The Columbia River girls soccer team is headed back to the 2A state semifinals for a third year in a row.
What’s the Chieftains’ secret to success?
Behind a newfound stifling defense, River recorded its fifth consecutive shutout — all coming in the postseason — in a 2-0 win over Fife in a quarterfinal matchup Saturday at Kiggins Bowl.
“We finally figured out who is our back line,” said senior Julia Skimas, a defender who is also the team captain. “Every practice, (coach Filly Afegenus) would bring us aside, and we’d work specifically on defense and what we needed to do. Because really at this point in the season, we can score, but having our back line really work together well and be super strong, that’s what’s going to get us to the finish line.”
The ability to score eluded the Chieftains in the first half Saturday as the teams went to the locker room knotted a 0-0.
But River struck quickly five minutes into the second half when Reagan Griffith headed in a corner kick from Yaneisy Rodriguez.
Even with a 1-0 lead and a tough defense, River continued to pressure the goal in the second half, eventually breaking through with a second goal — this one by Ava Greer — with about eight minutes to play.
From there, the defense sealed another shutout, the Chieftains’ ninth in their past 11 matches. River’s run of shutouts helped turn around a season that the Chieftains start 6-4-1.
“The thing about our defense is we have a forward playing defense, a midfielder whose playing defense for us, and another midfielder whose playing defense for us,” Afenegus said. “They were learning on the fly early in the season. Now with how coachable they’ve been, they’re executing perfectly.”
And now River is back in the semifinals. They’ll face Sehome of Bellingham at 8 p.m. Friday in Shoreline. It’s a perfect ending to a season that didn’t start that way.
“Our coach always says it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish,” Greer said. “And our team has gone hard core with that. We did not start out on the best foot, but we’ve grown together as a team, and we’ve made it. Like here we are in the semifinals. We never thought we’d get here, and here we are.”