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A strong returning core should keep the Buffs near the top of the Tri-Valley Conference

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - Seniors Israel Estrada, left, and Luis Benitez, right front, will try to lead the Madras boys' soccer team to a Tri-Valley Conference title. Head coach Clark Jones, center, noted that the TVC is one toughest leagues in 4A soccer.

The Madras High boys' soccer team is hungry to compete for a Tri-Valley Conference title this season, and they may have the right mix of returning leaders and fresh talent to pull it off.

The Buffs won't be alone in their quest for a Tri-Valley title, of course. Jones noted North Marion and Molalla when asked about the strongest teams in the league, but he also said his Madras team could be there this season.

"We're going to be a young team this year," said head coach Clark Jones, "but we're not starting from square one."

Two of the main building blocks on the White Buffalos' team are seniors Luis Benitez and Israel Estrada. Jones described both as having great leadership qualities. For Benitez, leading means being vocal. During practice he can be heard loud and clear as he directs, supports and challenges his teammates.

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - Senior Luis Benitez, with ball, will help lead the Buffs' attack in the 2021 fall season.

"I'm ready to get back on the field for my last season," said Benitez, who will see time at striker in Jones' offensive schemes. "I hope I can score some goals, win the TVC, make new friends and make new memories."

Estrada, a senior midfielder who excels on defense, also has lofty goals for the team ­— and himself.

"I want us to win the league," said Estrada. "I also want to make first team all-league. I know it'll be hard, but I think I can do it."

Jones also noted senior goalkeeper Ethan Nava among his returning leaders. There are nine seniors on the team in total, and a slew of freshmen athletes have joined the program this year. Jones does not appear too worried about his young players, though, since many have been playing together for years in middle school, recreational leagues and on club teams.

"During these early practices, we want them to learn to visualize the field," said Jones. "That can be a challenge for a lot of freshmen. We want to help them play quicker, more decisively and more unselfishly."

While Jones does not like to give away too many of his tactical secrets, he did note that he likes his teams to be solid on defense and strong in the counter-attack. As for formations, he avoided specifics.

"We will play [our athletes] where it fits their style of play," Jones said.

With teams around the state traveling to and fro to jamborees, Madras is staying home and honing their craft. Jones said that preseason exhibitions can be helpful for some, but they may be more distraction than they are worth. By staying in Madras and practicing together as a team, the White Buffalos can continue building a strong identity for this new team and prepare for the tough Tri-Valley season ahead.

"If you're not ready for a TVC game," Jones warned, "you're going to pay for it."

Though schedules are still being finalized, as it currently stands, the MHS boys' soccer team will begin play at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2, in a non-league game in Prineville against Crook County. Other scheduled non-league games include a trip to Sisters on Sept. 7 for a 6 p.m. game, as well as home matches against Caldera's JV side (Sept. 14, 6 p.m.) and Summit's varsity team (Sept. 16, 4 p.m.). Tri-Valley Conference play starts for Madras at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21, on the road against Molalla. Times and dates are subject to change.

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