After digging themselves into a deep hole early in the season, the Hood River Valley girls soccer team can now finally see the light.
The girls were ranked 30th out of 32 teams at one point this season, but are now ranked at 23rd in the state, and Hood River’s head coach Kevin Haspela has seen a “new look” Eagles’ team out on the pitch as of late.
This week’s competition for HRV began with extending a winning streak to three games after beating Pendleton on the road by a final score of 5-1 on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
“That was a good Pendleton team — the best attacking I’ve seen from them in my nine-year tenure,” said Haspela. “They have quick forwards and some solid seniors.”
But the Eagles would be too much early on. Ahead of halftime, they’d build up a 2-0 lead after goals from Jovana Delatorre in the eighth and 38th minute.
In the second half, Maria Bishai, Maritza Fernandez and Mira Olson each scored a goal for HRV to secure the Eagles 5-1 victory.
“The Eagles’ persistence and quality passing through the midfield paid off against Pendleton,” said Haspela. “With the wind at their backs in the second half, we controlled more of the ball and continued to find opportunities at goal.”
Along with another impressive day offensively for HRV, Barrett Ihde in the box had several key saves, including a stopped penalty kick in the first half as the Buckaroos’ quick counterattack produced eight shots on goal.
Ihde ended the game with eight saves.
In the three-game stretch, HRV has outscored league opponents 18-1, but before that, HRV had been outscored 12-2 in the first five contest of the season.
“Our struggles as a team at the start of season were from a combination of things,” said Haspela. “The team hadn’t gelled yet and we could feel as a team that on the field, we were mentally out of the game at times, but over the past couple of weeks, we have focused and talked a lot about the mental part of the game.”
Not only were the girls struggling to get familiar with one another and staying focused over the course of an entire game, but injuries and sickness kept some out of the lineup on gameday. But Haspela and the team were eventually able to make light of the circumstances.
“It forced me to be creative on the field with our shifts,” said Haspela. An example of one of Haspela’s early-season shifts that has carried on into the league portion of the schedule is the change he made with freshman Amelia Huxtable.
Huxtable is now starting at the center back position, but before the season had started, Haspela had envisioned Huxtable playing at forward.
“Personally, as a coach, the first thing I have to figure out on the field is my back line and at first we didn’t have it figured out, but now that our core is figured out, everyone else feels more comfortable with their roles,” said Haspela. “I told players that the first five games were all about learning the game and one another. They were open-minded and were willing to get better and the results are starting to show for this group.”
Ahead of the Oct. 9 matchup with The Dalles, HRV was tied for second in the Intermountain Conference with the Riverhakws, both at 3-1, behind only the 4-0 Ridgeview Ravens.
“One thing that helped us get better this season was that nobody was pointing a finger at each other during our struggles earlier in the season,” said Haspela. “They weren’t worried about the wins and losses, but instead about getting better as a team.”
And this team has certainly improved. They rank first in goals scored in the Intermountain Conference with 20; those 20 goals are also good enough for a placement in the top-10 in the entire 5A field at eighth.
“Now that we have our backline figured out, it’s time to read the game and exploit weakness of the other team,” said Haspela. “We need to stay sharp and execute if we’re going to win the league this season and as of late, the girls have been showing in practices and games that focus which is needed to have success during this time of the season. This is a steady group this year and a couple of players have been playing really well for us.”
Those girls Haspela pointed out were Mira Olson, Abby Mitchell and Silva Sankari.
“Olson is someone we knew would be good for our team ahead of the season and she has been a creative mind out on the field for us,” Said Haspela. “Mitchell is a calming presence on the field for us and plays composed soccer, while Sankari is a work horse and seems to have really made strides in her game out of the midfield.”
The girls put their three-game winning streak to the test at home on Thursday, Oct. 9 against The Dalles.
In a battle for second-place in the Intermountain Conference, neither HRV or The Dalles were able to secure second place in league as the schools tied 0-0 on Thursday.
Ridgeview (5-0) leads the league with five games left.
“October is a fun time to play soccer and I am excited to get these girls ready for the second half of our season,” said Haspela.