Less than two weeks into the season, the North Marion girls soccer team is already in uncharted territory.
After opening the season with a 5-0 shutout over the Seaside Seagulls on Aug. 31, the Huskies returned to the Willamette Valley for their home opener on Thursday, defeating the Gladstone Gladiators 3-2 to open the season with consecutive wins for the first time since 2012.
The victory was a continuation of a strong offensive start to the season that head coach Ben Bonser credits to the team's high-intensity efforts to start the first two games of the season. Of North Marion's eight goals they've scored this season, six have come in the first half of play.
"We have a very attack-minded team, so they're very dominant, especially very early on in the game when they have lots of energy," Bonser said. "So they're able to break down just about anybody we've seen so far."
North Marion put heavy pressure on Gladstone's defense early on, getting multiple shots on goal that finally paid off when junior forward Mar Verastegui attacked from the right side, connecting on a chip shot over the Gladstone keeper to put the Huskies up 1-0 at the 22-minute mark.
The Huskies added two more goals before the end of the half on scores from freshman Mya Hammack and junior Odalis Bedolla in the 32nd and 34th minutes, respectively, to put the team up 3-0 going into halftime.
North Marion needed every bit of that cushion, too.
After a shaky first half on defense, Gladstone took control in the second half and was able to neutralize the Huskies' attack, successfully countering to score in the 44th minute and the 72nd minute.
"Second half we lost some energy out there, so we weren't able to keep up the same momentum, and that's where we slipped up," Bonser said. "We still had some opportunities that looked good."
It was the type of play that has made the Gladiators one of the most formidable 4A teams in the state over the past decade. Gladstone won state titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012, has been to the semifinals in two of the past three seasons and has never missed the playoffs since the OSAA expanded to six classifications in 2006.
After the contest, Bonser noted that the Gladiators were playing their first game of the season, and looked like it in the first half, saying the latter 40 minutes were much more in line with Gladstone's capabilities on the field. But Thursday's victory remains the first win North Marion has recorded in 18 tries against the Gladiators since the 2006 reclassification.
Part of that is due to an influx of talent into the team in recent years, particularly with this year's class of freshman players, six of whom started in North Marion's win over Gladstone. Hammack tops the list of incoming players and leads the team in offense this season with three goals and one assist in the opening pair of victories.
The Huskies have also seen contributions from Haily Welch, who scored two goals in the win over Seaside, goalkeeper Alex McArthur, midfielder Danielle Christenson and defenders Marissa Colby and Katie Zapata.
"They're young, but they're playing strong against this competition," Bonser said. "The biggest thing is getting used to all this physical high school play."
Teamed up with the Huskies' returning veterans like Verastegui, Camry Jones, Mickenzie Hall, Melinda Chappell and Melany Bahena, and it's no wonder that North Marion has already matched its win total from last year.
But the season only gets more difficult from here. The Huskies were scheduled to host 5A Central (1-0) on Tuesday and have a game against Molalla (2-0) on Thursday that was rescheduled after heavy smoke forced the teams to cancel last week's scheduled game.
Like Gladstone, the Molalla Indians are another strong 4A program. The Indians have been to the state semifinals the last two years and have outscored their opponents 14-0 this season.
"We're hoping to keep that momentum going. I'm confident that we can do that against Central and… against Molalla," Bonser said. "That'll be a good test as well, because it looks like they have a pretty strong team this year. We're excited for that test."
If the Huskies can continue their strong start to the season, the team will be in line to challenge for its first playoff appearance since 2012, which happens to be the last time North Marion opened the season at 2-0.