The big question mark is one defense, where the Indians graduated four senior starters.

Photo Credit: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Fortino Media (left) tries to work the ball past Damon Seward as several players with the Molalla boys' soccer team went through a voluntary workout last week. Molalla’s Luis Mendoza, Benito Ortiz-Mendoza and Luis Rojas each saw playing time as freshmen on the Indians’ 2011 OSAA Class 4A boys’ soccer state championship team.

Now they’re seniors and they’re hoping to close out their high school soccer careers by making another run at a state title.

Luis Mendoza“I’d like to repeat history,” said Mendoza, a returning team captain who was a first-team, all-Tri-Valley Conference midfielder as a junior. “I’d like to see us go far this year, surprise a few people, and hopefully get the town talking about something other than football.”

The Indians graduated six seniors from last season’s 8-4-4 team that lost to Stayton in the opening round of the playoffs, but return the entire starting midfield in Kyle Carpenter, Damon Seward, Mendoza and Rojas, as well as starting goalkeeper Emanuel Aquino.

The big question mark is on defense, where the Indians are having to replace all four starters. They could be in for a huge lift if junior Aiseah Taufui returns to the high school program after spending last season playing for the Portland Timbers Academy U-16 team.

They also expect juniors Jose Ramirez and David Ruiz to help anchor the back end.

Up front, Ortiz-Mendoza, the senior, and junior Fortino Medina should help take up some of the slack that was created with the loss of leading goal scorer Darian Baughman to graduation. Sophomore Garrett Thrower, who played on the junior varsity team last season, also could see playing time as a forward.

Middle men

“The goals will come because of our experience in the midfield,” second-year coach Ryan Gates said. “Those four returning will be able to set up anybody I put up front.”

Mendoza agreed that Molalla’s experience in the midfield should give the Indians an advantage over most teams.

“We’ve all been playing for quite a long time and we have excellent chemistry,” Mendoza said. “It’s nice when you can have that kind of a connection with your teammates.

“Our strength is moving the ball. We have a lot of players on the team that are talented and have been playing for quite awhile at the club level. They’re very skilled with the ball and we need to build on our ability to move the ball across the field.”

Revamped league

The Tri-Valley Conference has a new look this season with the addition of Crook County and Corbett, while La Salle jumped to the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference and North Marion moved to the 4A Oregon West Conference.

“I’m not sure what to expect in the conference,” Gates said. “We lost a perennial contender in La Salle, North Marion was a team on the upswing, and not knowing what Crook County and Corbett bring, it’s hard to know what to expect.

“But I would think that we’ll be contenders to win the league again.”

How much will the Indians miss the Falcons?

“La Salle? We won’t miss them too much,” Mendoza said. “They’ve always been such a competitive team, every single year, especially because they have the power as a private school to recruit.

“La Salle has always been a contender and the rivalry between us has always been strong. But we’re just happy to see them move on and we’re excited to see what Crook County and Corbett bring to the conference.”

As Gates works on finalizing his starting lineup for the Sept. 2 opener at home against Seaside, he wants his players to concentrate on conditioning and getting into game shape.

“Fitness is key,” Gates said. “You’ve got to be fit, especially when it comes to the last 10 minutes of games. If you’re a fit team and you can run late in a game, you may not be as skilled as the other team, but you can beat a lot of teams in the last 10 minutes if you can still run and outwork them.

“A lot of these kids may not have touched the ball all summer. They may have come out and kicked it around, but about half the team doesn’t play club soccer, so fitness and getting your touch back is going to be key early on.”

-- Jim Beseda / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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