“Every season is going to be different, the type of players that we get is going to be different, so the dynamics change. If you don’t adjust as a coach, then I would say you don’t have a good program.”
Ridgefield head coach Jeff Lukowiak, who was hired in the middle of 2020, called the combination of the fall and spring a “perpetual season,” one that hasn’t really stopped since the condensed spring campaign started in February. That extra time for players and coaches to familiarize themselves with each other proved to be important leading into the fall.
“There really was no end to the season,” Lukowiak said. “There was a little down time, that’s it, and then we went right into our summer programs, which kind of helped.”
All three teams endured their share of challenges during the regular season. For Hockinson, it started before the Hawks even played a game.
Payton Lawson, the 2A GSHL offensive MVP and The Columbian’s All-Region player of the year from the spring, suffered a second ACL tear in June, ending her senior season before it began.
Then, senior goalkeeper Amanda Jeschke broke her finger midway through the season. Sophomore Ashley Suva filled in and became “quite the spirit” for the Hawks, Moya said. Suva delivered two clutch saves in Hockinson’s first-round playoff win over Sehome.
But last Saturday, Suva became the latest Hockinson player to suffer an injury, breaking her jaw in two places. Jeschke, who the team has been cautious with in her return, is expected to be in goal for the Hawks this weekend.
“I think it just comes down to sheer resiliency,” Moya said. “This group of girls, they’re amazing. They’re just very resilient. We’ve had our shares of these downs, and one thing that has been very clear with the team — it’s the mentality of never quit and it doesn’t matter, we will find a solution … regardless of what happens. It kind of shows. Toward the end you’re seeing some of that is coming to fruition, in terms of their hard work and their tenacity.”
Ridgefield also had its share of injuries, particularly on the back line, which prompted the Spudders to retool their formation and call on a pair of seniors, Elizabeth Farley and Ava Kruckenburg, fill in from their midfield and forward positions.
“I’ve been very, very proud with the way they’ve defended as a team, from our forwards to our midfielders to our defenders,” Lukowiak said.
Defender Cameron Jones is also back on the field following an injury and first-year goalkeeper Josie Rinta has combined with the defense to record five straight shutouts leading into Friday.
“It seems to have worked,” Lukowiak said of the change. “We’re not going to mess with things, we’ll come in with how we’ve been playing of late and build on that.”
Ridgefield holds a 2-1 edge in the season series over Hockinson, including a win in the district championship game. But the Hawks topped the Spudders in the state semifinals two years ago, before falling to River in the championship.
Because no state championships were held in 2020 or the spring of 2021, River remains the defending state champion, one of three state titles the team has claimed since 2012 under head coach Filly Afenegus. There was no shortage of incentive for the Rapids going into the season, especially for all-league players like Andie Buckley, Sydney Johnson, Amelie Miller and 2A GSHL defensive MVP Logann Dukes who were part of the 2019 title team.
“You always want to protect what’s yours, right? Or what you feel is yours,” Afenegus said. “But I’ve also explained to them that so does everybody else. Everybody else wants that trophy as well. It’s going to come down to effort level and execution. Whoever has the best effort level and execution on the day gets the win.”
The Rapids, like Ridgefield and Hockinson, have become “battle-tested” by playing each other throughout the season, Afenegus said, which helped them last Saturday in a tough road game at Fife. River’s Ava Lapinskas scored the game-winning goal with under a minute remaining to break a 1-1 tie, sending the Rapids to the final four.
“You learn how to overcome those challenges you face in any given game,” Afenegus said. “As opposed to, if you’re beating everybody comfortably, when you do play against a tough team in the playoffs and things aren’t going your way, you’re going to struggle to know how to cope with it. Those games that we’ve had with Ridgefield and Hockinson have been great for us. They’ve set us up to be successful in the playoffs and I’d like to think we’ve done the same for them.”
At least one Clark County team has reached the 2A final four since 2014, but 2019 was a new milestone with three. That all of them made it back two years later, coaches said, is a testament to the quality of soccer talent and programs in southwest Washington.
“We really feel blessed and privileged to have three teams from our division and our league make it,” Lukowiak said. “We think that’s a really good representation of how well the kids down here play soccer.”
“We are a soccer hub,” Moya added, “and not only that, I think we have a lot of good coaches in the area that contribute to the success of it too. It’s not just at the high school level … I don’t want to take that away from what’s going on in our communities at the club level at the elite level and all that. They certainly have a role to play in all this and we benefit from it. The soccer community benefits from it.”