It was not the kind of year that the Crook County Cowboy soccer team had hoped for.
The Cowboys suffered through an 0-14 season.
However, the team made great strides from previous years. The Cowboys scored 16 goals on the season and led several games. In addition, the Cowboys saved their best for last, playing down to the wire with the Redmond Panthers before falling on a penalty kick with just over a minute remaining.
"It being the seniors last night, I think the team came out with the collective mentality that they were all going to work as hard as they could for the entire time," first-year head coach Bryan Housley said of the final game. "We also understand that this team beat us 5-0 and we had zero chances at goal the first time we played them. They jogged off, yelling and screaming because they won, but for us, we are yelling and screaming because we kind of won too. Maybe the scoreboard didn't reflect that, but our mentality and the way we played reflected that we were a much different team than the first time we played them."
Housley added that he hoped that the team would take the momentum that they gained from that final game into next year.
Although the Cowboys lose some of their top players, either because they were seniors or foreign exchange students, the team still has a lot of players returning. Gone will be seniors Mitch Warren, Tiernan Durbin and Joey Miller as well as foreign exchange students Telmo Buron and Nils Hansen.
"Mitch has been with the program all four years, and he has grown exponentially, just his attitude and his leadership capabilities on and off the field," Housley said. "It's obvious he made a distinct choice to be a leader this year and he was incredible at that."
Housley also had nothing but praise for the remaining two seniors as well as the foreign exchange students.
"Nils and Telmo were incredible the first half of the season," he said. "They were big adds for us."
However, the Cowboys will return six starters, including freshmen Eli Oelkers, Gabe Love and Isaac Freeman.
In addition, although it potentially cost the Cowboys a win or two, the team was able to run a JV season despite having just 23 players on the roster.
"Trying to form two teams out of 23 guys, and a majority of all those JV guys are all freshmen, so it would have done them a huge disservice to not see what it's like to play," Housley said of the importance of playing JV matches even though it meant that there were days with only one substitute in the varsity matches. "They are putting in the effort every day in practice, so I think it was important to get them chances to play."
He added that having the JV team should pay big dividends next year because of that playing time. Those freshmen gained valuable experience and were able to win a handful of matches. That should help the Cowboys in the future.
However, he was quick to add that in order to be successful as a team it is important that the players continue to work on soccer skills in the off season.
"Most of the teams we play have an abundance of club players that are playing with the Bend Timbers, or other clubs that are training them on a year-round basis, so it is hard to compete with that," Housley said. "There needs to be an expectation that soccer can't just be a two-and-a-half month thing you do for fun in high school. It needs to be a commitment, while I do appreciate multi sport kids there also has to be a constant working on their craft. So, with soccer, they still need to be juggling. They still need to be working on touches. There is still a ton of stuff that they can do on their own or finding those extra outlets whether it be in Redmond or Bend, where they can get touches."
In addition to off-season work, Housley added that the team mindset also needs to change. Something that the team worked hard on this past season. Still, they have a ways to go.
"We do good for the first 20 or 30 minutes and sometimes we can get through the first half one or two goals down, but then we get into that second half, and it could be fitness, it could be any number of things, but it is just going to take more experience and more numbers to counteract a lot of that," he said. "I think the uncomfortability of being ahead in a game or scoring first or winning a game creates a pressure and a stress that a lot of these kids are uncomfortable with. So, I think it's about breeding a different kind of expectation with the soccer community here that winning it needs to get contagious."
Housley added that he is also pleased with the number of young players in the program as well as the parental support that he is seeing.
"I think there were 12 total freshmen on the team this year, so I love the youth in the program," he said. "I want to make mention that I just love having the atmosphere of having the parents here supporting the program, win or lose, when it's been a lot of losing they are still out there and they are still cheering, and it's a huge difference for these guys to have that positive encouragement on the sidelines."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.