River Mahler does it all.
The Monroe High School softball star blasts homers over the fence. She laces doubles and triples all over the outfield. She slaps and bunts her way to infield hits.
She swipes bags and takes extra bases, putting constant pressure on the defense with her blazing speed.
And she’s a web gem waiting to happen at shortstop — where she uses her natural athleticism, golden glove and rocket arm to make difficult plays look routine.
With her elite all-around skill set, the Stanford University-bound senior is no doubt one of the top prep softball players to come through Snohomish County in recent memory.
“River Mahler could be the best player I’ve ever seen in my years in Wesco,” said Marysville Getchell coach Mike Moran, who has coached high school softball in the area for the past two-plus decades.
“As an all-around player,” he added, “she’s the (real) deal.”
Mahler’s rare talent was on full display during her record-setting season this spring.
The versatile lefty slugger batted a school-record .691 with nine home runs, a school-record six triples and a school-record 18 doubles.
She posted a .709 on-base percentage and a whopping 1.297 slugging percentage. She finished with a school-record 65 hits, including 33 extra-base hits in 28 games. She had at least one hit in every contest and just two strikeouts in 117 plate appearances. She stole nine bases in 11 attempts.
And she made a number of highlight-reel gems at shortstop, while turning six double plays and committing just two errors in 106 total chances.
The Pac-12 signee’s fingerprints were all over a success-filled season for the Bearcats, who went 20-8 and tied for fifth place in the Class 3A state tournament.
For her exceptional senior campaign, Mahler is The Herald’s 2022 All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
“She worked for every single stat that she achieved (and) every record that she’s broken at Monroe High School,” Bearcats coach Ashley Tuiasosopo said. “She is so well prepared and she puts in the time.”
Mahler’s tireless work ethic, Tuiasosopo said, was especially evident in all the additional reps she’d take after practices. She was always honing her swing while hitting extra buckets of balls, and polishing her fielding while taking extra grounders.
“River’s the type of kid that you have to be like, ‘You took enough reps today. You’ve gotta go home,’” Tuiasosopo said. “And she’s like, ‘No, coach. I need more. I need to get better.’
“That’s just her attitude and mentality. … She works it and she works it, until she has perfected it and got it where she wants it. (It’s) the reason why she is so good.”
Mahler also has some strong softball genes. Her mother, Tami (Storseth) Mahler, was a four-year starting shortstop for the University of Washington in the 1990s.
Mahler, whose family moved back and forth several times between Montana and the Puget Sound area during her childhood, said both her parents were instrumental in her softball development.
“With my dad taking me (outside) to practice all the time and my mom being there to kind of critique little things here and there, it’s honestly been a team effort with how they’ve developed me into the player I am now,” she said.
By the time Mahler reached high school, she was already an elite talent. As a freshman, she batted .569 for Monroe. Then after her sophomore season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, she hit .714 as a junior during last year’s abbreviated slate.
With the pandemic-induced disruptions to her sophomore and junior seasons, this spring took on added significance for Mahler.
“Knowing it was my senior year, I wanted to take it all in and really kind of cherish every single pitch of every single game and every single rep I got at practice,” she said.
“I just wanted to make it all count, so every rep to me meant something. And I think having that focus is what made my year successful.”
Mahler opened the year by hitting for the cycle against Kamiak, which set the tone for her season-long barrage of extra-base hits.
She also would’ve hit for the cycle in a midseason game against Shorewood if she’d stopped at third base for a triple. But instead, she rounded third and sprinted her way to an inside-the-park home run.
Tuiasosopo said it was always exciting when Mahler stepped to the plate, because anything and everything was possible.
“Even in an at-bat, you’ll see her swing away one pitch, and then the next pitch she’s laying down a bunt because she’s read the defense and where they’re playing,” Tuiasosopo said.
That created quite the predicament for opposing defenses.
“You can’t play her in for the slap, because if she swings away and it gets over your head, there’s potential for that to be an in-the-park home run,” Tuiasosopo said. “You can’t play her deep, because then she’ll slap it in front of you and that could end up being a double.
“She’s very patient and she knows what she wants and she knows when to be aggressive,” Tuiasosopo added. “And that’s just preparation — all the work that she’s put into the cages, all the work that she’s put on tees.”
Mahler was equally spectacular in the field this season.
Of all the highlight-reel plays Mahler made, Tuiasosopo said her most impressive came against Arlington in the district tournament. On a grounder hit toward the hole between shortstop and third base, Mahler made a diving stop, rolled over onto her backside, and then threw out the speedy runner at first.
“I will never forget (that) play,” Tuiasosopo said. “She makes plays like that look effortless.
“Honestly, we (sometimes) just tried to throw pitches that hit to the left side of the field, just knowing that we had a vacuum over there,” she added. “We had a kid with an arm that could make impossible plays happen.”
But what Tuiasosopo raved about most — even more than her star shortstop’s talent — was Mahler’s infectious personality, positive energy and team-first approach.
“She’s such a joy to be around,” Tuiasosopo said. “I’m just gonna really miss having that smile at the field every day and the, ‘Hey coach, how are you doing today?!’ Like, I swear, there’s never a bad day with her.
“Her stats speak for herself,” she added. “But what people don’t understand is just the quality human being she is. … River is a great kid. And she cares so much about others, and she cares so much about the success of the team.”
Mahler got to play the past two seasons alongside her younger sister, Jessi, who was a junior center fielder on this year’s team. They were part of an incredibly rare dynamic this season, as one of three pairs of sisters who started for the Bearcats.
Mahler said her favorite memory this year was watching Jessi hit her first-ever home run against Arlington in the state tournament.
“I was going crazy,” Mahler said. “… Just sharing those moments with her was extremely special.”
While Mahler was excelling in softball, she also was busy working hard in the classroom.
When Stanford first emerged as an option, Mahler didn’t think it was realistic to attend such an academically prestigious college. She said school had always been challenging for her and that she had to work harder to be at the same level as her classmates.
“All I could think about was, ‘Oh my gosh, (Stanford students) are the smartest people ever. There’s no way that I could go there,’” Mahler said.
But just like in softball, Mahler reaped the benefits of her dedicated work ethic. She finished high school with a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average — even while taking a rigorous slate of Advanced Placement and honors courses — and is one of her class’s valedictorians.
“Just being able to get through that was so fantastic,” Mahler said of her academic accomplishments. “… I made it through all these academic challenges and (now) it’s like, ‘I can do this.’
“I am so excited to play for (Stanford),” she added. “Like, it’s unreal how exciting this is for me.”
Tuiasosopo is confident Mahler will continue her success with the Cardinal, who are coming off a trip to the super regionals as one of the final 16 teams in this spring’s NCAA Tournament.
“The sky’s the limit for River,” Tuiasosopo said. “I’m confident in who she is and how hard she works that whatever she wants to accomplish at Stanford, she’s gonna be able to do that.
“So I’m just excited to see what she can do there.”