If sports are 80 percent mental, than Hope Klicker is 100 percent certain of how she and her Walla Walla softball teammates elevated their game this season.
"It was a totally different mindset," the Blue Devils junior said. "The girls before the season, we knew what we wanted to do, what it would take to get to the state tournament. I'm proud of the girls -- it was a true team effort."
What they did (27-2, third at state) and what Klicker did (dominate pretty much everyone) earned the Wa-Hi star the Herald's All-Area MVP.
"She is a major competitor and she can take control of a game," said her coach, Jerry Humphreys.
Can she ever.
Klicker, who this week was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Washington, went the bulk of the regular season before allowing a single earned run. She finished with a 0.73 ERA, 13-1 record and 114 strikeouts in 86 innings in the circle. She numbered three no-hitters among her eight shutouts, including a perfect game.
Offensively, she hit .424 and slugged six home runs among her 18 extra-base hits, driving in 28 runs on her way to being named CBBN Cascade MVP.
The results weren't unexpected -- she was an all-state first-team first baseman and the Cascade offensive player of the year as a sophomore, after all, and was named to the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch all-regional team last summer.
But her pitching numbers improved dramatically -- she was the No. 2 starter with a 1.24 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 56-plus innings the previous season.
The difference, she said, was working with a new pitching coach, Barry Kamphuis, who convinced her that she didn't need five different pitches, just a couple that she could locate at will. Turned out that a rise ball and changeup were more than enough.
But more than her approach to pitching, both Klicker and Humphreys point to a newfound determination to take charge of the team. For the first time last winter, she skipped basketball to work on softball, with the goal of bringing home the program's first state title and playing in college.
"Last year we had (Cascade MVP) Alexis Bobadilla, and I was a player on the team, but I wasn't much of a leader," Klicker said. "This year ... something switched mentally for me -- I had to be a leader on this team. Our goals and dreams were to get back to the state tournament and win."
Klicker is joined on the All-Area team by five of her teammates, including first-team selections Jill McDaniels at second base, Andrea Hamada in the outfield and fellow pitcher Alyson Ambler.
Richland and Southridge each landed a trio of players on the first team: for the Bombers, Bailey Walthers at third, Sydney Cejka in the outfield and C.J. Elgin as the designated player; for the Suns, pitcher Caitlin Klepper, catcher Katie Lowery and first baseman Allyx Copeland.
Pasco's Kaylee Winston at short, Othello's Kylee Mollotte in the outfield and River View's shortstop/pitcher Haley Hess as the utility player round out the team.
Klicker, Winston, Cejka and Klepper all are repeat selections to the first team. Of the 13 players, only four -- Lowery, McDaniels, Winston and Mollotte -- are seniors, indicating a competitive spring ahead in 2011.
Richland's Casey Emery earned coach of the year, taking a team that finished below .500 last season to the CBBN 4A district title and a state appearance this spring.
All-Area first team: P--Hope Klicker, jr., Walla Walla; Alyson Ambler, so., Walla Walla; Caitlin Klepper, jr., Southridge. C--Katie Lowery, sr., Southridge. 1B--Allyx Copeland, so., Southridge. 2B--Jill McDaniels, sr., Walla Walla. 3B--Bailey Walthers, so., Richland. SS--Kaylee Winston, sr., Pasco. OF--Kylee Mollotte, sr., Othello. OF--Sydney Cejka, jr., Richland. OF--Andrea Hamada, so., Walla Walla. DP--C.J. Elgin, so., Richland. U--Haley Hess, so., River View.
MVP--Hope Klicker, Walla Walla.
Coach of Year--Casey Emery, Richland.
Second team: P--Lindsey Kamphuis, so., Kamiakin; Lindsey Walchli, jr., Richland; Karly Stoltman, sr., Moses Lake. C--Vicki Reardon, sr., Walla Walla. 1B--DeVauna Green, jr., Richland. 2B--Lacey Padilla, sr., Moses Lake. 3B--Brenda Rodriguez, jr., Othello. SS--Stephanie Hunter, sr., Kamiakin. OF--Lexi McCracken, so., Richland. OF--Paige Pontarolo, so., Walla Walla. OF--Andrea Waters, so., Hermiston. DP--Katy Martell, sr., Kamiakin. U--Kenzie Koch, so., Prosser.