Southridge plans to step up in the Metro race to challenge Westview
Westview has won eight of the last 10 Metro League girls water polo titles and four state titles in the last six years. But a new threat to its supremacy has emerged and already made its mark this season.
Led by returning Metro League Player of the Year Lisa Gibson, Southridge knocked off the Wildcats 6-2 in the first league game of the season and is feeding off momentum gained late last season.
'It was a great moment in our team's history,' Southridge coach Ryan Chiotti said. 'Westview has always been one of those perennial powers. That (win) kind of put us in the potential to be in the driver's seat.
'But we can definitely not let down for even a moment. There's a lot of talent in this league and anyone can win on any given Tuesday or Thursday.'
The Skyhawks have never made the playoffs since the school opened in 1999. But things look to be changing this season.
'Southridge and Westview will be very competitive,' Beaverton coach Matt Bayha said. 'Having a player like (Gibson) makes a big difference.'
'Southridge has one of the strongest field players in the state,' Aloha coach Kevin Bebb said. 'But each of the five teams has a stunning starter. It comes down to which role players work out.'
No one is safe in during the regular season in the state's best league. The Metro filled three of the top four spots at state last season with Aloha, Westview and Sunset placing second, third and fourth, respectively.
'Really, any team can come in one through five (in the league standings),' Bebb said. 'It's been a jumble. Anyone can beat each other.'
Beaverton, another team that missed the playoffs last year, also has a beat on reversing that fortune, having already knocked off last year's state runner-up Aloha 5-3 this year. While early season wins are nice, it'll take a full-season effort to emerge from the league this fall, even with an extra playoff berth giving the Metro four total.
'We'll see who has it by the end,' Bayha said. 'It's always fun to see how teams play at the end of the year. I think it will be pretty tight.'
ALOHA - Last year was a banner year for Aloha, which earned its first state appearance since 1983 and the school's first-ever tournament victory. More so then that, the Warriors beat league rival Sunset in the semifinals and finished as the state runner-up.
But Aloha has the daunting task of replacing three all-state tournament honorees under the tutelage of a first-year coach. Conveniently, the Warriors return three other players that earned all-state recognition among a strong senior class. And new coach Kevin Bebb is no rookie, having coached in the Tualatin Hills club program and played on some strong Aloha boys teams.
'We have five seniors this year, so it will still be a strong season,' said Bebb, a 2002 Aloha graduate. 'We're definitely still in the running.'
Senior Andrea Ness is the team's top scoring threat after working with a club team this past summer.
'She's got a natural shot,' Bebb said. 'She's definitely stepping into that go-to spot.'
On the other end of the pool, the Warriors have a proven stopper in senior Genevieve Darrah, the only returning goalkeeper off last year's all-league list. Derrah was named second team all-state tournament after allowing just 13 goals in four games.
'She is the saving grace to the defense because she blocks a lot of shots,' Bebb said. 'She's a huge part of the team. She's very athletic and reads the ball very well.'
All-state honorees Jessie Wooden and Erin O'Halloran and fellow senior Lauren Taylor, as well as sophomore Hannah Riedner give Bebb some flexibility.
'They all kind of rotate,' Bebb said. 'We're able to get the job done with one of them if the others aren't having a good day.'
BEAVERTON - Beaverton saw its 11-year state playoff streak snapped last season, but the Beavers have already made headway toward their return by knocking off defending state runner-up Aloha.
'Last year we started kind of poorly and weren't able to overcome that,' Beaverton coach Matt Bayha said. 'We were in there, but you've got to do it in your league first.'
A strong senior class and standout junior Hanna Eimstad will lead the team's charge to reverse that fortune following a 7-5 league season. Eimstad and senior Lizz Haag are both returning second-team all-league selections, while seniors Andrea Dickason, Amelia Frey, Ally Moore and Kathryn Sargent add plenty of experience in their third varsity seasons.
'Their combined experience working together and defensive teamwork hopes to frustrate teams into making mistakes we plan to capitalize on,' Bayha said. 'As a team, this group has what it takes to finish high in the league.'
Juniors Courtney Barnard, Hillary Frey and Hannah Jarman-Miller and sophomore Courtney Bird provide depth in the team's pursuit to return to the state tournament after placing in the top-4 each of the prior five seasons.
BEAVERTON - Southridge didn't make the playoffs last year, finishing 5-7 in league play. But something did happen at the end of the fall that has carried into this league season, which began with a win over Westview.
The Skyhawks beat perennial power Beaverton for the first time in school history and a new mindset was formed.
'The girls gained confidence that they can play with anyone,' Southridge coach Ryan Chiotti said. 'They made huge strides toward becoming a complete team at the end of last season, instead of relying on Lisa.'
'Lisa' would be senior Lisa Gibson, one of the state's best players and the reigning league Player of the Year.
'She's a big, strong kid with a lot of desire and skills and know-how to get it done,' Chiotti said. 'She's one of the most dedicated people to her sport I've ever seen.'
And she was charged with carrying a Southridge team last season. But things are different this year as her teammates have stepped up around her with contributions that will make the Skyhawks tough to beat.
'After the win against Westview, you could almost feel the weight lifted off her shoulders,' Chiotti said. 'The whole team is ready to play.'
Including goalkeeper Liz Keithley, who has had a strong start to her senior season.
'She's improved a lot in her play and gained a lot of confidence in the goal,' Chiotti said. 'Some of that is coming into her senior season and seeing the potential of this team and doing what she can to hold up her end of the bargain. To date, she's done a fantastic job.'
Speedy senior Keri Holmstrom also returns for her fourth varsity season to assist Gibson. The Skyhawks also bring back three junior starters in Boonyapa Purt, Megan Funkhouser and Melany Krill. Senior Jessica Nanry, who returns after a year off, and promising freshman Sarah Atkins also should see significant minutes.
CEDAR MILL - Sunset lost to Westview at the state tournament in last year's third-place game. With just one starter returning, the '06 Apollos will be in a fight to return to the playoffs. Sunset graduated three seniors and had the misfortune of Hana Gosney's move to Connecticut. Gosney was a first team all-league selection last year.
'In losing Hana, we lost one of the top goal scorers in the league,' Sunset coach Chris Akerman said. 'We have a young squad this year. In general, the whole team needs to step up.'
Sophomore Lindsey Zehner, a strong sprinter in swim season, returns as the team's top player after earning honorable mention on the all-league list last season.
'She's our most consistent player,' Akerman said. 'She's a good driver and is really fast.'
Seniors Rachel Walker and Melina Maltese, junior Julia Planz, sophomore Paige Sheridan and freshman Laura Bertness round out Sunset's starting lineup.
'So far it's been a little up and down,' Akerman said. 'The girls are still getting adjusted to playing with each other and the amount of time they're playing.'
Sophomore Sarah Mottershead enters her first year as the Apollos' goalkeeper.
'She worked hard all summer playing with a club team,' Akerman said. 'She took some tremendous steps up so that's very helpful for our team.'
ROCK CREEK - Westview's tradition of excellence continued last year with the team earning its eighth-straight top-3 finish at the state tournament. The Wildcats have placed in the top-5 every year since 1994, the school's first season.
Needless to say, Westview is a powerhouse, but the Wildcats found themselves in a strange position at the bottom of the league standings with its loss to Southridge. After graduating three all-state tournament players, many other schools would be in a rebuilding season. While Westview will be young, coach Jeff Lee expects to remain competitive.
'We lost a lot of talent, but it seems like most teams have taken a hit this year on the girls side,' Lee said. 'I see them improving leaps and bounds every game. With more experience, they will improve and I don't see them stopping anytime soon.'
The Wildcats do return first team all-league selection Katie Peront. She stepped up when Jennifer Campo broke her hand and missed most of last season. That has prepared the left-hander to resume that role this season.
'She's one of the stronger players in the state,' Lee said. 'There's maybe three girls that can play with her in my opinion.'
Peront will get plenty of help from senior Kim Johnson, a second team all-leaguer.
'She's pretty close to Katie,' Lee said. 'Having those two gives the young players a good base to play with.'
Senior Corinne Scott will also provide leadership and 'improved a lot over the summer,' according to Lee.
'I expect her to score a few goals and definitely control the ball and get it where it needs to be,' Lee said.
Kelsey Fanshier steps into the cage for the Wildcats, replacing all-league first teamer Jessica Kragt, who graduated.
'She improved maybe the most over the summer,' Lee said. 'She's a synchronized swimmer, which helps her out.'