Columbia River girls soccer seemingly switches to another gear come playoff time.
The Chieftains have won three consecutive 2A Southwest District titles, and took a big step toward a fourth with a 5-1 first-round win over Washougal on Saturday at Chieftain Stadium.
The Chieftains, though, don’t view it as anything different than their approach in the regular season. It all comes down to preparation.
“It’s not even just playoff time,” senior forward Shalece Easley said. “We just have a job and we just need to get it done correctly and in the right way.”
Columbia River (16-0) knew it had to be at its best against a scrappy Panthers squad that took the Chieftains to penalty kicks just 10 days ago. The Panthers have been queens of the upset the past two years under coach Shane Jundt.
The fifth-seeded Washougal side (11-7) boasts wins over 1A Trico champion La Center, fourth-seeded Mark Morris and second-seeded Ridgefield. The Panthers also recall the 1-0 win over Columbia River a season ago.
“The drive, the intensity, is the biggest thing with this group,” said Jundt, who highlighted Lauren Snedeker and Payton Lindell as two players helping spark change at Washougal. “We are a fairly young team. We have four starting freshmen on this team. A lot of big improvements made with changing that culture has really helped.”
The Chieftains ensured no surprises in Saturday’s result with an early flurry that put the game out of reach. In the third minute, Easley took a feed from Reggie Griffith and slid it inside the far post for a 1-0 lead. Then came the set-piece scores, a staple of Filly Afenegus-led teams.
In the 32nd minute, Julia Cash finished a corner kick by Ella Osborne, who scored on a free kick moments later. Yaneisy Rodriguez converted a penalty kick in the 39th minute for a 4-0 halftime lead.
“One of our Achilles’ heels is that we’re not very good at defending set pieces, so we always work really hard on those in practice,” Osborne said.
Easley scored again in the second half on an assist from Andie Buckley. Washougal had a bright spot in the otherwise frustrating outing when Kayla Johnson scored on a cross from Aurora Espinoza in the 61st minute.
The Panthers now face three straight loser-out games for a state spot. Those start with a Tuesday match at Black Hills.
But this season is only a building block for Washougal, which is in its first district tournament since 2015.
“Our goal is to be able to compete with the River’s, the Ridgefield’s any day of the week. That’s where we want to be,” Jundt said. “We’re working toward being one of the top teams. I think we’re still two years out, but next year will be another big step everyone will see.”
Columbia River plays a winner-to-state semifinal game against Ridgefield on Tuesday at Chieftain Stadium.
Other district playoff results
RIDGEFIELD 4, W.F. WEST 0 — Four different players scored, with three assisted by Kelli Krsul, as the Spudders advanced to the 2A district semifinals. Ridgefield will play Evergreen Conference champ Tumwater on Tuesday for a berth to state.
HOCKINSON 3, BLACK HILLS 1 — Rachel Grosz scored twice as the Hawks had three unanswered goals to win on the road.
PRAIRIE 1, BETHEL 0, OT — Macey Hall scored a golden goal with two minutes left in overtime as the Falcons kept their season alive on the road. Prairie advances to play Gig Harbor in the double-elimination portion of the 3A bi-district playoffs.