After title runs Mollie Lewandowski leaves Cougars in able hands
It is a time of new beginnings. The school year is over, and with it Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) sanctioned athletics. Kids are getting to relax and go about their summers free from the restraint of homework until they return to high school next year. For the graduating seniors, they stand at the threshold of a life outside secondary education.
Organized sports for these seniors will look very different. For some, it will look like college athletics, and for others, organized pick-up games or intramural activities. Some will forego that route entirely, at least for the time being. Recently graduated Country Christian senior Mollie Lewandowski is one of those people.
Lewandowski will take a gap year between high school and college, opting to travel to Mexico to be an intern with Yugo Ministries in Ensenada. Participating in house building, outreach, and ministry there is something she has done practically her entire life. Lewandowski's first trip down was at the age of 3 with her parents, who were doing outreach work.
"My parents are the mission leaders at my church, and when I was 3 we lived at Yugo Ministries for the summer and worked there," Lewandowski said. "Almost every year since we've gone back each summer for a week with my church to build a house. It's just, the Lord is really calling me there. Being there last summer, it just felt like where I belonged."
While it may surprise some that an athlete as decorated and lauded as Lewandowski has not chosen to pursue college athletics, it's just who she is. Lewandowski sets her mind to something and decides to pursue it. Helping others and giving of herself is just part of that package.
Lewandowski leaves behind one of the strongest résumés Country Christian and Molalla athletics has seen to date. She was a part of the Cougars volleyball team that recorded four straight state championships; she helped lead the school's basketball team to two state titles, and was part of a run of four straight finals appearances; and in the spring she went to the state tournament four times in girls tennis for the 4A Molalla program. Despite consistently defying the odds and achieving success more often than not, she was not immune to the pressures of competition.
"I feel like there was some pressure, yeah, a kind of an expectation that we'll reach it again," Lewandowski said. "But it's not a bad thing, it's a good type of pressure that kind of motivated me. Thinking, 'We've done it before, why can't we just do it again?' At times, of course, it was like, 'Oh no, how are we going to do this?' I'd get really nervous, but overall it was a really positive thing."
Learning to overcome that pressure, and overcome stumbles along the path was one of the things that Lewandowski picked up. Her freshman year, the Country Christian basketball team reached the state finals and lost a fairly competitive contest to No. 1 ranked Damascus Christian. It was at that moment the learning process began in earnest, and was something she was able to translate to her individual sport, tennis.
"Freshmen year we lost the championship game in basketball and that was rough," Lewandowski said. "I specifically had to learn, along with my team, to not let that get you down. The next year we wanted the goal of a championship even more. I especially found (that lesson) in tennis. I was so used to team sports, when I got to tennis my coaches couldn't talk to me except at designated times. I was like, 'Oh no, how am I going to do this?' But I just learned that if I was down to not let that frazzle me and just kind of stay calm and collected because it was much easier to play and be successful."
Another thing the Lewandowski learned to do was become more a leader on her teams. As the years went on and she rose up on her team, she learned to do that. Lewandowski, a self-professed shy and quiet person, found her voice and also led by example.
"I feel like I've grown as a person, obviously, especially as an athlete," Lewandowski said. "Freshman year I come in and followed what everyone else was doing. Over time, I became more assertive, more of a leader. I learned how to use the strengths of my teammates, and make the most of the team as a leader. Even as a teammate, it taught me how to be more of a team player and have more confidence in my abilities."
Those lessons served her well as she sank the game winning basket against Nixyaawii in this year's state basketball tournament finals. A pass from teammate Anna Farner led to the go-ahead bucket, but it wasn't without a bit of drama.
"There wasn't much time left on the clock when I made that shot," Lewandowski said. "That in itself was crazy. It was tied, and my coach had called a timeout. He had drawn up some type of play for me and Anna to do, because we were inbounding at the other end. I don't know how it happened, but Anna just went all the way up the court, and I was just wide open, which was unusual during that game. It was really amazing, and I was shocked."
The journey, which began as a kindergartener with basketball and soccer, detoured through dance, track, and softball, and ended up with championships, now sees Lewandowski and her class move on. But what does she leave behind? If you ask her, it's a legacy of determination.
"As freshmen, that was the year our school won its first championship in volleyball," Lewandowski said. "It was because those seniors, led by the coaches, had the mentality of, 'We're going to do this, that's our goal, and nothing is going to stop us.' Over the years, we took that on as our own mentality, and it influenced us a lot. I hope to pass that same mindset on to my teammates that are coming up. One of excellence, of striving to do their best. Against Nixyaawii, we could have given up, we could have thought the season was good enough, but we didn't do that. We went into that mindset of, 'We've got this, we're going to do it.'
"I hope that passes on to the younger years. It's something we've had to focus on passing along because obviously we knew we weren't going to be there forever. We were going to move on. Now it's their team, and I'm hoping they choose to lead their team that same way."
"I have full trust in the new leaders."