The White Buffalos are rich in leadership, though past losing seasons are keeping them humble.

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - Madras senior Alesha Freeman (foreground, right) will be called on to anchor and lead the Buffs' defense from her center back position.
History might not be on its side, but that isn't keeping the Madras girls soccer team from aiming high.

In the last 11 seasons, the Lady Buffalos have won no more than four games in a given season, and have finished three of them without a win. They've also shuffled through five head coaches in that span, with none of them staying on longer than four years.

While those numbers aren't necessarily working in their favor, they aren't necessarily against the Buffs, either. The familiarity of the same head coach, Shawn Darrow, who enters his second season with Madras, should help establish continuity. Likely the biggest cause for optimism, albeit cautiously, is in the Buffs' leadership department.

Between junior midfielder/forward Erika Olivera, a reigning first-team all-Tri Valley Conference selection, and senior center back Alesha Freeman, who made the all-TVC second team last year, Madras has a pair of girls who will consistently fulfill their roles on the pitch while also making players around them better. The latter part will be important on a team that has several players who lack experience.

"We have some good leaders coming in this year and hopefully that will trickle down to some of these newer girls," Darrow said. "We got some athletes that came out this year who are athletic, but have never played before."

After exploding for four goals in their season-opening win against Sisters last season, the Buffs had a goal-scoring drought that lasted for a month. However, they closed strong with competitive defeats to a pair of playoff teams in Gladstone and Corbett, while also scoring a season-high five goals in a win over Crook County and pitching a 1-0 win over Estacada on its senior night.

"The Estacada game that we won was the most epic game of my life. I mean, I want to play games like that every time … the intense ones," Freeman said.

The team hopes its strong ending to last season can carry over into the current one. A strong turnout for voluntary summer practices and workouts was welcome start, according to Darrow.

"I feel a lot of confidence coming into this second year in terms of, we've built up a pretty solid amount of girls … and we had way better numbers this summer than we did last summer," Darrow said, adding that they had about 20 girls coming to optional practices. "It's just kind of the idea of building up from the bottom."

The midfield appears to be a strong point with Jiana Smith-Francis, Kelsey Olivera and Jalaney Suppah complementing Erika Olivera.

Darrow said it helped immensely that both Freeman and Erika Olivera were around for the better part of the summer to play with their respective position groups.

"She's incredibly skilled with the ball at her foot," Darrow said of Erika Olivera. "She's getting even better about setting up her teammates to be successful … she's really good about building up her teammates in practice and trying to get their confidence and skills up. That's where she's really helped this team out."

On defense, senior Michell Galan returns and in the net, sophomore Cheydon Herkshan returns with a year of varsity experience already under her belt. Freeman, meanwhile, has become like a defensive coach on the field, no longer hesitant to be vocal on the field and organize the back line.

"As (last) season went on and even carrying on to this year, I feel a lot more responsibility, and I can use my voice a lot more," Freeman said.

Without a doubt, Madras has a lot of moving pieces that will need time to develop cohesion. But, on the heels of past losing seasons, the Buffs have a calculated level of confidence that this can be the year they string together some league wins and maybe even make a legitimate run at the postseason.

"We have big goals," Erika Olivera said. "Not just goals to make, but that big goal of trying to get to the playoffs this year."

Darrow added, "If they can jell a little bit and figure out some of the little nuances of the game, especially with some of these girls being so new to it, I really think we could compete for a spot in the playoffs."

The Buffs will kick off their 2017 season Thursday at home against Ridgeview with a 3 p.m. start time.

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow him on Twitter @MadrasSports, @WillCDenner

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