The Pioneers look to climb a few rungs on the NWOC ladder

by: SANDY POST: PARKER LEE - Sandys Rachel Rutledge faces a series of challengers during a scrimmage last week.The new soccer season has the Sandy girls’ team rejuvenated after an up-and-down campaign in 2012. It is a program going through a lot of change, but these Pioneers are optimistic that change can be a good thing.

Sandy entered the season with a new coach, Justin Luebbert. He has been around the program for a few years, so he and the players had a good foundation to start with. The way things are done under Luebbert will be the same in some ways, but he plans to shake a few things up.

“We will give the girls a different perspective on how the game is played,” Luebbert said. “It will be good for them.”

Luebbert and his squad are hoping that shake-up will produce improvement in skill, and improvement in the standings. Last year’s team started strong, going 4-2-1 in the season’s first seven matches. The Pioneers faded thereafter, dropping six of their final seven contests to limp to a 5-8-1 record. They finished sixth in the Northwest Oregon Conference. Luebbert said the main goal for this season is to finish with a better record than last year.

For Sandy to take a step up this season, it will start with the offense. The Pioneers scored just one total goal in their eight losses last year. The catalyst to a more potent scoring output could be forward Zoe Higgins. She was Sandy’s sole first team all-conference player as a junior last season.

The Pioneers should be in good shape on the defensive side of the field. They return defenders Dalen Richards and Caelen Kern, who were both all-conference honorable mention athletes in 2012. Sandy also has midfielders Haley Kern and Rachel Rutledge back. Kern was second team all-conference last year as a freshman and Rutledge brings valuable senior leadership to the team.

If the Pioneers are to attain a better finish than last year, they will have to earn it as their schedule is loaded with 5A juggernauts. They opened the season on Saturday against defending state champion, Summit, and they book-end the year against state runner-up, Sherwood.

The season did just begin, but Sandy has shown early signs of promise so far. The Pioneers did fall to Summit, 3-0, but that was a stark improvement over last year when they got pounded by Summit, 9-0. If Sandy can show similar improvement in each game as the season progresses, a better year is well within reach.

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