Amy Kasenga taking her leave from soccer program she built

Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga (center) rallies her team before a match in October 2009. Kasenga performed this ritual more than 200 times during her 13-year career as head coach of the Columbia High girls soccer program. She announced at the outset of the 2015 season that it would be her last with the program. (Miguel Reyes photo)

The day after her final match as Columbia High’s girls soccer coach, Amy Kasenga was still processing the emotions that come from letting go of something she has built from the ground up over a 13-year career.

“I think it will hit me more as I’m enjoying a summer when I’m supposed to be planning for the next Mini Bruins soccer camp,” Kasenga said during an interview on Oct. 30.

Kasenga announced before the 2015 girls soccer season began that this would be her final season of direct involvement in coaching. She said that after 20 years of coaching, be it junior high volleyball, high school volleyball, or soccer, it was time for a break.

“For the past 20 years I have been in a gym or on a soccer field,” Kasenga noted. Broken down by years, she coached volleyball at Klickitat for three years and at CHS for three years, and soccer for 14 seasons, including one season assisting CHS’s first-year boys program in 2001.

Her decision to step down at this point in time “is a sign of both relief and exhaustion.”

Late in the 2015 season, Kasenga knew she had made the right decision when she forgot to bring CHS’s jerseys with her from home for a match at Kalama. (She took over the laundering of the jerseys early on after players started showing up for matches with soiled or discolored jerseys, the latter the result of improper home washing.)

The match ultimately got played as the referee agreed to let the Bruins play in their warm-ups, which proved to be close enough to meet the uniform standard.

That is just one of the many memories Kasenga has catologued in her mind over the past 13 falls.

Kasenga said she was touched that a couple of former players came down to tell her thank you for their playing-day memories when Columbia High officials recognized Kasenga on Oct. 29 before CHS’s Senior Night finale against Kalama.

Kasenga’s most choice memories are of the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, when the Bruins notched the program’s only state tournament berths, of CHS’s Trico League rivalries with La Center and Stevenson, and of being competitive in a league that has undergone a number of makeovers over the years.

But being the adult among kids, coaching players, wasn’t always a serious matter. Kasenga chuckled when she recalled the season she spent with the CHS boys program. She said a number of players were experiencing school sports for the first time, “and some of the first-year boys on the team wanted to know what color our uniform would be. They were a bit let down when we told them they would be the school’s color, red.”

Another point of pride for Kasenga has been how well CHS has done when it comes to all-league selections. “It means a lot to me seeing kids win all-league honors and individual awards, watching those kids who put their heart and soul into it receive recognition for it.”

More than anything, though, Kasenga takes pride in knowing the program she built has been self-reliant from the outset. Through its Mini Bruins soccer camp, the program has been able to raise the necessary funds to purchase uniforms and equipment “when we’ve needed them,” without having to request financial aid from Associated Student Body funds.

“It’s felt good knowing that we have profited from our own hard work,” Kasenga said. “The kids earned it through hundreds of hours spent teaching hundreds of kids, and creating an important connection in our community. I hope whoever follows me will keep [the camp] going, because there are benefits that run both ways, and I’d hate to see the community lose that connection.”

Kasenga also hopes Columbia doesn’t lose the connection it has established with Trout Lake High School. Without players from Trout Lake, she said, the CHS program would struggle to field a competitive team in a league that is becoming more and more I-5-centric because of rising programs at Vancouver private schools King’s Way and Seton Catholic.

“It’s the new reality, and I don’t see it changing for years to come,” Kasenga said. “Schools like White Salmon and Stevenson are going to have to up their games if they want to compete; it’s a simple as that. I don’t envy my successor.”

Though Kasenga is stepping away from coaching high school soccer, it doesn’t mean she will be forgotten by members of the Southwest District soccer circle on whom she made quite an impression. It stems from an action Kasenga took during an away match against Hockinson, late in the 2004 season. The result is the Kasenga Rule, which the district executive body enacted which prohibits a coach from forfeiting or calling a game in any sport, at any time; only a referee can make that determination.

Here’s how The Enterprise wrote it up for its Nov. 4, 2004 issue:

Kasenga pulled the Bruins off the field off the field 10 minutes into the Oct. 26 Trico match and handed the Hawks a forfeit victory.

Because of heavy rainfall “the field was unsafe and unplayable,” the Bruins’ coach said. “There was no passing to be done because the ball wouldn’t roll and the footing was treacherous, at best”

Kasenga finally made up her mind to call it quits when sophomore Chelsea Ludwig went down with in the 10th minute with a knee injury.

“I made the decision for the safety of our players,” she said. “We had already clinched a spot in the playoffs and, at that point, the loss of a player would have been far more damaging than the loss of a match.”

Kasenga was suspended for one match by the district executive board, though the board forgot to notify either Athletic Director Howard Kreps or Kasenga. Both found out at the same time when they ran into the Montesano AD, who sat on the executive board at the time, while all were socializing at a Hood River restaurant. It came as quite the shock at the time, but now it is a memory that makes Kasenga smile and laugh. Yet she’d do it again, or at least try to, to protect her players, if given the same set of circumstances.

“The players come first; it’s why we’re all there,” she said, then added, “I’m going to be gone, but if I have to be remembered for something, at least it’s for the right reason.”

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