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The Gladiators reload and they expect to compete with the best in Class 4A girls soccer

Gladstone High School’s girls soccer team has graduated some key players off of last year’s team. But that doesn’t mean the Gladiators won’t be competitive in the Tri-Valley Conference and in the state this season.JOHN DENNY - Gladstone High School girls soccer team captains (left to right) Maddy Stirling, Rielee Jaekel, Allie Seymour and Kat Kerr say they believe that the Gladiators can make a run at league and state titles this fall. The Gladiators have won league titles in seven of the past 12 seasons and they were state champions in 2009, 2011 and 2012. They made the Class 4A semifinals last fall, after finishing second to a young team from Molalla in a competitive Tri-Valley League.

The Gladiators developed into a state powerhouse during the tenure of retired head coach Steve Thomas, who was head coach at the school for 16 seasons — 1998-2013. Thomas’ teams won seven league titles and three state championships; and they made it at least as far as the quarterfinals eight times.

Greg Hess, who had assisted Thomas since 2003, took over as head coach last year and the program continued successful, with the varsity going 14-4-1 and giving 2014 state champion Valley Catholic a run for its money in last year’s semifinals, while the Gladiator jayvee went 11-1-1.

The Gladiators have lost some key players to graduation, including Riley Webster, Molly Webster and Mikaela Simac.

Riley Webster last season led Gladstone in scoring and was Tri-Valley Conference “Co-Offensive Player of the Year,” along with Corbett midfielder Christina Krieger, who returns this year as a senior.

Webster had starred in-goal for the Gladiators for four seasons, while Simac had been the defensive anchor.

“We don’t have the go-to scorer we had last year,” said Hess. “So we’ll spread it around a little more. We’ve got two decent keepers, but they don’t have the 5-10 size that Molly had. Maddy Stirling’s been the back-up to Molly the last two seasons and she’s only 5-foot-2; Megan Kuhn, who was last year’s jayvee keeper, is 5-4.”

Still, Hess likes this year’s team.

“I expect us to battle for that league title,” he said. “But it’s going to be a very strong league. Molalla was young last year, so they’ll be really strong. Corbett should be pretty good; they’ve got their top scorer back. Estacada will be improved, and so will Madras.”

Molalla returns nine players who received league all-star recognition from last year’s team that went 10-0-0 in the TVL.

Although they are missing some of last year’s top players, the Gladiators also have experience.

Players returning with varsity experience include: seniors Kat Kerr (defense), Jessica Petersen (defense), Allie Seymour (midfield), Allie Nordby (midfield) and Ali Petruzzi (forward); and juniors Hailey Harlan (midfield), Rielee Jaekel (midfield) and Mackenzy Peterson (defense).

Jaekel was a first-team all-conference selection last season.

Rounding out this year’s varsity roster are: senior Ashley Henry (forward); juniors Daisy Thompson (forward) and Sierra Smith (defense); sophomores Jacia Pena (defense), Halee McClaflin (defense), Grace Campbell (midfield/defense), Cameron Cronin (defense/midfield) and Renee Baker (midfield); and freshman Jaden Barnum (forward).

The Gladiators have demonstrated that they have a lot of offensive weapons in early preseason play.

Nordby, Campbell and Barnum scored goals in Gladstone’s season opener, a 3-0 shutout of Sisters.

Campbell moves up from last year’s successful jayvee team; Barnum comes from the successful Thelo youth program.

Hess had his Gladiators with a 20-4 advantage in shots on-frame in the Sisters game.

Four players scored for Gladstone in a 5-0 rout of North Marion. Seymour found the net twice, while Petruzzi, Jaekel and Nordby scored single tallies.

Hess had his Gladiators with a 20-5 advantage in shots on-frame.

Nordby scored in a 2-1 loss to Scappoose and in a 1-1 standoff with Philomath.. Scappoose lost in the semifinals last year, while Philomath lost to Corbett 3-2 in the first round of the state playoffs last year, after dropping Gladstone 1-0 in preseason.

Gladstone team captains — Stirling, Kerr, Seymour and Jaekel — have high aspirations again this year.

“This year we’re going to have to work a lot harder because we’ve lost Riley [Webster], our top goal scorer,” Stirling said. “But our goal is to be league champs.”

“I think we’re going to do really good,” Seymour said. “People are looking down on us because we lost so many seniors. But if we focus on staying positive, play as a team, and talk a lot, I think we can go really far....

“Our defensive line is really good, and our offense is pretty good too. We lost a really good goalkeeper in Molly [Webster], but the two goalies we have both learned from [former goalie coach] Megan Holter and they’re both really strong....”

“I think we can make it all the way to the state championship,” said Kerr. “We need to work really hard during practice and play as a team, but I just have this confidence that we can do it.”

“Everyone on the team is a team player,” said Jaekel. “There’s no one on the team this year that feels they need to showboat and do it all by themselves. We’re more of a team [than last year], and we all want to win really bad. I think we could go all the way, if we pass the ball, communicate and play our hardest every game.”

Comparing this year’s team to last year’s, Jaekel said. “I don’t think we’re as quick, but I think we’re a lot smarter. We’re all about one-two touch and passing, give and goes and switching the field. Not just booting the ball. And I think we’re better at finishing too.”

Asked what she liked about her teammates’ play in early preseason, Jaekel said: “I like that we scored early. Last year it took us a whole half before we scored a goal.”

Gladstone (2-1-1) begins TVC league play next Tuesday, Sept. 22, at Estacada (1-2-1). The Gladiators entertain Crook County (2-1-0) on Sept. 24.

Heading into this week’s games, Molalla (4-0-0) was ranked the top Class 4A girls soccer team in the state. Gladstone and Corbett (4-0-0) were ranked sixth and ninth respectively.

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