People are always asking Gabby Wade what it was like to win a state championship in girls’ basketball at River Ridge High School.
There’s just one problem.
Wade was a starter on arguably the best Hawks’ basketball team of all time, one that went 26-1 and suffered their only loss in the 2005 Class 3A state championship game to Chief Sealth. The Seattle team eventually had to forfeit the victory due to recruiting violations.
Despite losing on the court, River Ridge’s first title game appearance sparked a spectacular run as the Hawks would go on to win three state titles between 2007 and 2010, catapulting the program into elite status.
Wade, however, missed out. She graduated in 2006.
A decade later, she has returned to her alma mater, this time as the Hawks’ new head coach and the goal remains the same, albeit from a different spot on the court.
“I still want to get my state championship,” Wade said.
Wade, who played collegiately at Western Washington University and was previously an assistant coach at Pacific Lutheran University, is among the greatest players in program history. A two-time Pac 9 player of the year and all-state recipient, Wade played a vital role in helping transform the Hawks into a powerhouse.
Few know Hawks’ basketball better than Wade, who is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
So, when the coaching position opened, River Ridge athletic director Gary Larson wasted little time contacting the former standout.
“I actually recruited her pretty hard,” Larson said. “She’s one of my favorite students. I’ve been at River Ridge a long time and have a lot of favorites, but she’s definitely one that stood out. Plus, she was one of the players that built the foundation here.”
Prior to Wade joining the starting lineup during her sophomore season, the Hawks had never made an appearance in the state tournament. They have since advanced to state in 12 out of the last 13 years with their only absence occurring in 2013.
As a coach, Wade not only wants to continue that success, but build on it. She hasn’t been shy about including the past to enhance the future as she has occasionally brought in former River Ridge standouts to practice and talk to the current roster.
“The nice thing is I can bring in so many talented former players,” Wade said. “I’m going to bring in my little sister, Necy Wade. I can bring in a Jasmine McDonald or Kelsey or Sophie Russell. I have all these players I can point to. We had Chelsey White come in the other day. I’m trying to invite more of the alumni to come back because it’s good for the current players to see that tradition and history we have here. I want to build the pride and the ownership of wanting to continuing that tradition.”
One luxury Wade has this season is the fact that the Hawks do not feature a single senior on their roster, giving the new coach two full seasons to mold the squad into her vision.
“With this group, they are so coachable and so much fun to be around, it’s going to happen over time,” Wade said. “We just need to continue to build and learn from each other and trust each other and go from there. I want things to happen superfast, but I know it’s going to take time.”
The team, which is in second place in the South Puget Sound 2A Sound Division with a 10-4 record, features four juniors (Caitlin Yenne, Maddie Retzlaff, Ajae Orie and Meilani Wilson), three sophomores (Ashlee Erixson, Taryn Lucas and Maragret Zilla) and freshman Mia Flores.
“I want to see how far we can go. I want to see how much they buy into the program,” Wade shared. “Once we have that I know we will be good. Right now I am more focused on the smaller things. We’re getting our offense together and taking care of some defensive fundamentals.”
And while Wade understands the process takes time, she is certainly enjoying the time at her old stomping grounds.
“I wake up every day and thank God for this opportunity and this blessing to be at the school where played and to be able to help these girls who are in the same situation I was in,” Wade said. “I can’t believe I am actually here doing this. I keep telling myself I’d better be prepared and keep putting these girls in the position that they need to be in to be successful. They’re all in. If I’m not all in, I’m selling them short. So every day l am. I’m all in.”