Ask just about anyone who is familiar with Three Rivers League soccer and they'll probably tell you that Lake Oswego will be favored to win another conference title.
Even Lake Oswego coach Dominic Yambasu, who shies away from making predictions whenever possible, knows his team will be hard to beat.
'They're going to be pretty good,' Yambasu said after his squad completed the last of its preseason practices. 'I think we have the potential to compete for the conference title.'
And who could argue with him?
Granted, the Lakers did lose Megan Watson, last year's TRL player of the year, to graduation. Plus, all-league goalie Rachel Jarvis and all-league midfielder Michelle Hasson are gone as well. The good news is that Lake Oswego has an impressive list of returning players on this year's roster. Even better news is that all of them are healthy.
Last year, the Lakers had their share of bad luck with injuries. Forward-defender Jill Shoquist missed most of the season with a knee injury. Forward Lanakila MacNaughton missed the entire season after having surgery to repair an ACL tendon; and Watson missed part of the year as well.
Shoquist and MacNaughton, who are both back for the senior seasons, appear to be fully recovered and are running as well as ever, Yambasu said. If they stay healthy, they're a good bet to be the team's top two scorers this season.
So, the front line obviously won't be a problem for the Lakers. But Yambasu feels his team's strength might lie with its backfield.
'Our back line is very strong,' the coach said.
Anchoring that defense will be senior Margaret Johnson, who was the only defender in the league to make the first-team all-league squad last year. Of course, it will help when Shoquist, another all-league caliber player, is helping out in the back. Plus, Emily Rohde, who was a first-team all-league forward last season, will help out some on defense.
The midfield will be patrolled by Mimi Granlund, Liz Schreyer and Brooke Bartholomew; and Maddie Johnson, Margaret's younger sister, will help out on the front line.
One of the best things about this year's team is the fact that many of the players are versatile enough to play anywhere on the field. Plus, the Lakers have better-than-average team speed and most of the players have considerable experience at the varsity level.
Best of all, this could be a high-scoring team, although that wasn't totally evident after Tuesday's 1-1 tie against South Salem.
'The effort was good. We battled,' Yambasu said. 'But we were a little disorganized.'
Surprisingly, Lake Oswego didn't get on the board until the second half when Shoquist scored the Lakers' lone goal.
'We had difficulty putting an offense together,' the coach said. 'For a first game, though, I wasn't upset.'
In fact, Yambasu believes his team is ahead of where it was at this point last year. But this is a much different year in regard to the team's schedule.
In past years, TRL teams played each other once during the regular season. That allowed for seven non-league games, which gave teams a considerable amount of time to iron out the kinks.
This year, though, with St. Helens no longer in the TRL, league teams will play each other twice. That allows for only two non-league games per team. Not everyone is totally thrilled with the new format.
'I like more non-league games because it gives me a better idea of who we might play in the playoffs,' Yambasu said.
Ideally, the coach would 'like to do it both ways,' with teams playing additional league games and a full non-league slate.