Motivation has not been lacking for the Corvallis High boys soccer team in the past 12 months.
There was last year’s quarterfinal loss to Summit; a loss in the state cup final last spring on a club team that included eight of its players, also by a 1-0 decision; a 1-0 defeat at Central three weeks ago that broke up an unbeaten season; and a slim win against Sandy on penalty kicks in last week’s round of 16.
All of the above have pushed the Spartans to where they are, a win away from celebrating a state championship. Corvallis (15-1-1) plays Mid-Willamette Conference rival Woodburn (14-2-2) for the OSAA 5A title at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
The Spartans returned 11 players from the 2016 squad, including three — senior Max Brune, junior Avery Whipple and sophomore Edgar Monroy — who were named all-Mid-Willamette Conference first-teamers along with junior keeper Roman Gabriel.
“I knew that the talent was there,” coach Chad Foley said. “It’s just about getting the right breaks in a season and developing that chemistry early.”
The Spartans won their first two matches, tied Bend and then won nine straight while allowing just four goals.
But then came the first wake-up call of the season, a 1-0 loss at Central that resulted in a co-MWC championship between the two schools. The 4-3 home win against Sandy, with the Spartans prevailing 4-2 on PKs after trailing 2-0 in the second half, also caught their attention.
“We weren’t really thinking about it too much. We were getting too far ahead of ourselves,” said senior center back Nick Hentzel, who wanted a rematch with Summit in the quarterfinals but didn’t get it. The Storm lost at Parkrose on penalty kicks.
The loss to Central, which went out in the round of 16, was a disappointment. But it also became a realization that there was more motivation to be piled on what they had already gathered since last November.
“After that loss I felt we came out a lot stronger, and we’re all really hungry and motivated,” said Monroy, a forward and the Mid-Willamette’s player of the year.
Added Foley: “I truly believe every championship team has to go through some amount of adversity in order to truly find themselves and find out what they’re actually made of. That was our adversity.”
Corvallis, the No. 2 seed in the 5A bracket, would give up seven goals in its next three matches. In Tuesday’s semifinal win against Bend, the Spartans got back to playing defense the way they had for most of the season in a 1-0 victory. David Nazario-Avalos provided the game-winner in the 73rd minute.
Now Corvallis gets Woodburn, a team it defeated 5-1 back on Oct. 17 at Bob Holt Stadium. Monroy had three goals. The Spartans led 3-0 at halftime.
“It’s not going to be that way this time,” Hentzel said, noting the ninth-seeded Bulldogs’ wins against top-seeded Hood River Valley and fifth-seeded La Salle, both on the road. They also won at Ashland in the first round. The Bulldogs traveled roughly 750 miles in seven days to get three wins.
Woodburn, the defending state champion, got all the way back to the title match with just one returning player. Foley credited the Bulldogs for that achievement.
Woodburn is playing for its fifth state title and Corvallis its third. The Spartans were last in the championship game in 2010, when they lost to the Bulldogs.
Foley, in his third year as head coach and 12th season in the program, will try to keep the pregame routine as normal as possible, but he also realizes that’s ultimately a lost cause given the atmosphere and the stakes.
Foley says both teams went through a similar process after defeats. Woodburn has won six straight — with six goals allowed — since its defeat in Corvallis. The Spartans have bounced back with four in a row.
The coach said he’ll remind his team that the earlier win against the Bulldogs doesn’t matter. The scoreboard will read 0-0 at Saturday’s opening whistle.
“It’s a level playing field again,” Foley said. “Both teams have a ton of momentum.”