to make the most of it," she said. "Taylor was throwing shutout games and we were playing great as we headed into [the postseason]."
On May 17, the Falcons faced Inglemoor for the Kingco 4A title. On the mound for the Lady Vikes was Woodinville's old nemesis, Mackenzie DeKay. But Riener and Paige Grover clubbed back-to-back home runs in the third inning. The flood gates opened, and Woodinville won 13-3. The girls in green were on their way to State Tournament.
On Friday May 26, Woodinville arrived at the Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane. The Falcons beat Camas 3-1 and Auburn Riverside 10-0. The next day, Woodinville dispensed of Monroe 7-2. It would boil down to a showdown with Puyallup for all the marbles.
Taylor Rhinehart dueled against Puyallup's ace, Kennedy Robillard. The game was a 0-0 squeaker heading into the sixth inning.
Woodinville catcher Jordyn Boyd led off with a drag bunt single. Riener stepped in and got plunked by a pitch. Two batters later, the Falcons had runners on second and third with one out. Sierra Hein was pinch-running for Boyd at third base.
Sophomore Bailey Burger-Moore was due up. Woodinville coach Dani Weir called time out.
"I was on second base," Riener said. "And Dani brought us in and said `Okay, we're doing the squeeze!" We were like `Okay, are you sure about this'?"
As Robillard delivered the pitch, Burger-Moore squared around to bunt. She made contact and the ball went two feet in front of the plate and spun to a stop in the dirt. Hein came roaring in with a slide across the plate with the game's first run.
Gina Wyner was up next. She swung and hit a soft blooper toward first base. Under normal circumstances, it would have been caught. But because Puyallup had a drawn-in infield, the ball landed just beyond the first base bag. Two more runs scored, giving Woodinville a 3-0 lead.
"I believe the game's final out was a strike out," Riener said. " Everyone paused for a moment, looked at each other, and then we threw our gloves up into the air. And we were hugging and screaming."
Amid the raucous celebration, Riener shared a moment with her gruff-but-lovable assistant coach, Mike Dale.
"Coach Dale was so sweet," she said. "He really wanted us to succeed. If you ever got down on yourself, he would yell at you, but not in a bad way. He'd say `Hey! You're better than that! Knock it off!' I loved him."
After leaving Woodinville, Riener went to Bowling Green on a softball scholarship. After one season, she decided that her softball days were over and she yearned to return to the Pacific Northwest.
"I have transitioned on," she said. "I'm studying special education at Western [Washington University]. But the state championship was something cool in my life. It was an awesome time!"
Olivia Riener while at Bowling Green
The seniors enjoying hamburgers from Dick's Drive-In