Boys soccer: North Marion soccer gets ready for year
For the past decade, the boys soccer team has quietly been one of the most consistently successful athletic programs at North Marion High School. Since 2008, the Huskies have qualified for the post season in 10 consecutive years, amassing a 14-9 record in the process, including the team's memorable run to the state championship four years ago.
But with a high-level of success comes high expectations, and though last year's Huskies continued the streak by qualifying for the state play-in round, the team tallied just four wins overall, the lowest total in the program's 10-year run of playoff appearances.
That season weighs heavy on many of the returning veterans coming into this season, who are looking to finish their soccer career at North Marion by bringing the Huskies back to the upper echelon of the 4A Classification.
"Last season is still a little bit in the back of my mind," junior defender Rene Ramos said. "Just knowing that North Marion is a good team, and we've had a good legacy, it gives me motivation to do better and try to keep our name high."
The Huskies have a lot of confidence coming into this season. Confidence that last season was a one-year aberration, and this year's team has much more in common with the team that qualified for the first round of the state tournament for five straight years from 2012 to 2016.
"All these guys have been working hard outside of school, any chance they get to try to get better every single day," senior Edgar Lopez said. "I think that's important that is carrying over to practices now."
While the Huskies' offense strives to move the ball as much as possible, finding open teammates to create scoring opportunities across the field, the team's attack begins in the middle of the field with Lopez.
A two-time All-State honoree, Lopez enters the season as one of the top scoring threats in the state, notching 25 goals from midfield as a junior last year. That mark tied the school record tallied by 2014 State Player of the Year Dennis Zapata, but Huskies head coach Rafael Pelaez gives the nod to Zapata, noting that his goal came during just regular season and postseason, whereas Lopez's scores included those scored in preseason games.
Pelaez is trying to motivate Lopez to finish his storied career with the Huskies on the highest note possible, challenging him to marry individual success with team success and lead North Marion to a deep playoff run.
"We already talked," Pelaez said. "I said, 'This is your last year, leave something to the school. Something for the school to remember you.'"
Lopez is taking the challenge to heart. While he wants to see his name at the top of the Huskies' single-season scorer list, he doesn't want to do so at the expense of the team's success. Playoffs are the ultimate goal.
"It's a personal goal," Lopez said. "If it's there, I'm going to take a chance, but if not, it's more important for us to win the game. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I'm not too worried about it. I just want to win."
Fellow team captain Andres Agabo is excited for the opportunity to guide the next class of North Marion players in his senior season. Agabo was an all-conference nominee at midfield last year and sees the next upcoming players entering the Huskies' soccer program as fully capable of picking up the ropes when he, Lopez and fellow senior Cainan Sanchez depart after this season.
"I'm looking forward to lead; I've been looking forward to being a captain," Agabo said. "The program is in good hands. There's a lot of talented eighth-graders that are coming in this year. We have a lot of talent, but we just need to work on it, because this is a young team."
The Huskies will have a tough road ahead of them in 2018. With a deep playoff run being the ultimate goal, Pelaez wants his team to be battle-tested early and often. North Marion's 5-1 loss to two-time defending 5A champion Woodburn on Thursday was just the first in a daunting preseason gauntlet the Huskies face.
The team will face tough road tests at Crescent Valley and Corvallis — both top-tier 5A programs last year — along with a rematch against the Valley Catholic Knights, the team that bounced North Marion from the play-in round in penalty kicks last year.
"I requested them," Pelaez said. "I want to face hard teams in the beginning. I just want them mentally to be able to see what they're facing. If they can face Woodburn, Corvallis and Crescent Valley, when we face 4A teams, they'll be more confident."
North Marion (0-1) was scheduled to travel to Crescent Valley (0-0-2) on Tuesday, followed by a home game against Valley Catholic (1-0) on Thursday to finish off the week.