The success of last weekend’s Gorge Challenge soccer tournament got me thinking about the incredible impact the sport of “spotty ball” has made on the Hood River valley over the past few years.
Although I wasn’t in town to watch the nine Hood River Dynamos teams compete against 29 top Northwest clubs, I have seen what these kids are capable of.
After observing the work of devoted coaches such as Dick Virk, Mike Kitts, Pero Lovrin, Jose Ponce, Mark Lago and Erin Thompson, I am confident that the fledgling youth soccer club will continue to progress.
Proof of the Dynamos’ success has come over the past two years in the form of three Hood River Valley High School graduates (Becca Meierbachtol, Matt Dallman, Jordan Thompson) and one Horizon Christian graduate (Joel Stenberg).
All four played in the Dynamos system until high school, and three will be on a college roster this fall. That says a lot about the coaching, and also demonstrates a strong commitment from local businesses and the athletes’ families.
But let’s not forget about the athletes themselves. It’s not easy to reach the college level in any sport, no matter how strong your support web might be.
Thompson (Chico State University) and Stenberg (Whitworth), who both graduated in 2002, were the first Dynamos players to be recruited at the college level, while Meierbachtol (University of Portland) and Dallman (Chico State) represent the second class of Dynamos standouts.
All four work tirelessly on their games, and none of them is ever satisfied with good enough — which is the exactly the kind of work ethic it takes to succeed in the NCAA.
It is also the attitude taught by Dynamos coaches, as well as the local high school coaches, Doug Beveridge and Sue Farro.
The Hood River community has done an amazing job supporting the growth of youth soccer, and after years of playing against the state’s best, these athletes have learned how to play the game the right way.
A new breed of soccer player is being born here in the valley, and all of that started with the birth of the Dynamos Soccer Club in 1995.
Two examples of that shift are Thompson and Dallman, who each aspire to play Division I soccer before their careers are over.
Meanwhile, Meierbachtol has already reached the “D-one” level after being awarded a scholarship to play for the 2002 national champs from the University of Portland. And there is no reason to think she won’t excel there, just as she did at HRV.
But, even if none of these athletes goes on to make national headlines, I’m not sure people realize how big a deal this is for our town.
Any time a local athlete is recruited to compete at the college level, it adds to the credibility of the program that developed him or her.
That reflects positively on the HRV athletic department, which, in turn, provides excellent exposure for the high school as a whole.
Statewide attention only makes the entire Hood River community look better, and, from where I’m sitting, Dynamos soccer has been a big part of that.
The fact that 29 Northwest teams made the trip to Hood River for the Gorge Challenge says something about where we are on the state soccer map.
Would that many teams have been willing to come here before the Dynamos existed? Not likely.
Would the grass at Westside Field be so immaculate if it weren’t for a growing need from a growing list of teams? Doubtful.
Would we be talking about Hood River Valley winning games in the state soccer playoffs? Probably not. The players have to start somewhere, right?
The success of the Dynamos club has even spread to The Dalles, where a U-12 girls team already exists, and a handful of other players have added to the talent pool in other age groups.
Soccer is gaining popularity every year in the Gorge, and my bet is that we will see a state championship here in the next five years.
Not to put any pressure on Beveridge or Farro. They have already proven themselves to me.
I’m merely trying to say that if Dynamos continues to progress at the rate it has over the first eight years, we are only going to see the bar raised at the high school level.
Two state quarterfinal appearances is a great place to start. But if you talk to Beveridge, he’ll tell you that he’s not trying to build a playoff team. His goal is to build a state contender every year.
With that said, who knows what will happen this year? The HRV boys team is stocked with talent, and will get a boost from Dynamos products such as Alex Ponce, Sean Rawson, Jorge Hernandez and Alvaro Lara.
Soccer is looking up every day in the valley. And it all starts with the youth movement.