The Chieftains take pride in the past and the future of their program
VANCOUVER — Here they are again, doing their thing.
They don’t concern themselves with what outsiders think of them. They just focus on their process.
After all, that process has worked for the Columbia River girls soccer team for a decade now.
With a bunch of all-stars, or with few all-stars, with a league championship or not, the Chieftains always seem to be a huge part of the postseason.
A year ago, the Chieftains did not rebuild. They reloaded.
The 2016 squad won a state title. The 2017 team finished second. The 2018 team? Oh, they lost five regular-season matches. They did not win a league title. Still, which team from the 2A Greater St. Helens League made it to the final four again? Yes, the Chieftains, who finished third in state.
Columbia River was part of an amazing 2018 for the sport in Clark County. Camas, Prairie, and King’s Way Christian all reached the final weekend of play in their classifications.
Columbia River would like a repeat performance in Class 2A. And the Chieftains just do not care if others think they can do it or not. Because these Chieftains, by playing for the present, are shining a light on the past, and with an eye toward the future.
This program has helped build their character, and they have helped to make this program special.
“Making it that far spoke to the values of this team,” said Yaneisy Rodriguez, the only returning first-team all-leaguer from Columbia River this season. “We spent countless hours on team building. Team breakfasts. Team sleepovers. It was ‘We’ before ‘I.’ The leaders were able to pick us up after those losses and carry us to state.”
Now it’s the 2019 squad’s turn to take those lessons and teach the newcomers, maintain that championship mentality.
“The team chemistry is really, really great,” Columbia River coach Filomon Afenegus said, noting that even though the program graduated a number of leaders last school year, this team has not skipped a beat. “This group has filled those roles. They’ve shown it’s OK to compete, to hold each other accountable. They’re doing great.”
Shalece Easley and Reggie Griffith are among the team leaders, too. They were second-team, all-league selections a year ago. So, too, was Sydney Flores-Tucker. However, a knee injury she suffered in the spring ended what would have been her senior season. Still, Flores-Tucker is on the team as a manager.
“It’s Columbia River soccer,” she said.
She just had to remain a part of it.
“It’s like a family,” Griffith noted.
So here are the Chieftains, fueled by some saying that maybe Hockinson will repeat as league champions, or maybe Ridgefield is better this season.
Easley acknowledged that she had a few doubts at the beginning of last season.
“I was kind of scared,” she said. “How are we going to do?”
The team lost to Hockinson twice.
“Every single time we lost, we found a way to get better,” Easley said.
Then the Chieftains made their playoff run.
“We managed to pull together. That was one of the biggest accomplishments for us,” Easley said. “We still managed to pull ourselves up and play as hard as we could.”
“Going to the final four proved how much we worked to get to that point,” Griffith added.
Interestingly, Afenegus said the goal is not necessarily to make it to the final weekend of the season, to win a state championship. In fact, the Chieftains never have results-based goals.
“We want to hit our ceiling, and that will vary on any given year,” Afenegus said. “We don’t talk about goals. We talk about the process. Day in, day out, what it takes to hit that ceiling.”
Well, the Chieftains are going to need a very tall ladder for this ceiling: The Chieftains have reached the state tournament — either as a Class 3A or 2A program — eight consecutive seasons and nine of the past 10. The program has three state championships and three other final four appearances during that stretch.
So absolutely, when Hockinson won the 2018 league title, that was a huge deal for the Hawks.
But it also meant something to the Chieftains.
“We’re still a little mad about it,” Griffith said.
The Chieftains got a bit of revenge last week, opening league play with a victory over the Hawks. This week, Columbia River added two more wins to improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the 2A GSHL.
A strong start, but no one is celebrating anything more than what this is, a strong start.
“We still have to play them again,” Griffith said of the Hawks.
A lot of soccer to be played. The Chieftains hope, and expect, that will mean playing well into November.
“We want to carry on the history of this program,” Rodriguez said.
In fact, that might be a bigger motivator for the Chieftains than Hockinson, Ridgefield or any other opponent.
From time to time, Afenegus will bring up past players and talk about their commitment to the program, what they did to make Columbia River soccer special, what they did to make themselves special.
That’s the goal, Griffith said. Years from now, she wants her coach to speak highly of her and her teammates.
“To be one of those players,” she said.
To be a Columbia River girls soccer player.