West Linn boys lacrosse coach Mark Flood believes that, by the end of the season, his team could feasibly be in the final four of the state playoffs.
It just might take a little while until the team starts to look that good on the field.
Not only will the Lions play what Flood says might be the toughest preseason schedule of any West Coast team, they will be without three of their strongest players until at least April.
Midfielder Ryan Squires tore his ACL in the last soccer game of the year in the fall, defenseman Paul Garcia dislocated his elbow during the wrestling season and, just recently, attackman Derek Benson badly cut his leg in a snowboard accident.
So, shorthanded, the Lions will face four of the best teams in the state of Washington and it first league opponent will be Lincoln, a team that has traditionally made deep runs in the Oregon playoffs.
But there is plenty of reason for optimism in the program.
'We haven't been this excited in probably four years,' Flood said.
The team is loaded with talent at every position and has more speed than it has in previous seasons. With a strong core of defenders and an array of versatile midfielders, Flood has the luxury of having specialized role players on this year's squad.
'I think we'll get kids in and out quickly and have offensive-mids and defensive-mids which is really common in the college game,' Flood said.
The Lions also have the luxury of possessing one of the top goalies in the state in Drew Forseth.
'He's a top-three goalie in the state. It's his time to shine this year,' Flood said.
The starting defensive line from last season is back in its entirety with Garcia, Michael MacClanathan, Nick Peppler and Connor Deeks.
Spencer Smith and Michael Fay will be two of the team's primary targets on offense as both are quick and dangerous with the ball.
'Those guys are awfully good. Spencer plays the whole game until he drops dead. Michael sees lanes really well,' Flood said.
Smith and Peppler are co-captains on this year's team along with Shannon Sirvaitis who is the team leader in ground balls.
Last weekend the Lions hosted two of Washington's top high school teams in Bainbridge and Mercer Island. Realistically, Flood would have been happy with just competing in both games.
As it turned out, he got slightly more than he bargained for. After dropping a tough 11-2 decision to Bainbridge, the frontrunner for Washington's state title this year, the Lions rallied with a very strong early-season game, knocking off Mercer Island 7-6.
Against Bainbridge, the young Lions team was thrown into the fire and after withstanding and early storm, West Linn started to hold its own late in the game.
'We had a lot of young players in positions with a lot of responsibility but as the game wore on you could see us getting better and, after it was over, we told the guys that we thought they were ready to win tomorrow,' Flood said.
Then against Mercer Island, the Lions were the aggressors for the majority of the game. West Linn won the bulk of the ground balls in the contest and jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead.
A flurry of penalties slowed the Lions' momentum as Mercer Island capitalized on the man-up opportunities and eventually tied the game at 5-5.
But West Linn rallied, scoring two more unanswered goals. Mercer Island knocked in its final goal with seven seconds to play in the game.
'Literally everyone played and everyone made a positive contribution,' Flood said.
Forseth was stellar against Mercer Island and Fay was the standout offensively.
He had four goals and two assists in Sunday's game and also notched one of the Lions' two goals against Bainbridge. Smith had two goals against Mercer Island.
Next up for West Linn is a road trip to Washington where the team will face two more of the state's top teams in Issaquah and Skyline this weekend.
'We really like this group of kids. They're all behaving like leaders,' Flood said.