With eight returning varsity players and seven seniors on the roster this season, Hood River Valley High School boys soccer is looking to repeat as Columbia River Conference champions and improve upon last year’s second-round state playoff elimination.
The team, led by third-year varsity head coach Jaime Rivera, is training hard for the start of the season, and especially for its home opener Tuesday against Rex Putnam, which knocked the Eagles out of last year’s state tournament in a double-overtime match that ended in a shootout.
“We have high expectations for this year’s squad, and that’s how we’re moving forward,” Rivera said this week. Last season the team shared the district title with Hermiston; an achievement Rivera says he doesn’t intend on splitting again this year. “We definitely want the title all to ourselves and are aiming to go deeper into the state tournament this year. We’re setting high benchmarks and are going to work hard to accomplish them.”
Rivera said 70 kids were on the pitch two weeks ago for tryouts, which is the highest number he’s seen in eight years of working with the team. Along with a solid group of seniors to provide leadership, the team will look to young talent to step-up to the varsity level and secure the future of the program.
“We’re fortunate to have had so many players to choose from this year,” Rivera said. “We’ve got some hot talent. Obviously senior leadership is going to be very important, but we’ve also got some good younger guys to add to the equation.” Rivera pointed to Giovanni Magana, the only freshman to make the varsity squad, as one such example. “He’s a very high-level player; probably one of the top 30 in the nation for his age.”
Another interesting addition to the team is senior Camile Buursma, a Dutch exchange student who has a solid background with European club soccer. Senior goalkeeper Alonzo Mendiola returns to anchor the defensive line after earning CRC’s Goalkeeper of the Year honors last season. Other seniors are Oscar Bacerra (defender), Jose Muro (defender) Ceasar Romero (midfielder), Sean Lund (midfielder) and Jerry Murillo (midfielder).
About this year’s strategy, Rivera said, “Our focus is going to be a more fast-paced attack up front. It’s a shift from the possession-based approach we’ve had in recent years, but it’s a necessary step.
“What I’ve learned in the last few years is that high school soccer is very different from club soccer. Players are generally not as finely tuned as club teams. We need to take that into consideration, see where there is the most room for improvement and take steps to do it. For us that translates to finding ways to score more goals.”
The team’s schedule opens with Rex Putnam (Sept. 4, 6 p.m. at HRVHS) and is followed by road games at Sandy, Lincoln and David Douglas before returning home Sept. 25 against Wilsonville. League play starts Oct. 2 with a home match against Pendleton.