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Fritz brings a fire to the arena

THE OUTLOOK: DAVID BALL - Corbett High junior Rhiley Fritz was a main player in soccer, basketball and track for the Cardinals in 2015-16. Corbett High junior Rhiley Fritz was about to take the biggest shot of her life when she stepped onto the basketball court and stood next to Michael Jordan — the Hall-of-Fame, six-time NBA champ, star of SpaceJam, face of the Olympic Dream Team. Yes, that Michael Jordan.

Fritz earned the chance at the end of her freshman year. Her mother Holly promised a trip to Jordan’s summer camp in Santa Barbara if her daughter broke the 100-foot barrier in the javelin.

So there was Rhiley among a crowd of eager players, as Jordan was introducing a shooting game. Jordan’s finger pointed at her, and it was Rhiley’s turn. Make the shot and stay in, miss and rejoin the mix of campers.

Being in the presence of greatness has a way of shaking you up — and Jordan has made seasoned pros quiver on the court. Fritz stood only a few feet from the basket, but it seemed like the hoop was on top of a mountain.

“I was so nervous that I missed it,” Rhiley said. “I remember him saying something like ‘Hey, it’s OK,’ and in my head I’m thinking ‘No, no it is not.’”

That is the kind of fire that makes Fritz a force in whatever sport she picks up — a desire to give nothing less than her best.

Fritz has played a mix of sports over the years, but her passion lies with basketball — a sport she picked up at the local YMCA as a 6-year-old. By fifth grade she was playing up with the middle school team, and it didn’t take long for her to make her mark at the high school.

She was a second-team, Tri-Valley all-star, while leading the Cardinals with 18 points and six steals per game.

“Rhiley spent a lot of time playing summer ball and when her shot was on she was lights out,” Corbett basketball coach Todd VanHee said. “She deflects passes, drives to the basket, creates a lot of opportunities for the team. She has endless energy — there’s always a little left in the tank in the fourth quarter.”

Fritz isn’t bad at starting things off, either.

Facing perennial 3A power Oregon Episcopal in the season opener, Fritz used her ‘In your face’ defense to swipe repeated steals that led to a flood of breakaway buckets. The horn sounded with OES in front 52-46, but the standard had been set for Corbett.

“She was picking pockets all over the court and finished with 11 steals — that set the tone for how we expected to play defense the rest of the season,” VanHee said.

That aggressive style also got the eye of soccer coach Scott Hassebroek, and he was determined to find her a spot when she turned out for the team in the fall.

“I had never tried soccer before, but I like to run and you get to bring a ball into it,” Fritz said. “Plus, I had a lot of friends on the team to encourage me.”

It was a bit like playing a game of fetch on the soccer field — send the ball ahead and watch Rhiley chase it down.

“She puts so much pressure in our offensive third that it created a lot of chances for us — she never gives up on a ball,” Hassebroek said.

Rhiley finished with 10 goals and an assist, most dangerous when she was bearing down on the goalie or taking a shot in traffic.

“She brings this attitude and energy where she is going to battle for everything,” Hassebroek said. “You see her basketball side come out when she’s pursuing a ball. If a player is in her way, she’s not afraid to bump shoulders like she’s fighting for a rebound.”

Rhiley even created a Jordan-like moment on the soccer field.

Trail Blazers fans will remember this one. The 1992 NBA Finals when Jordan knocked down six 3-pointers in the first half of Game 1 and famously ran down the court giving a shoulder shrug as if to say ‘I don’t know how I’m doing this.’

Rhiley found herself in that same stance after connecting on a pair of long-range goals just moments apart during a 4-1 win against rival Gladstone.

“They are always one of the best teams and they are tough to beat at their place where its turf and everything is faster. Kicking it into the goal from distance has always been hard for me — I like to use my speed to get in as close as I can before I shoot it,” Rhiley said. “But in this game, I knocked one straight up and saw it curve into the goal from far out. We set up for the kickoff, the ball comes over to almost the same spot, and I do it again just a few minutes later. I came running down the sidelines with my arms out asking ‘What did I just do?’”

The Cardinals went on to reach the 4A quarterfinals.

Rhiley grew up playing softball, but switched gears to track and field during her rookie season of high school, intrigued by the variety offered in the sport.

One of the quickest kids in school, she was immediately thrown into the sprints, but also tried out races all the way up to the two-lap 800 meters. She also performed in the jumps and ran on the relays, but found her most success in the javelin — the event her father Kevin also excelled at as a prep athlete.

“I was always excited to try something new, and I figured I had a good arm from playing softball all those years,” she said.

This past spring, she won a handful of meets throughout the season, including a small four-team gathering in early May at Portland Christian. The day didn’t start off as anything special. She borrowed a javelin from the host school just to get a different feel, and ended up fluttering out an attempt that fell far short of her normal range.

“I ended up with a terrible first try, and I remember being all shaken up,” she said.

The jitters would return on her next trip down the runway.

She lifted the spear over her head and began her approach, halfway to the line she moved into her rhythm steps and cocked her arm back ready to fire.

That’s when she heard the yells — panicked, removed but distinct.

A flash came into her vision from the side.

A group of toddlers scampered across the end of the runway.

They crossed safely just moments before Fritz launched a throw that cut through the sky — the javelin sailed far enough to clear 16 school buses stacked side-by-side. The tape measure made it official 138-feet-6-inches — a new school record.

She finished her 2015-16 sports circuit by placing second in the javelin at the 4A state meet.

Three-Sport Athlete Award
Other notables

Team Score
Renick Meyer, jr., Barlow
Devin Weien, sr., Corbett
Hunter Straub, sr., Damascus Christian
Ashlynn Jones, jr., Damascus Christian
Matthew Ellis, jr., Barlow

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Twitter: @DaveBallSports