5 reasons to remember the 2012-13 Bear River Bruins | TheUnion.com
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5 reasons to remember the 2012-13 Bear River Bruins

From left: Bear River's Maddi Dunn, Lauren Runte, Sarah Hagar and Kaitlyn Reina walk off the court after beating Argonaut 42-39 in overtime of the section semifinals Wednesday at Tokay High School in Lodi.
John Hart | The Union

Battle of a lifetime: Bear River senior tackles leukemia

Originally ran April 4, 2012

For Bear River student-athlete Austin Dowling the first half of his senior year was filled with in-the-classroom and on-the-field tests. The second half presents a much more difficult challenge.



The 17-year-old football and track-and-field standout was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in mid-February and has been battling for his life ever since.

“I was shocked,” Dowling said. “I didn’t really know what to think. I’ve been healthy and fit, and I just thought ‘How could I have something like this?’ It’s crazy.”




Since his diagnosis, Dowling has spent more days in the hospital than at his own home.

“It’s going to be a time-consuming process for the next six years,” said Damon Dowling, Austin’s father. “And, once he beats this, it will still be a long process, week to week, month to month, year to year, until they feel like there is not a chance that this is coming back.”

Austin has already completed the first of three phases of chemotherapy treatment and is currently enduring his second.

“The hardest part is probably waking up and having the feeling like ‘I want to go hang out with friends, or just go for a drive,’” Austin said. “It’s hard to deal with not being able to do anything or even leave the front door without having to put a mask on.”

The recent diagnosis has stolen his final track season and forced him to complete his final stretch of school work from the hospital and his home. Austin ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes, was on the 4-x-400 relay team, as well as the school record-setting 4-x-100 relay team.

As a member of the Bear River football team, Dowling was the third-leading Bruin back in rushing yards (294), fourth in receiving yards (157) and his three interceptions tied for second most for the Bruins

Today, he dreams of the way life used to be — just a few short months ago.

“It’s hard, because I do dream about being at school,” he said. “I dream about hanging with friends, and stuff like that.”

Since the diagnosis, his life has changed greatly, but he is no stranger to adverse medical conditions and long odds, a familiarity that his mother, Michelle, says is nerve-wracking but bodes well for him.

“When he was in sixth grade he was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, which is a rare blood disorder, and he went through a 24-hour period in the ICU,” she said.

“It’s just amazing to take this kid, that doctors told not to do sports because of this Kawasaki disease and what it can do to you. Plus, he had an Osgood-Schlatter thing, and a specialist told him he would never play sports again in his life because of the pain he would have in his knee. And the kid just pushes through everything and anything that is put up against him.”

While the Dowling family has the utmost confidence Austin will beat leukemia, they have been humbled by the outpouring of support from the South County community.

“The community, in general, has been amazing.” Damon Dowling said. “I never really realized that there are so many people out there that were so caring and generous. You just don’t see it on a regular basis and just the outpouring of generosity and concern is just amazing to me.”

Since the news of Austin’s diagnosis, a well of support has sprung. His football teammates visited him in the hospital and are selling orange bracelets to help offset medical bills.

A 5K “Tackle Leukemia” fundraising run will take place Saturday and more than 30 friends and supporters have shaved their heads in a show of solidarity.

Bear River’s co-head football coaches Scott Savoie and Terry Logue organized the head-shaving show of support.

“He’s one of those kids you love to have,” Logue said of Austin. “He has a good attitude, really loves football, pretty much did everything you asked him to do, (a) two-year varsity guy for us. You just hate to see this happen to any teenage kid, let alone someone you know and coach and really like.”

Zach Winter, a football teammate and close friend of Austin’s since fourth grade, was one of many to walk into the make-shift barber shop on the Bear River campus with a head full of hair and walk out with a clean-shaven scalp.

“When we found out, it was just awful,” Winter said. “I thought it was a joke at first. I got a text that said ‘I got cancer’ and my heart just dropped. As a teenager, you think you are indestructible, but when something like this happens it really opens your eyes to see that anything can happen on any given day.”

Winter along with Cameron Barrios and Chris Beardsley said they make it to the hospital as often as they can.

But it’s not only Austin’s teammates from the 2012 season who have come out to support him.

Dillon Huffman, who played with Austin in 2011 at Bear River and now plays at Humboldt State University, brought Austin a helmet signed by the entire Lumberjack team.

Close friend DeVaughn Lofton has also been a source of strength and support as well, Austin said.

And now, as Austin now traverses his way through chemotherapy — and in time a bone marrow transplant — he said there are a several things that are allowing him to remain strong. Austin said the support of his family, community and school gives him strength.

“I’m a pretty quiet person, but all the attention feels good,” Austin said. “It makes me feel like everybody cares.”

Austin’s love for sports and desire to compete again one day also fuel his fire to overcome leukemia, he said.

“I don’t think I would be able to make it without sports,” he said. “Just growing up with it, whether it’s just going outside and playing basketball or riding dirt bikes or whatever, I’ve always been involved in sports. I wouldn’t be able to make it without sports. I just love sports.”

Until he was diagnosed, Austin had hoped to play football in college after graduation. But now the goal is to get healthy enough to walk at graduation. After that, the goal is to beat the cancer completely and get back to the way things used to be.

“Right now, for me, I’m just trying to get through it,” Austin said, “to come back home healthy and be able to go back to my normal life.”

And while this is the most difficult challenge he has ever faced, he knows he’s not alone.

“I just want to thank everybody for the love and support they have given me,” he said. “It’s really made me stronger as a person and it makes me feel good.”

­­— Walter Ford

Bear River falls to Bradshaw Christian in title game

Originally ran March 2, 2013

Sacramento – Bear River’s bid for an 11th Sac-Joaquin Section girls basketball title fell short Saturday at Sleep Train Arena as Bradshaw Christian topped the Lady Bruins, 50-40, earning its fifth title in six years.

The Lady Pride went 14-for-16 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and overcame a six-point deficit with seven minutes to play to earn their first Division IV title. Bradshaw Christian had previously won four championships in Division V before being bumped into D-IV last year.

“(Bradshaw Christian) is a really talented team,” Bear River head coach Jeff Bickmore said. “We had a hard time with their penetration, they are very athletic and we had a couple things like turnovers at key times. It was one of those games where they were good and we weren’t able to sustain the scoring. We had to foul at the end and they hit a lot of their free throws, and that was the difference.”

After falling behind in the first quarter, 12-9, the Lady Bruins rallied in the second with 11 points from junior post player Kaitlyn Reina.

Bear River outscored Bradshaw Christian 17-10 in the second, giving them a four-point, 26-22, lead at the half.

In the third was when things got tense. Bradshaw Christian’s top scorer, Erika Bean, went down with an ankle injury after a rebound attempt. Shortly after that Reina went down with an ankle injury of her own. The two teams battled without their top offensive threats to an 8-8 tie in the quarter and Bear River maintained its four point edge at 34-30 heading into the fourth.

A soft hook in the lane from Teryn Rath to start the fourth put Bear River up by six, but that’s when Bradshaw Christian’s Jordyn Bell and Bean, who returned in the fourth, started to make their push. Bean and Bell, both sophomores, combined for eight points in a three minute stretch to put the Lady Pride up 38-36.

That’s when Reina, who was writhing in pain on the floor just a quarter ago, made her return. Her impact was felt immediately as just seconds after entering the game she sank a 3-pointer to give Bear River the 39-38 lead with four minutes remaining.

“She has carried us all year,” Bickmore said of Reina. “I don’t know if there is another girl that I’ve ever coached that would have come back after what she did to her ankle. She was hurting out there and was still willing to come out and play and I can’t say enough about her as a competitor. She plays with the most heart and confidence of any girl I’ve coached and I was really impressed with her ability to come back.”

Although the momentum had swung back in Bear River’s favor, it would soon shift to the Lady Pride. Reina fouled out shortly after sinking the go-ahead 3, and Bear River wouldn’t hit another field goal the rest of the game.

Bradshaw closed the game on a 12-1 run, hitting 10-of-12 free throws down the stretch.

“(Bradshaw Christian) really takes you out of what you want to do,” Bickmore said. “They are going to double team and trap, and we just got to play basketball and move the ball.

“We did an excellent job of not turning the ball over, in the second and third quarters we didn’t turn the ball over once and that is amazing, but in the fourth we had some key turnovers and they hit some big shots and got big offensive rebounds.”

Bean finished with 19 points, including a 9-for-11 performance from the charity stripe, and Ashlee Jones scored 18 to lead the Lady Pride.

Bear River got 19 points from Reina, 16 of which came in the first half. Reina also led Bear River with nine rebounds. Rath added 10 points and six rebounds, and Savannah Welz chipped in six points and seven rebounds while handling most of the point guard duties.

As a team the Lady Bruins only turned the ball over 10 times, but the Lady Pride were even more protective with just eight turnovers. Bear River won the rebounding battle, grabbing 40 to Bradshaw Christian’s 35, but the Lady bruins woeful shooting eventually did them in. Bear River was just 17-of-56 from the field, 4-of-19 from downtown, and 2-for-8 from the charity stripe. The Lady Pride shot 14-for-40 from the field with only one 3-pointer, but connected on 21-of-33 free throws.

Bear River quest for a section title may be over, but its season is not. The Lady Bruins will now await their seeding in the NorCal tournament.

— Walter Ford

Bruins remain unbeaten, shutdown rival Colfax

Originally published Oct 6, 2012

“The whole team will remember this game forever,” said Bear River running back and linebacker Cody Heard after the Bruins took down their league rival Colfax, 24-14, Friday.

The Bruins were forced to answer the call early after giving up a quick 62-yard touchdown run to the Falcons’ star running back Tim Rawlins on the second play of the opening drive.

The next play from scrimmage, the Bruins’ quarterback Dillon Smith completed an 80-yard bomb to wide receiver Tevyn Kimble to knot the game 7-7.

Bear River never really developed its running game, only gaining 52 yards on 36 carries for the game. However, Smith gave the Bruins plenty of yards through the air, completing 15-of-32 passes for 243 yards. Kimble exploded on the night with eight catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.

Yet, it was the Bear River defense that stood out. Heard recorded nine solo tackles and recovered two fumbles, one of which he took 40 yards into the end zone.

Kimble also recovered a fumble and had five tackles. Zach Winter added another five solo tackles. Austin Dowling had a 1-yard interception return for a touchdown, which was induced by the tremendous pressure of Jake Savoie on Falcons quarterback Michael Wilson.

Wilson had his moments and did manage to drive the Falcons down the field several times, but the Bruins always stepped it up to keep them out of the end zone. The Bruins’ Michael Raigoza had five tackles and two interceptions that paralyzed the Falcons momentum.

“I’m on cloud nine,” said co-head coach Terry Logue. “We persevered, adapted and overcame.”

In the second half, the game slowed down, and it was an offensive struggle for both teams. Blake Nielsen’s 35-yard field goal broke the scoreless drought and gave the Bruins a two-score advantage, which proved to be all they needed.

It was an all-around stellar defensive performance, said Heard.

“Our protection was absolutely outstanding,” said co-head coach Scott Savoie. “It was a total team effort, making plays. The goal-line stand was huge. This team is resilient.”

The Bruins are now 6-0 overall and 1-0 in the Pioneer Valley League play with Placer on the schedule for Friday.

JV: Bear River 35 Colfax 7

The Bruins improved to 4-1-1 on the season by knocking off Colfax, 35-7.

Quarterback Austin Smith threw 6-of-6 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a rushing touchdown and had an interception on defense.

Running back Kyle Krogman ran for 65 yards, including a 48-yarder that went for a touchdown. Kyle Uclaray added another 51 yards on his 21 carries. Krogmann and Connor Hollister led the defense with five tackles each.

— Brian Shepard

CHAMPS: Bear River wins section volleyball championship

Originally published November 15, 2012

DAVIS — With the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV girls volleyball championship just one point away, Bear River’s Sara Schell had the ball in her hands.

The two-time reigning Pioneer Valley League MVP tossed the ball up for her service and rifled it across the net. The Ripon Christian defender had no chance, as the ball ricocheted high off her forearm and out of play, giving the Lady Bruins the ace and the section championship.

Bear River (30-12 overall, 9-1 PVL) outlasted a talented Ripon Christian team (27-7 overall, 15-0 Southern League) Thursday at UC Davis, winning in four sets, 25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-23.

“We’ve been together since eighth grade. We’ve probably played over 250 matches in that time,” Bear River head coach Matt MacDonald said. “Every day we try to get better, and every day we talk about focus and staying poised and being a family. When you have played as much volleyball together as they have, you’re really more than just a team, and that’s what makes me so proud of these girls and our program. When times were tough and we got down, they just believed, and it was just unbelievable.”

Schell, a senior, led the Lady Bruins all night with her dynamic and powerful kills mixed with several soft tip kills. Schell finished with a game-high 18 kills. Setting Schell with impressive precision was senior Kaya Johnson.

“Those two and the connection they have is just amazing,” MacDonald said. “There are times when they know it’s going to Sara, and she’s got to put it down, and Kaya gets it to her, and they find a way to get it done, especially at the end.”

Johnson accounted for 37 assists on the night to go with her five aces.

“We have nine seniors, and we have been working on this for so long,” Johnson said. “Last year, we were so close. It was right in our hands. This year, it just meant the world to our seniors.”

In the first set, the Lady Bruins jumped out to a 10-1 lead over the Knights behind kills from Teryn Rath, Amanda Clark and Schell. Ripon battled back, getting to within two points at 22-20. That was as close as they got, as a Kirsten Pereira kill and some Ripon Christian errors gave the Lady Bruins the first set.

“We were so prepared for that first set,” Johnson said. “We were like this is our game. We need to come out strong and so we did.”

In the second set, Ripon Christian found its groove and got out to an early lead. Bear River battled, but the Knights did not relent, taking the set 25-20.

In the third set, the Lady Bruins fell behind early but recovered with strong play from Rath, Johnson and Schell. Bear River overcame its deficit and closed the match with a pair of Pereira kills to gain a 2-1 edge and close within one set of the championship. Pereira finished the night with 13 kills.

“Pereira is our energy,” MacDonald said. “She just provides that spark. She has since she was a freshman.”

The final set was the most tightly contested set as the teams found themselves knotted at 20. Ripon Christian got strong play from Andie Shelton to help put the Knights up 23-22. A Ripon Christian error and a Lady Bruin point gave Bear River its opportunity to grab its first section title since 1998.

Schell fired her serve over the net. The Knights couldn’t handle it, and the celebration was on, as Bear River stormed the court.

Also having strong games for Bear River were Kaely Rath, Aspen Dutrow and Haley Brown, who led the team with nine digs.

Bear River will now host a Tuesday home game in the California State Tournament.

— Walter Ford

Last’s blast secures win, PVL title

Originally published May 8, 2012

With the softball game in extra innings, Bear River’s Rachel Last dug into the batter’s box with two outs, a runner on third and the Pioneer Valley League title on the line.

Center’s pitcher, Haileigh Arthur, had dominated Bear River all game allowing just two Lady Bruin hits up to that point, while striking out 16.

Arthur started Last off with a couple of outside pitches then tried to sneak one inside. Last wasn’t fooled. The junior tattooed the offering, and as the ball soared into the gray sky, the Beat River players and fans began to erupt. The ball soared deep into left center field and over the fence for the walk-off, 2-0 win, clinching the PVL title for Bear River.

The Lady Bruin faithful roared from the stands, as the Bear River players gathered at home plate to celebrate the game-winning blast.

“She had been throwing outside all day and she came inside and I just turned on it,” Last said. “It just hit that spot and it felt amazing. It’s the best feeling ever, I almost started crying.”

The hit was only the third Lady Bruin hit of the day and the second to leave the infield. It was the third home run of the season for Last, who is the lone varsity holdover from last season’s section championship team.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” first year head coach Jason Bohrer said. “I’m just so proud of the girls and so happy for them. They are so young and sometimes that’s a benefit. Sometimes they don’t realize the situation they are in so they can go out and play loose and we have.”

Capping the league season with a championship banner is nothing short of spectacular for Bear River after graduating nine seniors from the 2012 team, losing long-time head coach Duane Zuaner and starting the 2013 campaign 3-8.

“From our first game until now – it seems impossible almost,” Last said.

“We’ve done so much, worked really hard and we’ve just clicked and it’s gone really good for us.”

Getting Last her chance to be the hero was a team effort as several Lady Bruins contributed defensively just to get the game to the extra frames.

Freshman phenom Nerissa Long pitched another gem for Bear River, making her 9-1 against PVL opponents with a season ERA of 1.32.

In Tuesday’s matchup, Long went eight innings, struck out 13, walked three and allowed no runs. Long pitched herself out of trouble in the third, fourth and sixth innings when Center put runners in scoring position.

Long was aided by some stellar defense along the way.

With a runner on second and third in the top of the sixth, Bear River catcher Mikayla Laymance made an impressive catch on an errant pitch which prevented the runners from advancing.

In the top of the eighth, it was Alex Ecke’s turn to shine with an athletic catch in the gap to prevent an extra base hit.

Contributing offensively for Bear River, in addition to Last’s two-run bomb, were Long with a bunt single, and Bailey Lewis with a hot shot single past Center’s first basemen.

This was the second straight game for Bear River (12-9, 9-1 PVL) that went to extra innings – a situation the Lady Bruins are not afraid of, said Long.

“Having all that pressure is actually a lot of fun,” she said.

“My team always has my back and were always having fun.”

With the PVL title banner already secured, the Lady Bruins will now await their draw for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Brackets will be released May 13.

— Walter Ford


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