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With new head coach, Columbia River boys soccer picks up where it left off last season

Rapids improve to 4-0 under first-year coach Matt Newman in 2-1 win over Skyview

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 20, 2023, 11:30pm
9 Photos
Columbia River’s Tyler Brown, left, and Skyview’s Lucas Witthauer battle for possession of the ball during a non-league boys soccer game on Monday, March 20, 2023, at Kiggins Bowl in Vancouver.
Columbia River’s Tyler Brown, left, and Skyview’s Lucas Witthauer battle for possession of the ball during a non-league boys soccer game on Monday, March 20, 2023, at Kiggins Bowl in Vancouver. (Will Denner/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In Columbia River’s first test of the season, the Rapids were pleased with the end result.

River’s boys soccer team has made no bones about wanting to make another run at a Class 2A state championship after coming up one win short of last season’s state title game and ultimately finishing third.

Games like Monday against 4A Skyview, a bigger school and one of its main rivals, are ones the Rapids believe will prepare them to make the final push late in the season, senior Alex Harris said.

With Harris scoring one goal in each half on assists from seniors Kale McCluer and Johnpaul Guzman, plus goalkeeper Cameron Harris making four saves in the first half to keep the Storm off the board, River claimed a 2-1 win at Kiggins Bowl.

Skyview goalkeeper Nikolas Mann made 10 saves and the Storm pulled closer on Lucas Witthauer’s goal in the 62nd minute, but the Rapids were able to hold on in the final 18 minutes plus stoppage time.

“Obviously this is a game all of us look forward to,” Alex Harris said. “It’s a perfect opportunity to get practice on what we’re going to see in state, because not necessarily all of our games are this competitive, but when we get this enviornment and this type of quality from another team, it’s a good prep for state.”

After winning its first three 4A Greater St. Helens League games, River improved to 4-0 and has outscored opponents 17-2. Alex Harris, who’s committed to Cornell, has picked up where he left off with 11 goals this season after scoring 51 goals as a junior and being named Gatorade state player of the year.

But around that one constant, the Rapids have gone through some changes.

First, former head coach Filly Afenegus announced in January he would be stepping away after 14 years leading the boys program. That led to the hiring of Matt Newman, who coached alongside Afenegus as an assistant in the Rapids’ boys and girls teams. So far, the transition from one coach to another has been smooth.

“Like I said at the beginning of the season, we didn’t want to skip a beat when it comes to a coaching change,” Newman said. “We want to continue to advance forward, and I think this (game) was a huge test for us in order to do that.”

Additionally, River graduated a class of eight seniors who coaches lauded for their leadership, which left a blueprint for younger players to follow.

“I feel like a lot of players stepped up, I’ve stepped up, a lot of players from JV last year have definitely stepped up and helped us,” Guzman said.

Although the program is turning to some new voices to lead, everyone understands the end goal.

Last season’s state semifinal loss to Burlington-Edison, which denied River an unbeaten season and a chance to play in a state championship, still gnaws at them. The Rapids feel like they have unfinished business this spring.

“It’s definitely motivation. We don’t want that to happen again,” Guzman said.

“I think I speak for everyone when I say we hold that loss in our heart,” Alex Harris added. “We believe we should’ve won state (last) year and I feel like that kind of fuels through this year. … That’s kind of our motivation, is to make up for what we could’ve had last year, this year.”

COLUMBIA RIVER 2, SKYVIEW 1

Columbia River

Goals (assists) — Alex Harris (Cale McCluer), Harris (JP Guzman). Goalkeeper saves — Cameron Harris 6.

Skyview

Goals (assists) — Lucas Witthauer. Goalkeeper saves — Nikolas Mann 10. Match standouts — Nikolas Mann, Andrew Howard .

Halftime — Columbia River 1-0.

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