Life is difficult in the Lewis and Clark League, especially in soccer. When you have the two best teams in 3A/2A/1A stationed at the top of the conference, it makes any type of attempt to conquer the castle almost impossible. “We play in a hard league,” says Reese Cagann, Senior captain. “That is always a main hurdle for us.” However, the Riverdale Mavericks are a program that is looking to change the narrative, coming all the way from a 4-5 record to the Final Four in just seven months. Even their 6-6 record this season along with an 11 seed didn’t give any indicator of what was to come, but in the words of Sophomore Cosette Milla: Ignore the odds and fight as hard as you can!
Senior Truly Martin, who served as a captain for the Mavericks this season, says that her expectations for them were pretty high despite the lackluster Spring: “I had high expectations for our team. We had a rough season in the Spring,” she said. “Everyone really wanted to qualify for state, and we were determined to work hard and come out close to the top this season.” Sophomores Annabel Wright and Pobbie Stevens had more subdued expectations, “I knew we had a good team,” said Wright. “I didn’t know that we were going to be as successful as we were.” “Our expectations going into the season were that we would have a similar season to the Spring,” Stevens explained. “However, as the season went along, we soon realized we were a very different team than last season.” From outside observation, expectations weren’t high for the Mavericks coming off the Spring campaign, and early results reinforced that with an 0-2 start that included a mercy rule showing with #1 Catlin Gabel. Then the progress started to show, ultimately helping change the course of their season.
In the first two games, the Mavericks couldn’t score in losses to Dayton and Catlin Gabel, something that Milla says was a challenge, “Towards the beginning of the season, scoring was our biggest hurdle,” she said. “After our third game, we started to get into a flow.” Martin put it in more of a full team focus, “Our team worked a lot on urgency during the game to put balls in the back of the net,” she explained. “We also worked on full team pressing, communication, and passing patterns.” These focuses resulted in wins, as Riverdale rolled Westside Christian 6-0 to get their first win, a program that had swept them in the Spring. Eight days later, they got a second win over Westside 2-0, then a 7-0 win over Trout Lake. All the sudden, Riverdale is sitting at 4-3 after an 0-2 start. “We were beating teams in league that had beat us in the past,” said Martin. “Then our results were better against Catlin Gabel and OES.” However, there was something else that went under the radar for their success as Wright explained, “We changed our team formation about halfway through the season,” she said. “So that changed positioning and took time to get used to.”
Its now October 12th, the Mavericks are at 4-3 and prepped for their rematch with #1 Catlin Gabel. After a formation change, increased depth, momentum, and confidence, the rematch was a much different script than the first meeting. They didn’t get on the board, but they narrowed it from mercy rule to 3-0, a very visible representation of the progress that Riverdale had made as a program. With #2 OES, the Mavericks led 1-0 at the half and fought to the end, but the Aardvarks came back to win 3-2. Riverdale would finish the campaign at 6-5 and head into the 3A/2A/1A playoffs as an 11 seed, a number that would serve as an underrepresentation of their true talent. “We knew we deserved to be higher,” said Martin. “We didn’t let it get to us, but I feel like we showed we were better than that.” Milla embraced the role of the underdog, “When we learned our seeding for the tournament, we knew we would prove people wrong,” she said. “It gave us confidence and a drive to come in and shock some teams.” Senior Hannah Conte expressed similar feelings to her teammates, “It served as fuel because we knew that we should be ranked higher,” she said. “We were able to play higher ranked teams and compete with them.” Their first task would be beating Santiam Christian.
Truly Martin scored on a corner kick to give Riverdale a 1-0 lead, an incredible start for the 11 seeded Mavericks. “That was an amazing game,” Martin recalled. “Our whole team believed we could win the whole time.” Santiam Christian would tie it, forcing a scoreless overtime that turned into penalty kicks. After some clutch saves by Conte, Milla drilled the game winning PK to advance past Santiam Christian and into the Elite Eight. “We knew in the beginning that it would be a close game,” said Wright. “Winning after OT and PK’s showed us and our fans that we had a lot of potential to further into the playoffs.” For Conte, her performance and the results had a deep sentiment, “I didn’t know what to expect walking to the game,” she explained. “As the game went on, I wanted to prove that we could win and advance.” For Conte, it was a fantastic ending to her Riverdale career, as she didn’t play in the subsequent rounds. “Once we won the game, we soon that the seeding was just a number,” Stevens said. “It gave us a benefit that the other teams came in with the expectations of winning, so we capitalized on that cockiness and took the dubs.”
Next up was Pleasant Hill, one of the highest scoring teams in the state entering the playoffs. It was a scoreless match at the half, a defensive standoff between two teams that craved a date with #1 Catlin Gabel in the semifinals. “That game felt easier than the last game,” said Stevens. “We had so many opportunities on goal, but they wouldn’t go in until the second half.” It would be Stevens who was the hero, as her second half goal combined with Grace Novack’s “killer game” advanced them to the Final Four and a rematch with the top ranked team in the state. “Our defense won this game for us,” Milla said. “There was a lot of pressure when Pleasant Hill started attacking harder and harder for a last minute goal.” “We played our game and beat them,” said Martin. “Me and the defensive line had to stop a lot of counterattacks in the midfield. Grace certainly did her part by stopping multiple shots throughout the game.” According to Cagann, the win was simply destined to happen, “We were the better team overall and the win wasn’t that unachievable,” she explained. “We had more shots on goal and better possession, so it was inevitable.”
After pulling a couple upsets, the same Achilles heel came to beat them as eventual state champion Catlin Gabel defeated them 4-0 to advance to the finals against #2 OES. It was a crushing ending to a great run, but a huge step forward for a program with aspirations for a state championship in the near future. “We came into the season with no expectations and ended up going further than any team in program history,” said Stevens. “That state should know that Riverdale is an underdog and we’re coming for you guys next season.” For the seniors, there is optimism for the future of the program, “I’m excited to see what the returning players do next season,” said Conte. “We put Riverdale on the map as a competitive program, and I hope they can prove that it only goes up from here.” “No team made it as far as our 2021 team did,” Wright explained. “It shows that our program knows how to win, and make it further into the playoffs in the future.” “I wouldn’t have traded this season for the world,” said Martin. “Our team grew exponentially skill wise, and every member of our team contributed to the success in their own way.” “Although our seniors will be missed we are not done yet,” said Milla. “In the next couple years, we are hoping to be the first team in school history to win state!”
Footnote: Header image provided by Riverdale Girls Soccer!