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New players meshing quickly with returners

The Pioneers hope to exceed results from last season


by: DAN BROOD  - Sandy junior Zoe Higgins, left, is among the top returners from a 2011 season that ended in the play-in round to Wilson. The forward has already committed to play at the University of Oregon.

Last season’s loss to Wilson in the play-in round was an abrupt end to an impressive season. The Sandy girls soccer team was full of veteran talent, much of which graduated, meaning just making it to the play-in might be difficult in 2012.

But even with an influx of young players, the Pioneers are aiming to exceed last year’s result.

“My goal is to get past the first round of state playoffs,” head coach Nick Kern says. “I’d like to get to the semis if we can.”

Sandy doesn’t have the standard group of newcomers. Three games into the season, some underclassmen, who’ve played advanced levels of club soccer, have even been inserted into starting roles, such as Haley Kern and Ella Templin.

And those players have adapted to varsity speed quicker than anticipated.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come in three weeks,” Kern says.

The early weeks of the season usually have been reserved for fine-tuning the fundamentals. But with so many team members playing soccer year-round, Sandy is ahead of the curve.

“They’re more seasoned players,” Kern says. “Having players who play the sport year-round makes a difference coming in. Usually we’re doing a lot of training with the players. Normally, I’d be in a situation saying it’s a rebuilding year. And it is. It is a rebuild year. But I think it’s going to be a rebuild year with results.”

Freshmen and sophomores already are working in unison with some of the team’s elite returners, such as forward Zoe Higgins, who’s committed to play at the University of Oregon.

“She’s a game changer,” Kern says. “We have a handful of game changers. She wreaks havoc on the field. It doesn’t matter where she is, which is a nightmare for any team.”

And after two impressive seasons, the junior is stepping into a leadership role.

“She’s very motivational,” Kern says. “Her work ethic pretty much fuels the team, and I think she’s the heartbeat of the team.”

Kern says Higgins isn’t the only one taking control of the team. Dalen Richardson, Meghan Luebbert, Rachel Rutledge and Courtney Laughlin all have been leaders and have helped the new players gel with the returners.

“I’m feeling a really good continuity with the team,” Kern says. “I like everything I’m seeing from all the girls.”

NORTHWEST OREGON CONFERENCE

It could easily be said that the Northwest Oregon Conference is the toughest of any conference at the 5A level. Last year, three NWOC schools reached the state playoffs, and two, Sherwood and Wilsonville, played in the championship. The Bowmen won in penalty kicks.

And the level of soccer hasn’t dropped this season. Wilsonville has won two games against 6A schools. Sherwood beat the only 6A school it has played.

And with so much talent in one conference, this expects to be another tough year for every team.

Last year, Sandy went 4-3 against conference oppenents, with the three losses coming in tightly contested games against Wilsonville, Sherwood and Liberty — the Falcons finished in third place in the NWOC.

“We can’t make mistakes against the teams that we’re playing because every single one of them will capitalize on them,” Kern says. “Our approach is going to be different from team to team and how we’re playing.”

Kern added that four of the best keepers in the state play in the NWOC, and Sandy’s Victoria Fulton is one of them.

Fulton, who received all-state mention two years ago, missed last season with a torn MCL. She played her first game last Tuesday against Hood River, where Sandy won 2-0.

The Pioneers had 17 shots on target, while the Eagles had two shots with none on target.

“That means we’re closing in real quickly, not letting them get their opportunities,” Kerns says.