A season that started with big goals and high hopes for the HRV girls soccer team came to a bitter end Tuesday night at Henderson Community Stadium.
After improving to 11 wins over the previous season’s nine and after sweeping the Columbia River Conference, the Eagles had their sights and their hearts set on advancing past the quarterfinals in the postseason after falling in that round to the top-ranked team the past two years. However, the No. 9 Hillsboro Spartans dashed their hopes, shutting out No. 8 HRV by two goals in Tuesday’s first-round playoff game, ending the Eagles’ season. It was HRV’s first loss in seven games, dating back to a Sept. 22 two-goal shutout with 6A Barlow.
Hillsboro may have come into the tournament as the lower-ranked team, but the Spartans finished the regular season with No. 6 ranking and a 4-2-1 league record (12-3-1 overall) in the tough Northwest Oregon Conference, which features the top-ranked La Salle Falcons, whom Hillsboro will face in the next round as Hermiston lost 4-0 in that opening-round game. HRV finished with a No. 12 ranking and an 11-3 record. One of those losses was a 4-2 decision at Hillsboro — the first of the season for the Eagles.
HRV Head Coach Kevin Haspela expected a difficult matchup with Hillsboro, but was hopeful there would be a different outcome.
“It was a good game. I knew it was going to be a tough contest. They’re strong. I feel disappointed for the team. You know, only one team gets to win their last game of the season,” he said after her shared an emotional postgame huddle with his players. “They gave it their all and that’s all a coach can ask for is for them to put forth their best effort and be positive and respond to adversity well, and I thought they did that.”
Neither team got many looks at the net in the first half, as both teams struggled to maintain possession and to coordinate attacks, as the ball often stayed trapped in the midfield. Senior striker Cielo Rivera arguably got the best chance with a header in the 26th minute, but it was artfully saved by Hillsboro keeper Addison Rinck to keep the game scoreless.
Then, in the 36th minute, Hillsboro’s Eileen Reyna capitalized on a throw-in, firing a shot from 20 yards out that deflected off HRV senior defender Ami Santillan and went into the top right corner of the goal — beyond the grasp of senior keeper Vanessa Silva for the game-winner.
After the half, the Spartans again made the most of what few opportunities HRV’s defense allowed them. Less than five minutes into the second half, Hillsboro junior midfielder Madison Ellsworth — a thorn in HRV’s side throughout the game — worked the ball into the Eagles’ penalty area, then escaped two HRV defenders and turned for a quick shot that caught Silva off-guard for the insurance goal.
The Eagles’ defense wasn’t enough to make up for an offense that couldn’t get going. Hillsboro always seemed ready for an HRV run at the net, especially in the second half. Haspela noted that his team “couldn’t get into a rhythm,” and had trouble connecting. It was only the second time this season that HRV’s second-ranked offense was shut out.
Despite the outcome, Haspela was pleased with both the effort HRV put forth in the game and throughout the season, noting that his players forced the Spartans to “earn it” Tuesday evening.
“Yeah, it stings right now to have a loss against a team that we thought we could beat, but I’m really happy about our season overall,” he said.
It was a particularly emotional loss for the large group of seniors who played in what they had hoped would not be their final game of the season. As the final whistle blew, the emotions the Eagles had kept in-check throughout the game came to a head, tears flowing freely now that their time as HRV soccer players was over.
Haspela admitted replacing this year’s seniors would be a difficult task, as they represented the bulk of HRV’s playmakers and leadership. Graduating this year are Santillan, Rivera, Mona Diaz, Kenia Ramirez, Morgan Totten, Halle Campos, and Silva.
“They’re hardworking players and they’re knowledgeable, so they set a high bar for the next few years of our program. So, I’m grateful for that. I’m going to miss them. They’re a special group of players,” he said. “Three of them I’ve coached on varsity for three years — Vanessa, Mona, and Cielo — and it’s hard to replace that talent. We have good depth on our program and we have a lot of hungry players coming up and I am so grateful for their example to those younger players as we look ahead.”