Columbia River soccer among the teams that missed out on a chance at a special season
There are no sure things in sports.
No sure things In life.
We were all reminded of that as the coronavirus spread across the world.
With that said, if there had been a spring sports season for high schools in Washington, one team in Clark County would have been as close to a lock as there is in sports to have won it all.
Today, we celebrate not only the Columbia River boys soccer team, but all players and coaches who did not get a chance to realize their dreams.
A week into May, this would have been the time those teams would be starting their postseasons.
This story will feature the Chieftains, plus give a shout out to a few other teams.
But again, it is for all spring sports athletes.
A month ago, I tweeted this message:
“To the 2020 Washington high school spring sports athletes, I salute you. I know you have been keeping in shape, as best you could, in hopes that maybe, just maybe there would be some sort of season. I will forever be inspired by your actions. God bless.”
That was the day when the governor closed schools for the rest of the academic year, when the WIAA had to cancel the spring sports season.
The athletes will never get this season back, but they will always be remembered.
And the Columbia River boys soccer team will always get to say it took a pandemic to take away their title.*
(*Well, maybe not a definite title. Still have to win the matches. But, wow, they were so good.)
“We came in with a lot of hunger and desire to get some revenge,” said senior Jackson Kleier. “Getting second last year was quite a heartbreak. We came in really excited about what the future would hold. We’re pretty upset and bummed with what happened to our season.
“It was good until it wasn’t.”
The Chieftains graduated just two from that second-place team. This spring’s squad would have had 15 seniors. Many of them won a state championship as sophomores, too.
It is rare for any coach to stake a claim that his team is the best, without a single match being played. Columbia River coach Filomon Afenegus is no exception. He, too, would not say the Chieftains were a lock for anything.
“We pretty much brought everybody back. I liked our chances this year just because of how hard we were working and the talent we had within our squad,” Afenegus said.
A year ago, the Chieftains’ only loss came in the championship match, falling 1-0 to Sehome.
Instead of a possible undefeated season, the Chieftains can only think of a what-if season.
“It would have been the cherry on top of my high school career,” Kleier said, referring to a state championship. “I felt it my sophomore year. Just jubilation, relief, and happiness. That was our driving force. We wanted to chase after that and get that feeling again.”
When schools were initially closed, it was for six weeks. There was still a chance at a spring sports season.
Then there wasn’t.
“I was a firm believer after we had a few weeks off, we were going to come back, hit our stride, and make our run,” Afenegus said. “When news broke that the sports season was going to be done, I was devastated. Not for myself, but the fact we have 15 seniors on the team.
“The next thing I thought about, ‘How am I going to try to pick all these players up and support them through this difficult time?’”
Kleier said the coaches have been great about keeping in touch and celebrating the seniors the best they can. There have been get-togethers on Zoom. Plus the coaches have been highlighting players on social media.
“The coaches want the best for us. They’re trying to honor us,” Kleier said. “It’s hard, coming in with these expectations, and for it all not to happen. It’s hard, but the coaches are doing the best they can. The players are all appreciative of that. It’s been positive.”
From the soccer field to the baseball diamond, there might have been an incredible battle for the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League. Skyview has reached the state’s final four the past three seasons. That experience, plus the returning talent, one opposing coach said the Storm just might have made it four in a row. Then again, another baseball coach said Camas might have even been better than Skyview.
Columbia River baseball
Back to Columbia River, the Chieftains baseball squad had special dreams, too.
The Chieftains are pretty much a fixture in the state playoffs but have not made it to the final four since 2010. This year, though, they would have returned a ton of talent from a team that made the quarterfinals. Two incredible pitchers from last season are back, too, as well as another pitcher who was injured last year. Three aces at any level of baseball makes for a favorite.
Senior Cole Delich called it a “triple-threat combination” that could have brought the Chieftains to new heights.
“Once we heard the season was officially over, I was heartbroken,” Delich said. “I had prepared for this season. As a team, we had big expectations. It’s no way to go out, without having a spring sport.”
Delich said he has thought about what it would have been like to make the final four.
“That would have been awesome to miss school,” he said with a laugh.
Seriously, he said he felt for his teammates, but he also felt for the coaching staff.
“The coaches have waited for this moment, too,” Delich said. “They’ve done a great job with all the teams in the past. I would have been really excited for them, too. It would have been a huge milestone for our team, but also a huge milestone for the coaches, as well.”
Columbia River baseball coach Stephen Donohue will always remember this season that wasn’t. He will remain optimistic about the future. This year’s team also is loaded with juniors. So those guys should have another shot.
But this year’s group … it’s a tough ordeal.
“The whole goal was to break down the door and finally get in the final four,” Donohue said. “We’ve been stuck in the final eight. They wanted to break down the door.”
For those who will play again, whether in college or next year’s high school season, Donohue said players will be motivated.
“We’ll definitely never take for granted being able to coach or play the game,” Donohue said. “For a while, you won’t have any problem getting a buy-in from the kids.”
Donohue, 39, said this is the first spring without baseball in his life since he was 5 years old.
“Everyone’s going to appreciate athletics, in general, from this point forward even more than we did,” he said.
To the softball field, we have to give a salute to the Woodland Beavers. They have won the past two Class 2A state championships. Yes, last year’s team did graduate some of the best players in the state, but the program was still on solid ground. This year’s seniors were not able to defend those titles.
Trying to stay positive, though, the Beavers will get to claim they remain the defending state champions for another year.
“Not a lot of teams can say they were back-to-back state champions,” senior Carleigh Risley said in an interview last month. “It’s a huge accomplishment, and no one will ever forget it.”
Plus there are the athletes in track and field, in tennis, and in golf.
No one will forget the spring sports season of 2020.
It did not happen.
But the athletes and coaches can still be championed.