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Tenino senior Iris Campesino has committed to play women’s soccer at Lower Columbia College.

TENINO — It was a play Iris Campesino has done countless times before; one she had perfected over the past nine years as a staunch defender on the soccer pitch.

Campesino, a sophomore on the Tenino girls soccer team in fall 2018, went in for a tackle, didn’t lock her ankle and the opposing forward ran straight through her ankle, snapping it. Lying on the ground shaking while her ankle swelled up, she knew immediately something was terribly wrong.

It was a painful setback for Campesino, a rising star for the Beavers who had earned a starting position as a budding freshman and was building a rapport with the senior classmen her sophomore year.

“It was definitely a hard time for me, because I couldn’t finish the rest of the season,” Campesino said. “It was a struggle. It was heart-wrenching. But it’s a process, it’s all a process, when it comes to healing.”

Instead of getting down on herself, which can be easy when dealing with a season-ending and potentially career-altering injury, Campesino willed herself back to health. That isn’t to say it wasn’t discouraging. She was forced to watch every league game, including the district playoffs, from the sidelines, wishing she could be out there helping her teammates win. No longer able to help on the pitch, she instead aided her teammates the best she could in her situation, cheering them on and offering encouragement.

She ended up going through an entire year of physical therapy. She stayed motivated by working out by herself at home, such as performing wall passes and jogging on a treadmill. The injury happened in September 2018 and her ankle wasn’t back to 100 percent until just before her junior year started in fall 2019; right in time for soccer season. By then, she was also fully ready mentally.

“It gave me strength to continue even more and go as far as I can,” Campesino said. “I was really looking forward to my junior year and that helped me stay motivated.”

Campesino and the Beavers went on to have their best season in school history. Tenino ran roughshod through the 1A Evergreen Conference, capturing the league title, the district title and a state playoff victory over South Whidbey in the opening round. The district title and state victory were both firsts in Beavers’ history.

Tenino finished the year 18-1-1 overall, including a 17-game win streak at one point. The Beavers outscored opponents 84-6 during that span with Campesino patrolling the midfield and as a defender. It earned her a first-team all-league selection. Not a bad comeback from a year-long ankle injury.

This fall, after the 2020-21 regular season was pushed back to a March 15, 2021 start date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Campesino set her sights on finding a college scholarship. She soon found out that having the right connections pays off. 

Friend and Beavers teammate Brieanna Dell gave the Lower Columbia College (LCC) women’s soccer staff Campesino’s name on a recommendation. LCC ended up reaching out to her with an invitation to a training camp down in Vancouver in the middle of October.

There, Campesino trained with LCC’s club team, as the COVID-19 regulations didn’t allow for her to train with the college’s actual team. Still, she was able to get a feel for the level of play and how the staff coaches. 

“It was great seeing how their different points and drills work compared to up here,” Campesino said. “It was a great experience, and having that coaching level for training was really nice.”

Campesino said the level of talent was similar to her Blackhills FC club team based out of Olympia that she recently joined. She’s been playing on club teams since she was 6 years old, and it’s part of the reason why she’s seen so much success in the sport.

A couple weeks after training with LCC in Vancouver, the Red Devils offered her a scholarship and she immediately accepted the offer.

“It was really nice knowing I’ll be able to have the opportunity to pursue the sport and another couple years of playing the sport I love,” Campesino said. “It was nice hearing that and also getting an education at the same time while doing soccer.”

While getting the opportunity to play college ball is certainly a thrill, it’s something Campesino has always been interested in doing and knew she had the talent to get there.

The Red Devils are coming off a down year, going 2-13-3 overall with a 2-9-3 record in the Northwest Athletic Conference, where they finished seventh out of eight teams. But that came just a year after they finished 10-5-2 overall and qualified for the playoffs. Campesino hopes she can help turn the program around and reach another postseason berth.

For now, Campesino is busy practicing two days a week with the Beavers and four days a week with her club team in Olympia. It’s currently the waiting game to see if high school soccer will actually get a season next March.

“Just knowing you’re playing at a college level against other college teams and meeting new girls,” Campesino said. “Having a new team and new coaches, I’m just really looking forward to that.”

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