Home USA News Columbia River defeats Bellingham in girls 2A state playoff opener

Columbia River defeats Bellingham in girls 2A state playoff opener


The longer Columbia River’s season lasts, the more memories the team will have.

And from the looks of the Rapids’ first-round Class 2A state playoff football game on Wednesday, they have plenty left to add.

The No. 6 seed Rapids cruised to a 1-0 victory over No. 11 Bellingham at John O’Rourke Field after taking the lead in the first five minutes on a goal by Ivy Henderson, assisted by Ava Esslinger .

“We just keep wanting to extend our journey with the seniors that we have and with our team, we want to make a lot more memories,” Esslinger, a junior, said. “I think it was on all of our minds.”

With No. 3 West Valley of Spokane also coming off a 3-1 win over Selah, River will travel to Eastern Washington on Saturday to face the Eagles in the quarterfinals, with the winner advancing to the state final four.

River finished third in the Final Four last season and won the 2A state title in 2019 when the Rapids’ current seniors were freshmen.

For them, win-or-go-home state playoff bets are the driving force behind their play.

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking, but we’re always going to keep pushing, we’re never going to stop,” senior Logan Dukes said, “because let’s be honest, for some of us, this is our last chance.”

Dukes was part of a shutdown defensive effort that drew rave reviews from coaches and players after the game.

Despite holding the lead for all but a few brief moments of the 80-minute game, River constantly faced Bellingham’s offense. But for every spot the Bayhawks tried to contest on the field, the Rapids’ back line, centers Logan Dukes and Ava Lapinskas and outside backs Maylin Smith and Peyton Dukes, were sure to switch. They came out on top in the second half and blocked three Bellingham corner kicks. And goalkeeper Aliya Rust made a couple of sharp saves.

“I feel like our back line might be one of the tightest units on the team,” Logan Dukes said. “I just felt comfortable knowing I had a terrific center back, Ava, and some incredibly talented outside backs. We’re just pushing each other to be better, and I feel more confident about making that happen.”

For River head coach Fili Afenegus, their consistency stood out the most.

“It’s so hard to move consistently, head the ball consistently and do those things over and over again,” Afenegus said. “For them to consistently do that throughout the game, especially when that ball doesn’t seem the best (and) it’s frozen for the rest of the night, that speaks to how those back four have really gelled together.”

The Rapids now look ahead to Saturday’s game against West Valley and a long road trip to Spokane, where temperatures are forecast to remain in the low 40s for the rest of the week.

With their playoff track record, the Rapids are able to handle such a test better than most. It’s also an opportunity to add some memories of the season that started in August.

“The two-day recovery will be a challenge, playing in the cold will be a challenge enough, but we’ve talked about mental toughness all year,” Afenegus said.

“My challenge to this group is, ‘Every win you get, you get an opportunity to make more memories with each other.’ That was the biggest driving force. This group is going to crush him. I think they will do a great job in dealing with adversity. They managed for a whole year.”

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