The numbers speak for themselves: 18 playoff appearances, 12 final fours, four state titles. The past decade of high school girls soccer has been illustrious for Camas and Columbia River.
Both are once again coming off semifinal bids — Camas finished second, River third in state last season. It’s a familiar place to be for a pair of programs that have managed to stay among the state’s elite even with the ever-evolving rosters in high school sports.
Columbia River won state titles in 2016, 2012 and 2009. They’ve missed the playoffs just once in the past decade and have six final four appearances. Camas nearly mirrors that with nine playoff berths in 10 years, six final fours and a 2016 title.
So how have they done it? How have the programs maintained such consistency?
“Invest in culture,” said eighth-year Chieftain coach Filly Afenegus. “A strong foundation is imperative.”
The Papermakers, too, have their own culture. It’s one of high expectations.
“I don’t think all programs have that ability to hold their student-athletes to that high of a standard,” said Keri Tomasetti, who steps in as head coach this season after serving as an assistant under Roland Minder for 13 years. “We do and can because of our student-athletes and our parents, who are tremendous.”
Culture is an attractive lure to the elite soccer players, many of which opt for club teams rather than high school ball. That’s not an issue at River and Camas, who routinely have top-end players donning school colors.
“For our sport, we are very fortunate to live in a community that really values our high school sports,” Tomasetti said. “We have such an outpouring of community that come to games, who may not even directly be a part of the soccer world.”
As much as coaches can preach culture from the top, change — or in Camas and River’s case, consistency — comes from the players. That means as team leaders graduate, new ones must fill their spots. The Chieftains make a conscious effort to make that transition seamless.
“We don’t leave anything to chance,” said Afenegus, who says the Chieftains focus more on culture-building than skill-building. “We’re very intentional with our players and with our leaders.”
For Afenegus, that means defining success as more than wins and losses. Early in his coaching career, wins and losses defined the program in the coach’s mind.
“Now, I take greater joy in getting a text message from a former player that they’re using something in everyday life,” he said. “Those things stick out more and mean more nowadays.”
As for other programs trying to emulate what the Papermakers and Chieftains have done, it’s not going to be easy.
“It will take many years,” Tomasetti said. “It takes consistency in your own coaching values as well as the values you want to impose onto the student athletes.”
New era for Camas: Roland Minder retired after 15 years at the head of the Papermaker girls’ team. It included two state titles and 12 league championships, including the last nine. Now Keri Tomasetti, a longtime assistant, is tasked with keeping that run alive with a reloaded squad that needs replacements for eight graduated starters.
River redemption: The Chieftains finished second in the 2A Greater St. Helens League before running to a third-place state finish. Eighth-year coach Filly Afenegus’ side, led by Yaniesy Rodriguez and Julia Cash, will be eager to return to the top of the league.
Hawks’ time: After capturing the 2A GSHL title, Hockinson stumbled in the playoffs. There’s high hopes this season after returning everybody from their varsity roster, including defensive standout Brooke Grosz.
3A battle: Prairie made last year’s state semifinals, but graduates co-player of the year Savannah Harshbarger and first-team all-league pick Malaika Quigley. Mountain View returns Oregon commit Olivia Fothergill and a strong core ready to knock the Falcons off.
Who steals the Trico: King’s Way rolled through the league last season behind MacKenzie Ellertson, now at Washington State. With so many key pieces gone, La Center and Columbia-White Salmon, the latter of which only graduated one, are primed to take the top spot.
Sept. 24 — Final tune-up: Prairie’s preseason slate is loaded with Columbia River, Hockinson, Union. It ends with a stiff test against Camas in its preseason finale.
Oct. 10 — Title stakes: In a bout that could decide the 2A Greater St. Helens League title, Hockinson and Columbia River meet for the second time in a midseason clash.
Nov. 12-13 — State begins: Last year five local teams made the final 16, with four making the semifinals.
Nov. 22-23 — Final Four: The state semifinals take place in Puyallup (3A, 4A) and Shoreline (1A, 2A).