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Top-end Talent

Winning a state championship is the pinnacle of a high school athlete's career.

But for this year's Tri-City Herald Athletes of the Year, the lasting memories from their road to the title won't be of simply holding aloft a trophy or standing atop a podium.

For seniors Will Hoppes of Tri-Cities Prep and Mary Barnett of Hermiston, it was with whom they traveled that they'll savor most.

"There was a lot of pressure and expectations on us in football," said Hoppes, the record-setting quarterback for the Jaguars' 1B eight-man titlists. "So it was more of a relief to win. But a lot of my classmates played football, too, and it was cool that I got to share it with them."

Barnett told of the camaraderie she experienced at Hayward Field last month en route to winning the Oregon 5A state shot put and discus titles.

"All the girls were rooting for me just because I was outgoing enough with them," said Barnett, who threw a meet-record 133 feet, 10 inches in the discus to repeat as champion, beating Hannah Francis of Marshfield (Coos Bay) by 3 feet.

"That girl told two teammates of mine, 'I'm going to get that Mary Barnett in the discus.' And then her second throw, she got the meet record and PR. Then I threw my 133."

Barnett pauses in telling her story and smiles. "You should have seen her face," she finished.

"And I helped Kristen Van Cleave (of Pendleton) PR by 2 feet in the shot to help our league go 1-2-3. It was a pretty awesome year overall."

Hoppes ended up setting 15 state or national eight-man records during his four-year career at Tri-Cities Prep, including the national record for career passing yards (10,537) and touchdown passes (142).

He's also No. 2 nationally in career completions (593) and No. 3 in attempts (790) -- and to think, he didn't play quarterback his freshman year, which coincided with record-setting running back Joe Campbell's senior season.

But it was the 10 TD passes Hoppes threw in the title game -- a state record in the Jaguars' 80-40 victory over Lummi -- of which he's most proud.

"People can't say that came against some bad team in a game that didn't matter," Hoppes said. "It was cool doing it in a game like that."

Hoppes missed two games during the regular season with a shoulder injury but

finished the year 177-of-253 passing for 3,062 yards and 47 TDs with just six interceptions. He also ran for 872 yards and 13 touchdowns.

His numbers in four playoff games: 68-of-102, 1,345 yards, 18 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Besides being the All-Area MVP and the state 1B player of the year, Hoppes was named the Male High School Athlete of the Year by Sports Faith International, an organization that showcases the connection between sports and faith.

His flight to Chicago to receive the award coincided with the winner-to-state game of the Southeast district basketball tournament.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on a glass half-full or half-empty approach), he didn't have to worry about any conflict. Prep was eliminated early from the hoops postseason, and the Jaguars also lost a winner-to-state game in baseball, the sport in which Hoppes was an ace right-hander as well as shortstop.

"Both of those were disappointments," Hoppes said. "We had potential, but we always seemed to be one play away, one run away from being a real good team."

Hoppes still excelled in both -- he was fourth in the league in scoring in basketball (14.4 ppg) and was a first-team all-league selection in baseball.

But starting in the fall, Hoppes will be a student only. He decided against pursuing a college sports career, turning down possibilities at the Ivy League or Northwest small-school level and instead heading to the University of Portland to study business.

"I didn't know if I was passionate enough to do it," said Hoppes, who has a 3.6 GPA. "I really liked UP, and I didn't think it was worth it to go to another school I didn't like as much, even if it meant doing sports."

Barnett had no such ambivalence. She signed a letter of intent to throw for Washington State's track program next spring -- a 3.88 student, she'll study secondary education.

But that shouldn't be a surprise to folks who know Barnett well. The seventh of nine children in a sports-oriented family, she had two older brothers (John, a quarterback, and Paul, an offensive lineman) play for Carroll College's national champion football program.

"What do we do on the weekend? We play sports," Mary said. "That's just what my family does."

Besides her state titles, Barnett moved into third place on the all-time Mid-Columbia list in the shot put with her meet-record 44-2 at the Intermountain district meet, and the 139-3 she threw in winning the discus at the Hermiston-Pendleton dual was No. 8 all-time.

Besides her track success, Barnett helped the Bulldogs get to state in both of her team sports -- as a second-team All-Intermountain Conference goalkeeper in soccer, which qualified for the first time since 2000, and as the first post player off the bench on their fourth-place basketball team.

"I played one of my best games in that fourth-place game," she said. "Maybe not stats-wise, but just how hard I worked in that game."

How the consummate thrower became a top soccer goaltender also is a funny story -- and Barnett is a master storyteller.

"Not many people can believe it," she said. "I played soccer in third grade, and I said I'd never do it again. Too much running.

"I played volleyball in middle school, and in eighth grade I went to D.C. on a family trip. When I came back, the coach didn't let me play.

"Well, I was always joking around with Dave Larson, who was the soccer coach then, that I'd come out for soccer. So after that, I turned out for soccer the next year. I just taught myself how to play the game, the rules of the game. I learned the lines were in. That was new to me."

What else is new? The schools that this year's honorees represent -- they are the first athletes from their schools to receive the Herald's highest honor.