If the numbers are any sign of good things to come, the Hood River Valley High School boys soccer program should have a great fall. At tryouts a few weeks ago, 60 kids showed up. Coaches worked to fill three teams out of the multitudes, and with 20 players per team, they'll have plenty of depth to turn to as seasons progress.
The varsity squad tests its preseason training Wednesday afternoon with a season opener at Rex Putnam High in Milwaukie. In his second year as head varsity coach, Jaime Rivera is excited by what he sees on the field so far.
"We don't really have just one or two shining stars this year," he said at practice Monday afternoon. "Instead, we've got an all-around solid team. I think that's going to make a big difference in the way we are able to play, and to compete against other top teams in the state."
Rivera said the main goal with the first set of practices has been to get everyone back into shape and to get their bodies ready for the season. Many of his players, he said, are in good shape already because they have been playing all summer.
"Year-round soccer is a trend that we're seeing more and more in Hood River," Rivera said. "And that has had a dramatic effect on the level the program is at right now. There's a lot of working going on behind the scenes and in the off-season that is taking Hood River soccer to the next level. It's exciting to see where things have gone in the last few years, and where things will go in the future."
For team captains Jose Campos and Eric Gutierrez, playing in the Columbia Gorge Soccer League all summer means they are in shape, in touch and ready to rock for their senior season on the pitch.
"Most of the team has been playing together since we were in middle school, so this is an exciting season," Gutierrez said. "We know how to play together, we get along and we learned lessons from last season that we can use this year."
The varsity squad finished undefeated in league play last year, only to lose in the second round of the state playoffs to Sherwood.
"We were thinking too far ahead," Campos said about the 2-1 loss. "I think we all were thinking ahead to the finals and not enough at the game in front of us. We underestimated things. This year we need to take it one game at a time. If we do that, and put in the effort, I think we're doing to do great."
Campos and Gutierrez are among the first generations of players to come up through the system Rivera had a hand in over the last several years. As a former Hood River Dynamos coach and coaching director, Rivera worked with other leaders in the soccer community to strengthen off-season programs for younger players. Now feeding into the high school program, the results of that effort are showing.
"Soccer is such a big part of the community," Rivera said. "We had 60 kids try out this year; that's a lot of players. On the varsity squad, we've got a group that is all-around very solid. In past years the strategy has been to find one or two star players and get them the ball. With a team like this, where everyone is solid, we're able to play at a higher level. It's going to be an exciting season."
The Eagles open at home Thursday against Lakeridge, 4:30 p.m. at Westside Elementary School.