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The Pioneers went 3-10-2 overall, 1-5-1 in the Three Rivers League, and lost in the first round of the 6A state playoffs

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Oregon City senior forward Abi Willet (left) tries to evade senior defender Maddy Phelps during Thursdays varsity scrimmage at Pioneer Memorial Stadium. The Pioneers season opener is Sept. 9 at Southridge.Before anyone can take Oregon City's girls soccer team seriously this season, the Pioneers have some retooling to do.

Oregon City graduated seven seniors off last season's 3-10-2 team, leaving a couple of holes to fill in the front line, two more in the midfield, and three on the back end.

The Pioneers return five players — senior goalkeeper Nova Ceperich, senior defender Maddy Phelps, sophomore midfielder Jaynie Rust, junior midfielder Taylor Salisbury, and senior forward Abi Willet — who earned all-Three Rivers League honorable mention last season, plus a handful of players who saw significant varsity action a year ago, so it's not as if they're starting from scratch.

"This team is going to be young," Pioneers coach Marshall Brewer said. "We've got some good returning players that are young still, and our replacements are young, so there are going to be a lot of sophomores on our varsity squad this year.

"I told the girls coming into the summer workouts that there would be lots of opportunities to get on the varsity roster and some of them took advantage of that."

Brewer also appreciates the no-nonsense, workmanlike attitude that his players brought into preseason training camp.

"They know we're going to have to work hard and they're willing to work hard," Brewer said. "Last year, our chemistry wasn't exactly where it needed to be and it kind of showed in our play.

"This year, the varsity squad is pretty tight. One through 13 is pretty solid, and then 13-18 are all good players who need some training but they all have the same mindset — that blue-collar, we're-going-to-outwork-you attitude."

Moving forward

The Pioneers have seen both ends of the win-loss spectrum in their three seasons with Brewer as their head coach, going from a team that went 6-0-1 and won the Mt. Hood Conference title outright in 2016 to a team that slumped to 1-5-1 and finished seventh in the eight-team Three Rivers League last season.

Oregon City's struggles a year ago started in the second game of the season when senior defender Hannah Beebe went down with a season-ending knee injury in a 9-0 loss to Jesuit and things continued to unravel from there.

When it was all said and done, the Pioneers scored fewer goals (11) than any other team in the Three Rivers League, surrendered more goals (50) than any other team in the league, and were held off the scoresheet 10 times.

"That year is behind us," Brewer said. "We're moving on from that. The returning players have had lots of talks about it and I've told them, 'We're going to be younger, but we're going to be better because of what we went through last season.'

"We still have that sting, you know? We've kind of let it go, but you've still got that sting that says, 'We're better than that.' And that's behind our motivation to work hard this season."

If the Pioneers learned anything in their return to the Three Rivers last season is was this: Speed is a virtue. Teams that have and use it wisely are the teams that contend for league titles. And the ones that don't have it or don't know how to use it are the ones that are likely to go 1-5-1.

"The Three Rivers was that way when we were in it before and we tried to prepare our girls for it," Brewer said. "We practiced as a very high level, speed-wise, but it still wasn't game speed and it took our players by surprise when they saw just how fast the game was being played.

"You find yourself in a lot of track meets where games are often decided by how much speed you have on the wings. We're looking to match that this year, but it becomes a balancing act that starts with taking care of the defensive end and then being able to counterattack very quickly."

Willet is a proven goal-scorer and senior forward Kiera O'Malley is another scoring threat with varsity experience, but two potential offensive linchpins are Rust and Salisbury, who could find themselves moving from one end of the field to the other, depending on the situation.

"We had Taylor playing mostly defense last year because that's where we needed her, but she's a very versatile player who we're looking to move up front," Brewer said. "We also have Jaynie, who could end up finding some minutes up front. We could play her in the back, but if we need to get something going up front, she's more than capable of going up there and making things happen."

Oregon City has eight non-conference games scheduled, including three against teams ranked in the Class 6A pre-season top 10 — at No. 1 Jesuit on Sept. 12, at home against No. 3 Mountainside on Sept. 16, and at No. 6 Clackamas on Sept. 26.

The Pioneers open league play at home against Lake Oswego on Oct. 3.

"My expectation is we should finish in the top four in league and advance comfortably into the playoffs," Brewer said. "The new players have to buy into our style, which should be an issue because our JV runs the same stuff that we run.

"All they have to do is trust the process. And if they do that and we play together as a team ... I think we'll be all right."

By Jim Beseda
Sports editor
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