Timberwolves are looking for big things this season

Tualatin, with a strong group of returnees, is hoping for good things in the 2006 season

TUALATIN - Tualatin High School boys soccer coach Eric McClellan knows he has a special group this season.

The Timberwolves have all the makings of one of the state's top teams: senior leadership, talented playmakers, aggressive rock-solid defenders, experienced keeper.

Tualatin graduated just one starter, albeit Pac-9 co-player of the year Reid Phillips, leaving a senior-heavy crew determined to improve on last season when the team finished third in the Pac-9 Conference at 5-1-2 before being knocked out of the state playoffs in the second round.

'We'll have a solid team this season,' said McClellan, who is in his fifth season as Tualatin's head coach. 'The core is here. We've been planning for this the last two years. Teams like this don't come around very often.'

Senior Jarad VanSchaik is reason No. 1 of many for the Timberwolves' optimism. McClellan considers VanSchaik one of the 'top three to five players in the state.' The 6-foot-1 forward was named Pac-9 all-league the past two seasons and brings a complete game to the field.

'His skills are very tight,' McClellan said. 'He can do it own his own or lay it off. He's a player you love to have. He's unselfish. At times I wish he was actually a little more selfish. He's that good.'

Fellow captain Kyle Wallace moves up from defender to the midfield and provides heady play and leadership. The junior was second team all-league last season.

'He's a very aggressive player,' said McClellan. 'He doesn't shy away from tackles. He'll keep us organized and our heads in the game.'

Jeff Wheeler also will be moving positions after earning all-league honors as the Timberwolves' stopper last year.

The senior will move to sweeper where he'll use his strong frame to dominate control of the 50-50 balls.

'He's just heady,' McClellan said. 'You can depend on him to come out with the ball nine times out of 10.'

Senior Todd Philips further strengthens Tualatin's defense in his third year at the varsity level.

'He's another solid defender who likes to attack out of the back,' McClellan said. 'By putting him on a guy, I know he'll be marked out for the game.'

For all its experience, the Timberwolves will also receive an influx on younger talent led by sophomore midfielder Marshall Atmore.

Atmore responded well when McClellan moved him into a starting role for the playoffs last season after playing most of the fall at the junior varsity level.

'He has the ability to come in and be a big key for us,' McClellan said. 'He's young, but he has the talent to do some big things.'

Junior Gabe Tatz returns for his third year in the net for the Timberwolves. He was all-league honorable mention keeper last season.

Senior Jake Howard will likely back up Tatz again, but he has been pushing for playing time.

'I expect anyone we plug in there, with our defense, to have confidence,' McClellan said. 'And our defense will have confidence in them.'

McClellan considers defending league co-champions McMinnville and Tigard to provide the biggest challenge to their conference title hopes.

He also added that Forest Grove, who each tied Tualatin last season, is a threats in what should be another competitive league schedule.

'Each year it seems like it comes down to the last one or two games to determine the playoffs,' McClellan said. 'I don't see anything different this year. It will be a battle 'til the end.'

Tualatin got its season off to a winning start, opening up with a 4-1 home win over Woodburn in a non-league match played Tuesday.

The Wolves will be back in action tonight when they play at Southridge in non-league match starting at 7:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Tualatin will be home to face Sunset at 7 p.m.