There’s no denying that Hood River youth soccer has been riding a wave of success over the past three years. From the junior circuit to the high-school ranks, a tradition is being built — one that has put Hood River on the Oregon soccer map to stay.
Six college-level players from the past three graduating classes have set the bar for other aspiring young athletes.
And now that the next generation of soccer standouts has seen how far they can go, they are willing to make the same sacrifices as Jordan Thompson, Becca Meierbachtol, Matt Dallman, Lisa Tedford, Dereck Ponce and Alex Ponce before them.
“I’m going to go as far as it takes me,” said Horizon Christian eighth-grader Lexi Cook, who played in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) this spring along with fellow local standout, Jennifer Hanners. “My goal is to play college and then see what happens after that,” she said.
But before Cook and Hanners can think about college, they still have to get through high school — not to mention another series of ODP tryouts in August.
“It’s a big deal for two Hood River girls to make it in the same year,” said Hanners, a 14- year-old striker/midfielder who also plays club soccer for the Lake Oswego Havoc. “It was good to have Lexi on the team, too, because we could work out and travel together.”
ODP is a statewide selection pool that takes 32 of the best players in each age group (U-14 to U-19) and divides them into two teams. The state all-star teams then travel around the Northwest for a series of spring tournaments.
“It was such a good experience for us to play against teams from Southern California,” said Cook, a defender/ midfielder who plays club ball for the South Side Soccer Club of Tigard. “Some of the best players in the country are from there, and that helped us realize how far we have to go.”
Made up of mostly Portland-area girls, the U-14 ODP team played in Boise, Idaho (May 14-15), British Columbia (May 22-23), and then Portland (May 29-31) for the Nike Friendship Cup. Cook and Hanners both said the experience was extremely valuable, and they hope it helps take their games to the next level.
“It’s an honor to be considered among the top 32 players in the state,” said Hanners, who will be traveling to Spokane with the Havoc this weekend for the Far West Regional tournament. “There can be a lot of pressure at the tryouts, and just because you made the team once doesn’t mean you will make it again. You really have to work at it.”
Hanners hopes to make her mark at Hood River Valley High School in the fall, while Cook will play at Thacher Prep School in Ojai, Calif. Both players will also continue playing club soccer throughout the summer.