(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
Boys soccer players to watch
Nate Beasley, Camas senior; Michael Beauchamp, Mountain View senior; Chris Hogan, Prairie senior; Carter Johnson, Skyview senior; Alex Firl, La Center junior; Connor Gilroy, King’s Way Christian senior; Nathan Gunderson, Hockinson senior; Austin Horner, Skyview senior; Kyle Morris, Ridgefield senior; Matt Palodichuk, Camas senior; John Polen, Seton Catholic senior; Brett Sparks, Hockinson senior; Isaac Strever, Mountain View senior; Jared Williams, Ridgefield senior.
Five things to watch this season
Final Four streak: For the last four years Clark County has had a boys soccer team reach the final four of the state tournament, with at least two teams advancing that far each of the last three seasons. Union placed second in the 4A tournament last spring, Skyview won the title in 2012, and Camas was the Class 3A state champion in 2012. Ridgefield has reached the semifinals in its classification the past two seasons.
Early showdown: Camas and Skyview clash at Kiggins Bowl at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the first of two games that could decide the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League title. The return match is April 25 in Camas. The Papermakers went 5-0-1 in pre-league matches. The Storm went 6-0.
Class 3A front-runner? Mountain View, Prairie and Columbia River all have reasons for optimism. Each will look for varsity newcomers to contribute as they battle for league supremacy and develop the chemistry necessary for a long playoff run.
Small school outlook: Ridgefield and Hockinson have veteran squads. The Spudders are shooting for a return trip to the 2A state semifinals. Many of their players also were on the 2012 team that made the 1A final four. The Hawks graduated only two players off the team that last season lost in the first round of state. In the 1A Trico, La Center is off to a 5-0 start.
Destinations: The state semifinals take place May 30, and the finals are May 31. Class 4A and Class 3A semifinals and finals will be at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup. Class 2A and Class 1A will be at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium at Sumner High School.
— Paul Danzer
Before he shoots for new heights at the Air Force Academy, Isaac Strever is taking one more journey with the Mountain View High School soccer team.
After a season away from the Thunder while part of the Portland Timbers youth academy, the senior midfielder is enjoying playing again alongside friends.
"Once I became confident that I'm going to go (to the Air Force Academy), I decided, why not for my senior year go play high school soccer with my buds and get a lot of games?" Strever said.
So far, Strever is making the most of his final high school season. He has six goals and two assists six games into the season.
"His technical ability is head and shoulders above a lot of players in the league," Mountain View coach Jeff Brooks said.
Brooks last coached Strever when he was a sophomore for the Thunder in 2012. The coach said he is now a much more mature player.
"The focus on his own game and his ability to lead the team is vastly improved," Brooks said. "You see that as a natural progression for a player between his sophomore and senior years."
A U.S. Soccer Federation 2012 decision to extend the Developmental Academy season to almost year round means players can no longer play both for academy teams and for their high school team. After helping Mountain View to the Class 3A state semifinals in 2012, Strever made the Timbers Academy. He said his 18 months with the Timbers Academy taught him plenty about soccer and about life. But Strever said the one thing he didn't get much of is what he most craved — playing time.
"I found different aspects of the game that I was able to personally develop. But there's things in the game that you can't get just by (training with) the academy. You have to be able to get game time, which I wasn't seeing," Strever said. "In high school soccer I get a lot of game time so I'm able to build my one-v-one skills and get more confident on the ball before I go to college."
In the process, he hopes to help the Thunder make a run in the state tournament, something he experienced in 2012 when Mountain View reached the Class 3A semifinals.
Having Strever in the midfield "raises us from an average team to an above average team," Thunder coach Jeff Brooks said.
Strever said his time with the academy helped him mature.
"I see the game differently. I'm able to read the game," Strever said. "When you're younger, you don't know exactly what you're doing, Now you're able to see what you need to do and you're able to tell your team what they have to do to succeed."
Skill improvement is one part of that process, Strever said. "But I think most of it's mentality. You have to be ready to win your battles. Your confidence has to be through the roof or you're not going to be able to produce."
High school soccer is not as demanding as training with the academy, "but at the same time you have to put it on yourself to produce every single day," Strever said.
A team captain, Strever believes the Thunder can make another state playoff run — if they put in the work.
"To go anywhere and win games, we've got to play as a team," he said. "If we want to have a chance at state, we've got to be there every single day ready to play. Without that, I don't think we'll see a chance at state. We have a lot of work to do."