RIDGEFIELD — Celebrating a 2A Greater St. Helens League title was short-lived for the Columbia River girls soccer team.
Sure, the Rapids took a moment to relish their 2-1 win on Wednesday over second-place Ridgefield, wrapping up a regular season with a 14-2 record, including 13-1 in one of the toughest leagues in the state.
Then, it was quickly back to work before the 2A district tournament begins Saturday. River will play host to the winner of Thursday’s pigtail game between Washougal and Black Hills.
“I always tell them, there’s no trophy for a league title,” River head coach Filly Afenegus said of his team. “Continually trying to keep them hungry for the next prize and not looking in the rearview mirror, but just looking in the windshield and trying to move ourselves forward. I’ll tell them, we’re 0-0 now in the playoffs, everybody is 0-0, so who cares what you did in the regular season?”
All three goals in Wednesday’s game came in the first half, starting with a 20th minute goal credited to Maree Seibel on a ball that bounced high in the box and over Ridgefield’s last line of defense.
Marlee Buffham scored the equalizer for Ridgefield in the 29th minute, but River responded just a few minutes later when Andie Buckley slotted a ball through to Avah Eslinger for the go-ahead goal.
“(Assistant coach Ryan Callahan) always is hard on me because I like to pass it more than I like to shoot it, but on that one I just saw Avah making a great diagonal run-through and I knew I had to play her — she’s great at finishing those,” Buckley said.
Afenegus noticed the Rapids sit back for a stretch after taking a 1-0 lead, but after Ridgefield converted the equalizer, they flipped a switch for the better.
“One big thing for sure is right after they score, right after we score, making sure we don’t let down,” senior Ava Lapinskas said.
“We focus so much on mental toughness, and just being able to keep yourself in it mentally and physically. The game’s not over yet, we still had a whole left and you just got to battle. We can do anything in as little time as we need.”
Although River has dealt with a handful of injuries this season, the team’s depth has been a strong point from the start. Players have moved around from their natural positions: Eslinger starts at center forward, but also plays outside back; Lapinskas, typically a midfielder, moved to center back alongside Logan Dukes; and Peyton Dukes, who typically plays outside forward on her club team, is one of the Rapids’ outside backs.
Their willingness to play different positions has made life easier on River’s coaches while trying to put together pieces of the puzzle.
“Everybody has been willing to do what’s best for the team, which is always awesome,” Afenegus said.
Behind River, Ridgefield, R.A. Long and Hockinson are slotted in as the 2-4 GSHL seed for the district tournament. Ridgefield, the defending district champion, along with Hockinson and River all advanced to the 2A state final four last season.
For a lot of River’s team, last year’s third-place finish in the 2A state playoffs was their first experience making a deep playoff run. The Rapids want more this year — the type of celebration reserved for the team holding the biggest trophy at the end.
“Our goal for the whole season has been, we want a state title,” Lapinskas said. “We’ve got a good group of seniors, a good group of girls. … We’ve got some tough teams coming up that are up north, but I think if we keep working hard, we can get all the way.”