It didn’t come easily on Thursday night, but little has this season for the Fort Vancouver boys soccer team.
But it came as the Trappers beat rival Hudson’s Bay 1-0 to clinch the program’s first home playoff game in two decades.
“We’ve had teams go to the playoffs,” Fort athletic director James Ensley said. “Soccer is one of our more competitive programs. When Joe Chicks was our coach, we got within one of state a few years ago. But hosting a playoff game? We were all talking, and we believe it was 2002 since we did something like that.”
A Vancouver native, first-year head coach Juan Mendoza Rodriguez knows what that means to the Fort Vancouver program.
“For me, I always played against Fort,” Mendoza Rodriguez said. “I went to Mountain View. I’m from Vancouver. And Fort always had individual players that were great, but as a team, they didn’t play great. And when I came here, that was our goal. From them to be able to do this together today, and get to host a playoff game, I don’t think they understand how big it is for Fort and for Vancouver, the community, of making sure Fort has a positive image.”
The Trappers came into the season with high hopes. But reaching those dreams can often be a challenge.
“I think (the key) it’s just understanding each other,” team captain Nelson Zepeda said. “We came into the season with a new coach. We basically just had a big reset. And in that reset, we had to build with each other, go with each other. And we just got to really understand each other.”
The Trappers needed to beat Bay outright and avoid another penalty-kick shootout — something the Trappers experienced five times this season.
“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Mendoza Rodriguez said. “We’ve had games that they thought ‘hey we’re going to win’ and it didn’t happen. The overtime thing — it’s been new to me because normally you can tie in a game — but we’ve gone to five overtimes, we’ve won three and lost two. So it’s been up and down, but it’s been fun.”
Zepeda said the overtime matches have shown that the Trappers can play to the end.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 90 minutes,” he said. “We could 120 minutes if we had to. It’s just these boys have all the endurance to play to the final whistle, and that will help us in the long run.”
Against Bay, the Trappers had several challenges of goal, but remained in a scoreless tie through three-quarters of the match before senior Morlai Sesay got the Trappers on the board.
After the win, Mendoza Rodriguez broke the news that the Trappers would host a 2A district first-round match next Tuesday, sending the Trappers into celebration.
“I think we’re all new to this,” Mendoza Rodriguez said. “So I think just having something new within the program is just really exciting. And just having the boys believe they could do it together, not individually, that’s kind of been our thing — together, not individually. And it’s been great.”
Zepeda added: “It’s more for just our team, it’s for our whole school. It’s been more than 20 years since (Fort has hosted a playoff game), and I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team. We worked hard all season. We knew we were going to be somewhere from the beginning. And we’re just proud that we are here now.”
The Trappers will host W.F. West of Chehalis at 7 p.m. Tuesday on their on-campus field. If the Trappers can win two of three matches in the district tournament next week, they will secure their first state tournament berth in boys soccer since 1988.
“We’re excited, man,” Zepeda said. “Make sure you come out and watch.”