At the beginning of the prep girls soccer season, Columbia High team seemed destined for a return to the S.W. Washington District 4 2A playoffs.
The Bruins won their first seven matches and shared the Trico Division lead with defending champion Ridgefield.
But now, in the last week of the regular season, they are playing for their playoff lives.
They are coming off a disastrous week in which they lost back-to-back road matches to Woodland and Castle Rock--two teams they had beaten at home.
Those losses dropped them into a tie for third place (at 7-5) with Woodland, which finishes against Castle Rock and Kalama.
Columbia, meanwhile, plays its last two matches at home against Hockinson and Ridgefield--the Trico's second- and first-place teams.
Should the Bruins and the Woodland Beavers both win out, they'll meet this Saturday in a playoff to determine who'll go to district as the division's third-place entry.
"We are going to be the team that's got nothing to lose," said Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga. "Right now were aren't expected to go to the playoffs because we have two tough matches and Woodland has two easy ones."
The Columbia High-Hockinson rematch was played Tuesday, after this edition of The Enterprise was put to bed. CHS's regular-season finale against Ridgefield is set for Thursday.
Kasenga said if the Bruins play up to their potential--to the level of their next two opponents--anything could happen.
"It's not impossible (to win both matches). Hockinson and Ridgefield aren't invincible," she said, adding, "It won't be our preparation holding us back. It'll be our mental state."
Columbia's five losses this season have come in bunches. After winning their first seven, the Bruins lost three in a row (all away from home) before regrouping to win two straight at CHS Stadium.
Last week's 3-1 defeat by Woodland and 1-0 shootout loss to Castle Rock, however, shook Columbia's confidence. For the most of both matches, Kasenga said, the Bruins played not to lose rather to win.
"We lost that special something that we'd built as a team," she said. "But we have the opportunity to find it again and finish with the style of play and competitiveness that we've shown over the course of the season."
At Woodland 3, Columbia High 1 --
The Beavers broke a 1-1 deadlock with a goal in the 68th minute of the Oct. 18 rematch.
Up until then, the teams played some 41 minutes of scoreless soccer that was marked by outstanding goalkeeper play at both ends of the pitch.
CHS's Kelsey Kidd, who recorded 19 saves on the night, and Courtney Greenleaf of Woodland each allowed one first-half goal.
"Kelsey played an amazing game," Kasenga said. "Seven of her saves were in one-on-one situations, with her coming out and taking the ball away before they could get a shot off."
Overall, Woodland outshot Columbia, 24-9.
The first goal, however, came from CHS's Chelan Weiler in the 12th minute "on a beautiful left-foot shot from inside 18 yards," Kasenga said.
But after Woodland's Kylie Brusco scored the tying goal in the 27th minute, "we gradually sank into a defensive mode and quit attacking, and let them get control of the match," Kasenga noted.
Woodland eventually capitalized, beating Kidd with scoring shots to the back post in the 68th and 72nd minutes.
"We didn't play badly," Kasenga said of CHS's effort. "It's just that we weren't going to win it with a defensive mindset."
At Castle Rock 1, Columbia High 0 --
The Rockets made four penalty kicks to the Bruins' two to win last Thursday's match-deciding shootout.
It was CHS's first shootout of the season and came against a team it had beaten 5-0 on Sept. 27.
"We made mistakes all over the field," Kasenga said. "We did not play to the caliber that you'd expect from a third-place team."
During regulation and two five-minute overtime periods, CHS and Castle Rock combined to put 49 shots on goal (25-24 in the Rockets' favor), to no avail.
"We had a lot of shots, but most of them were either weak or wide," Kasenga noted. "We just weren't the same team" that won the first meeting.
In the shootout, CHS went first and missed.
Columbia stayed alive, however, when Donna Suarez and Kaci Kreps sandwiched successful penalty kicks around another miss to bring the Bruins within 3-2.
But the Rockets' Danielle Schulke closed it out in the fourth round by booting the game winner.