Lakeridge's Paul Seydel was fearless.
Seydel, a senior forward on the Pacers boys soccer team, suffered a significant concussion that ended his 2015 season, but he showed no fear in 2016.
Measuring just 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 126 pounds, he attacked the opposition goal with abandon, challenged defenders, ran down long passes in the penalty box and struck at enemy keepers without hesitation.
The results were unassailable.
By year's end, Seydel had led the Pacers to a 16-0-3 record, a Three Rivers League championship and the No. 2 ranking in the state, scored the clinching penalty kick in his team's Class 6A state championship win and racked up honors including TRL Player of the Year, Oregon Class 6A Player of the Year, and Gatorade Player of the Year. He will play college soccer next year at Concordia University in Portland.
For all those reasons and more, Seydel has been named the Lake Oswego Review 2017 Athlete of the Year for Lakeridge High School. The Athlete of the Year honor is awarded to the top senior athlete at both Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools.
The key to Seydel's unlikely journey — and the matching journey of the Pacers — was an unwavering belief in their ability.
Following the team's 2015 season, a season that saw Lakeridge eliminated in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs, Seydel and the Pacers nonetheless knew immediately what lay ahead for 2016 — a state championship.
"We said that right after we lost in the (2015) playoffs," Seydel said. "We had so many good players coming back, we just knew we'd win."
He and the rest of the Pacers were right in that belief, too, beating top-ranked McMinnville 3-2 (4-1 PKs) in the state title contest on Nov. 12 at Hillsboro Stadium and giving the Pacers their first state crown since 2004.
While the Pacers' championship was undeniably surprising — the team had lost in the first round of the state playoffs for the previous six years (its last state playoff win was a 3-1 victory over Hood River back in 2009) — Seydel's success was no less surprising.
In addition to the challenges previously noted, Seydel played just two years on the Lakeridge varsity team, scored just six goals as a junior and lost more than three months of practice and training to the concussion that ended his junior season.
"The season he had — we weren't expecting that by any means," said Lakeridge coach Jason Bell, noting Seydel's team-leading 26 goals and 13 assists. "We knew he was a good player, but not like this. He surprised us all."
A team effort
Thanks to his unprecedented success, Seydel walked away with almost every individual honor the state had to offer. But despite all that attention, he knew that the foundation of his success came from the overall skill and teamwork of the 2016 Pacers.
"Our entire front line was good. No one could shut us down," he said, crediting fellow forwards Jonny Rodas-Hills, Collin Pinkerton and Adam Kindorf for helping fuel his success. "We all grew up together and played together and that really helped."
But even with all that talent, if the Pacers hadn't grown over the course of the 2016 season, they might not have finished the year as champions. Seydel pointed specifically to Lakeridge's 3-3 non-league tie against Central Catholic as an important milestone.
"That was our changing point," Seydel said. "We were kind of playing as individual players until then, but (Bell) shut that down. He told us we were a team and we took that to heart and went with it."
From that point on, the Pacers finished their year on a 12-0 run that saw them outscore their opponents 48-13 and go unbeaten over the final 45 days of the season.
Seydel, especially, and Rodas-Hills (the 2015 Three Rivers Player of the Year who finished with 23 goals in '16) took off on a virtual scoring binge during that span. Along the way, Seydel scored in almost every conceivable manner — on long shots and glancing headers, off rebounds, on touch shots past keepers into open nets, on diving headers and seemingly every other possible way.
"I just know where to be on the field," he explained. "On most of my goals, I was just in the right place to score. People made fun of me because I always seemed to be right where the ball was."
"He started scoring some goals and the tally just started ticking," Bell said. "He's got a lot of reason to be thankful for all the work he put in."
A matched set
In addition to his running mates at forward, Seydel had another stalwart ally leading the Pacers' defense — his twin brother and team captain Ben Seydel. Soccer teammates since the age of 4, Paul and Ben always pushed each other, challenged each other and supported each other.
"He's always been the competitive edge for me," Paul Seydel said. "We would always compete to see who was best."
But over time, the brothers grew to become teammates and friends more than competitors, each seeking and finding their own important roles on the team.
"After our freshman year, we got closer as teammates," Paul Seydel said. "I was always confident Ben was there to support me."
"Ben was always more of the team leader type," Bell said. "Paul didn't want a lot of attention. He just worked hard on the field and got the job done. And when he was having success, he didn't let it get to his ego — it was always for his team."
The capstone to Seydel and the Pacers' year was their dramatic win over McMinnville in the state title contest. Lakeridge led the Grizzlies 1-0 for much of the game, saw McMinnville push ahead 2-1 in the last seven minutes of regulation, then got the equalizer when Pinkerton headed home a Rodas-Hills free kick to force a 2-2 tie, overtime, and eventually, penalty kicks.
In that PK session, the Pacers did virtually everything right. Keeper Cole Evered stopped the Grizzlies' first shot, McMinnville missed its second and the Pacers buried four straight — by Rodas-Hills, Cal Seneker, Bryden Auer and Seydel — to seal up the championship.
"When they scored in the last 10 minutes, some of our players laid down and thought we were done," Seydel said. "But Ben and I tried to get people up and know it wasn't over."
The Pacers did respond, tied the score on Pinkerton's goal, then — finally — looked to Seydel to end it.
"I was really tired in overtime … but on the PK, I had so much adrenaline, I wasn't tired at all," Seydel said. "I just kind of blurred everything out — I didn't really see the crowd or anything — and I just (kicked the ball) to the bottom right corner like I always do."
And that final kick set off a celebration that Seydel and the Pacers will likely remember the rest of their lives.
"I remember running with my arms out and everyone running toward me," he said. "Everybody's faces were the same, just yelling and coming together — we were just super excited."
"It was fitting. It just turned out that the fourth and final (penalty kick) was taken by Paul," Bell said. "It was a fitting way to have him step up and score that."
Through it all, Seydel played through his senior year without fear. After he returned to practice with his club team, he worked to get back in shape, trained to increase his strength and speed, and soon, put all thoughts of his concussion behind him.
"My first few games of club, I was really nervous. I didn't do any headers and I didn't go into dangerous situations," Seydel said. "But after a while, I just started playing again like always."
"He played with no fear. You never would have known he'd been hurt," Bell said. "That's why his senior season was so incredible."