For Jake Connop, the frustration only lasted a few minutes.
The Columbia River boys soccer team had a handful of near-misses early in Saturday’s 2A district first-round match against W.F. West of Chehalis.
“The first five minutes, I was like ‘why can’t we score?’” Connop said. “Then the first one came and then another and another. Soon we were up four or five.”
Eight minutes into the game, Columbia River had the lead.
After 22 minutes, Connop had a hat trick.
And after the full 80 minutes, Columbia River had wrapped up a 7-0 win in its first postseason match since winning the 2A state title last year.
The Chieftains (16-0-1) can wrap up a state playoff berth on Tuesday in the district semifinals when they host either Ridgefield or Centralia.
W.F. West (6-8-3) must win three loser-out games to grab the last of three state berths.
For the reigning champs, starting the postseason on a winning note was hardly a surprise.
Still, the Chieftains’ ruthlessness and execution Saturday at Columbia River High had coach Filly Afenegus praising his team’s performance.
“We spent the first part of practice yesterday talking about preparation and how the playoffs are significantly different from the regular season,” Afenegus said. “I was really impressed with how inspired they were right from the get-go.”
After Sideris Kosaris opened the scoring, Connop scored the next three goals. All were from close range as Columbia River carved up the defense with through-passes and runs down the flank.
Ryan Brown added two goals to give Columbia River a 6-0 lead by halftime.
“We always talk about preparation and being mentally prepared,” Connop said. “That was a big part of the game. We got a really good result and played to the best of our abilities.”
For Maks Yurichko, who scored River’s final goal, preparation goes beyond practice.
“It’s what you eat, what time you go to sleep and when you wake up,” he said. “I feel we’re really organized defensively and offensively. We’re making the right runs and playing for each other.”
River outscored its 2A Greater St. Helens League opponents 58-3 over 12 matches. Saturday was the second straight match the Chieftains have tallied seven goals.
“I feel like this past week or two we’ve started to hit our stride for the postseason,” Connop said. “You have to give 100 percent 100 percent of the time, because you never know if this is going to be your last game.”
Despite graduating seven starters from last season’s team, a bulk of Columbia River’s roster knows what it takes to win a state title.
That includes shifting into a higher gear in the postseason, something the Chieftains did Saturday.
“Experience is important,” Afenegus said. “I think it served us well today and will serve us well in the future.”