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Chasing goals and realizing potential

Sandys boys soccer team upsets No. 12 Willamette in play-in round


by: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - The Sandy Pioneers boys soccer team upset the No. 12 Willamette Wolverines 1-0 last Saturday in the play-in round at Willamette High School.

Garet Luebbert remembers the days when a one win season was normal for the Sandy boys soccer team. Year after year the program sputtered, took its licks and accepted it. Confidence was crushed.

Beating one of the state's best teams? Yeah right.

Reaching the playoffs? Forget about it.

Winning a playoff game? Impossible.

Last Saturday it wasn't. Luebbert, who can still vividly recall watching his boys struggle during his first years as coach, witnessed his team win the programs first postseason game last weekend, a 1-0 triumph over No. 12 Willamette in the play-in round at Willamette High School.

“It's a cool story to get where we've gotten,” Luebbert says with a humbled yet proud demeanor. “When I first started coaching in Sandy, literally we were winning at most one game a season.”

Today, the Pioneers are a middle-of-the-road Northwest Oregon Conference team, no small achievement for a program trying to rebuild in an area without an affluent soccer culture.

But now, the success they've had is hung on more than moral victories from competitive efforts that've come in vain. The programs potential was realized three hours away during a mid-afternoon Saturday in the Willamette valley.

The nerves, the doubt, the insecurities — all the reasons why Sandy had no business upsetting the champions of the Midwestern League had plenty of time to marinate en route to the soil of a supposedly superior team.

And Luebbert admits, some of those thoughts lingered in the opening minutes.

“We were a little nervous to start,” he says. “Our touches weren't good. Maybe we were lethargic from the bus ride. Who knows. But we survived.”

The initial barraged of Wolverine shots were thwarted by Sandy's laboring keeper, Nathan Miller, so hampered by a back injury, he relinquish goal kicking duties to one of his defensemen.

But eventually, the storm passed and Sandy's barge was unharmed.

The revitalized Pioneers played as equals. Scoring chances became double-sided. Willamette was in for more than it bargained for.by: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Wyatt Edwards, above, recorded an assist on Sandys only goal when Tony Olmos sealed a 1-0 win by scoring on a header.

The battle turned physical as the Wolverines turned vengeful.

“They got pretty emotional,” Luebbert says. “Of course, we weren't saints either.”

Theatrics only fueled the drama, and as the minutes ticked away, nothing had been decided. It wasn't until Sandy set up for a corner kick late in the second half that an opportunity materialized.

Pioneer Wyatt Edwards floated the ball into the box. Unmarked was Tony Olmos who freely headed the ball into the net, giving Sandy a 1-0 lead with 15 minutes remaining.

From a perennial one-win-a-season team, Sandy reached the postseason for the first time in the programs history in 2008 under Luebbert. Four years later, the program took another step, and earned a birth in the first round of the 5A playoffs where it faced No. 1 Woodburn on Tuesday, which has not lost a game this season.

The dreams that once seemed impossible are starting to be achieved. While Sandy still has a long way to go toward where it wants to be, high expectations are entertained.

Coaches think about the program and see the possibility for several competitive years.

Luebbert says his boys have the belief they can win a conference title. Whether that'll be possible next season is somewhat irrelevant. The fact that they're talking about it is what matters.

And last weekend, the team learned what it can accomplish with confidence. They can surprise one of the state's best teams.

“They believed it could happen and it did,” Lubbert says.

And their reward?

Team mohawks, coaches included.