LEBANON — Some victories in the opening weeks gave Lebanon High boys soccer some confidence after a difficult 2018 season.
Now the challenge is to carry that over into Mid-Willamette Conference play.
The Warriors gave up two goals in the first 20 minutes Tuesday and couldn’t respond, falling 6-0 to visiting North Salem on the conference opener for both teams.
“Having early success was even a big part of being able to play today,” said Lebanon’s first-year coach, Jacob Butler, a Lebanon alum and previous junior varsity coach the past three seasons. “I know we struggled at times today, but the early success was a huge thing for us going forward and building the program to where we want.”
In the opening three games of the season spanning eight days, the Warriors (now 5-1-1) realized that this fall was one filled with possibilities.
They defeated North Eugene 4-2, had a scoreless tie with Springfield and beat Redmond 5-2. In 2018, Lebanon lost to those three opponents by a combined 14-2.
The win against North Eugene snapped a 44-match stretch dating to 2015 that included just one win, which came against 2A Jefferson last year.
This fall, the Warriors closed out the nonconference schedule with wins against Scappoose (3-1), Sweet Home (6-0) and Crook County (6-0).
“It was nice to get off to a different start and a good start. Other times it might not have been the best way to begin,” said senior defender and midfielder and Logan Rash.
Rash noted that the wins might have brought some overconfidence and hurt his team Tuesday. He said he and his teammates were still playing hard and that they just need to change the way they play.
The Warriors return eight players in all who were on last year’s varsity roster: Rash, senior goalkeeper Charles Varela, fellow senior Edgar Ibarra, juniors Brady Cornejo, Opio Duncan, Dustin Howland and Jacob Maclaughlin-Johnson and sophomore Caleb Christner.
Rash said his team is better conditioned than in the past, and that strength played out in the opening six games of the season.
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“So most times in the second half the other team is tired and we can just outrun them and outwork them,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do this year.
Butler says his team has no quit, and the players showed that Tuesday despite a 3-0 halftime deficit that was 5-0 11 minutes into the second half.
Resiliency helped the Warriors stay undefeated through their first six matches. Adversity was overcome and they kept plugging away to finish the nonconference undefeated.
“A big part of this year was changing the identity to what we needed to be,” the coach said. “We’re just a grind it, battle out the whole 80 minutes and work our butts off. Grind it out but get some results where we can.”
North Salem, which finished fifth in the nine-team Mid-Willamette last year, had six different players scored Tuesday. The Vikings (2-3-2) defeated the Warriors by the same score least season.
Next up for Lebanon is a Thursday game at West Albany.
The focus between now and then will be the back line of the defense.
“We just gave up a few too many free headers, just not marking properly,” Butler said. “So if we can clean up some stuff on the back side of the defense we’ll be all right.”
Rash agreed, adding that his team needs to get back quickly on defense and better pressure the ball. He said his team got “unlucky” on North Salem’s corner kicks with some unmarked players that resulted in headers into the net.
Lebanon has an uphill climb, but Butler says the goal is to make the 5A state playoffs, which will require finishing in the top four in the Mid-Willamette or receiving the one at-large berth into the 16-team bracket.
“It should be our goal every year,” Butler said. “Yeah, it’s going to be tough and we’ve got to battle and grind some stuff out … we can definitely get some results and make playoffs if we want.”