The family is flourishing at Fort.
After securing the school’s first state playoff berth in boys soccer since 1988, Fort Vancouver had 85 players turn out for tryouts three weeks ago.
And the number kept growing.
“I had to close it off today,” head coach Juan Mendoza Rodriguez said. “We were at 96, with some still trying to get cleared or language issues. They didn’t understand that there were tryouts two weeks ago. So we were just trying to include as many kids as we could. We didn’t want to say no. So we actually got enough kids that we’re going to get a C team.”
That’s the kind of turnout numbers that some area football coaches — the American kind of football — would be envious of.
“It was crazy,” said senior team captain Nelson Zepeda Rincon. “It was like record numbers, probably the most we’ve ever had.”
The Trappers graduated a big portion of their state team from last year. In previous years, that might have created a rebuilding year at Fort.
But with the new infusion of players, the Trappers are looking to build off last year’s success.
“We had seven returners from the core of last year’s team,” Mendoza said. “We have nine seniors this year. And then because of the war (in Ukraine), we have some refugees from Ukraine. And they’re amazing. They fit right.”
There have been some challenges — scheduling, adding another assistant coach, and, of course, communication.
“So last year, language wasn’t an issue for me — Spanish and English,” Mendoza said. “Right now, we’re learning a little Ukrainian here and there. I don’t know if you saw but I told one of my guys to warm up and he just ran on the field thinking he was getting into the game right then. So there’s that kind of learning.”
But Zepeda said all of the Trappers have a big common thread.
“There are a lot of different nationalities, cultures,” the senior said. “But I think all us are here for the game of soccer. We all love it. And we all get along on that one thing. It’s not too big of a deal.”
In the opening week of the season, Mendoza has seen both the Trappers’ potential and the challenges of pulling together a new group of players.
Fort Vancouver won its season opener in overtime over Washougal. Last Thursday, the Trappers scored two goals in two minutes to take a 3-1 lead over Hudson’s Bay with four minutes to play.
But a defensive breakdown led to a late goal by the Eagles. Then Bay brought some more late pressure before time ran out on its comeback.
On Saturday, the Trappers suffered a 2-1 setback to R.A. Long.
“Hopefully, as season progresses, we cannot go with these heart-stopping games,” Mendoza said. “In our first game we went into overtime. That was kind of our story last season. We had six overtime games or (penalty-kick) games that we were able to come through. It’s kind of been a similar story so far this season.”
At their home match against Bay, the Trappers also filled the bleachers with fans and students, with many standing along the sidelines.
“I think everything we did last year we worked really hard to get this support,” Zepeda said. “And now people want to come out and support us on our journey this year. It’s just all about community that we’re building around here.”
Mendoza is excited to see where this growth helps his players, on the field, in the classroom and in their lives.
“The family continues to grow,” he said. “That’s the idea — that they are a family. They need to play for each other. They need to trust each other. … There’s a lot of excitement. And hopefully we continue to grow and give these kids opportunities to play, because that’s the end goal, right?