Rainier mother-daughter duo growing bond through fastpitch

Katie Qualls recently finished second year coaching Brooklynn Swenson


When Brooklynn Swenson, a junior shortstop at Rainier High School, steps up to the plate, she looks to her left for advice from the only person who has ever driven her to practice in any of her sports: Katie Qualls, her mother and Rainier’s fastpitch head coach.

During games, Qualls often gives her daughter small tidbits about her swing and encourages her in big situations, telling her “Nobody better!” The three-time Central 2B All-League honoree has earned her encouragement. After all, the shortstop finished her junior season leading the team in batting average (.614), on base percentage (.667), hits (35), triples (six) and runs batted in (35), and she struck out just twice in 66 plate appearances.

Qualls began helping Rainier’s fastpitch team during its district tournament run in 2022 before becoming the head coach in 2023. She said she pursued the job because she wanted to see if she and Swenson, her only child, could separate their relationship and “blend in as coach and player.”

“For kids that didn’t know her, we got away with it for a little bit of them not knowing I was her mom because of our different last names,” Qualls said. “Actually, it kind of grew into something that when everyone knew, I kind of embraced that. She doesn’t get any special treatment or anything. She deserves and earns everything on her own. I was intrigued to see how it would go.”

Qualls played basketball and fastpitch in high school, and she and Swenson’s father wanted their daughter to get acclimated with organized sports and meet new people. The first sport Swenson competed in was gymnastics as a youngster, but she began playing tee-ball and basketball in elementary school. Qualls recognized Swenson’s talent and athletic gifts while playing for the Thurston County Fastpitch Association at around age 8.

“I knew she was a natural at fastpitch. She first started playing out in Tenino, and then they tried to put her on a Yelm team. We went to the first practice, and I had to step outside and call Thurston County to tell them that we gotta get her back on a different team because she’s gonna hurt kids,” Qualls said. “She was fundamentally really good at fastpitch right off the bat.”

Along with fastpitch, Swenson plays basketball and volleyball for Rainier. She said, while her first love was fastpitch, she has grown to love basketball the most as she has gotten older. But playing for her mother adds a different dimension to her longtime love of fastpitch.

“She inspires me to work hard. I just want to make her happy and proud at the end of the day. I mean, I see her every day,” Swenson jokingly said of her mother.

“I hope you know that you do,” Qualls responded. “Check your phone. I said it today.”

With Swenson’s junior season complete and senior year now on the horizon, Qualls said she doesn’t know how she’ll handle her daughter going to college after graduating in 2025. Qualls said Swenson is mentally prepared for the leap to college, both academically and athletically, but she added that she is planning to give her a crash course of how to do different chores around the house, like how to load a dishwasher or cooking.

“It’s the only child syndrome, so I tend to cater to her. She doesn’t know how to do many home things. That’s the part I think we’re gonna be scared about,” Qualls said. “I hope that if she wants to continue to play a sport in college at any level, I hope she does because she’s an awesome athlete, and I’m really proud of her. And if she doesn’t, I hope she enjoys all the memories and awards and accolades and friendships she’s made along the way.”

Swenson said she hopes to play at least one sport in college, preferably basketball, regardless of level.

“I don’t mind if it’s at a community college. It’d just be really nice to keep playing. I’ve spent more than half my life playing, and I’d rather continue that than it just be a memory of some sort,” she said.

Qualls added that she would support her daughter in whichever avenue she chooses, even if she is no longer the only person driving her to practice.

“She inspires me to be a good mom. I want to be a good coach for her, but I want to be a good mom first. I want to always be there for her. I don’t want to miss any games,” she said. “I want her to do what she loves.”