PHS soccer coach Mat Phelps
Fifth-year girls soccer coach Mat Phelps talks to his players during a practice last week. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

It’s a dangerous-looking roster. Eight seniors. Talented underclassmen. Players that can perform exceptionally well anywhere on the field.

Philomath High School’s girls soccer team will very likely take advantage of the opportunity to do some damage on the pitch during this upcoming, abbreviated season. If heading into the fall season under “normal” circumstances, the Warriors would be one of the favorites expected to compete for a Class 4A state title.

Fifth-year coach Mat Phelps said his players hope to answer some questions about where they stand statewide.

“How are they going to showcase who they are on a state level?” Phelps said last week prior to a team practice. “Obviously in conference, we’ve shown every year that we’re formidable but we want to be able to do that across the state and those girls deserve the opportunity to show the state who they are.”

No details have been provided just yet on what the “culminating week” may look like in soccer but it’s possible that 4A schools may try to organize some sort of state tournament. If that’s the case, Philomath obviously would like to be in the mix.

“We’ve got a really strong senior class … A number of those girls played varsity as freshmen, so we’re really excited that they get this opportunity to play senior year and showcase what they can do,” Phelps said. “I feel it’s one of the strongest groups in the entire state — that senior leadership is really important.”

First-team all-conference selections from the 2019 season — Alivia Pittman and Braedyn McNeely — are among those from the senior class that will wear the Warriors uniform for the last time this season.

“I think what so many of our girls have is versatility,” Phelps said. “I can stick them anywhere on the field and I know they’ll be successful. Alivia and Braedyn can bounce back and forth, they can be outside, they can be in the center of the field. Things can run through them and we can trust them wherever they’re at.”

In reality, Philomath had more players deserving of spots on the first team but the system in place for determining those league honors limits the options.

Four other players who are also seniors this season earned all-OWC recognition in 2019 — Kaili Saathoff, Chloe Jurva, Mia Rust and Atira Fairbanks.

“Kaili’s been more of a forward but Chloe and Atira have played on the back line, they’ve played center midfield, they’ve been up in the attack,” Phelps said. “They’ve all got good skill on the ball so we know we can trust them with dribbling, passing and shooting. Mia Rust is another one — she’s typically been on the back line but she can go up and score goals, too, so we might see more of that this year.”

Phaedra Hinds-Cook and Lily Schell round out the senior group.

The team’s three juniors play at a high level as well with K Bacho, Reese Grube and Ella Weickum.

“They’ve all been contributing — K (Bacho), Ella and Reese primarily as defenders,” Phelps said. “They kind of that next wave of defensive players that are really capable not only as defenders, but they start our attack. So we’re really excited about what they offer as well.”

Sophomore Hailie Couture returns at goalkeeper, a position that she started as a freshman. Elizabeth Morales, Mia Cook, Izabella Nanoski and Madison Parker are also sophomores.

Incoming freshmen are Bailey Bell and Kamilla Grimmer.

“It’s just the two, but they’re both quality players,” Phelps said. “Bailey and Kamilla just work so hard and so it’s been easy for them to earn the respect of their teammates because they work so hard. They do have good soccer backgrounds … they’ve been playing club soccer and their skills are up there, and I expect them to be able to contribute this year.”

That’s it for the roster. In all — at least as of the middle of last week — the Warriors had 18 players in the girls soccer program.

PHS soccer player Mia Rust
Philomath’s Mia Rust is one of eight seniors on the roster. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“Turnout’s low, obviously with a small freshman class, and then I don’t know if COVID impacts the turnout at all,” Phelps said. “Girls sports across the nation are trending down, so it’s an issue that we have to figure out — how to get more girls involved at a younger age and keep them involved.”

With those numbers, the program will not have a junior varsity team.

Phelps organized voluntary workouts last fall to give the players touches on the ball.

“Actually, a lot of that was just getting the girls out to spend time with one another … just getting out of the house and being able to engage with one another socially, but also physically,” Phelps said. “We did soccer stuff but the focus was on spending time together.”

The program also offered voluntary practices a couple of weeks before the official start date of Feb. 22.

“We were really trying to build up our fitness base a little bit and get some touches on the ball,” Phelps said. “Because of the (short) preseason, our practices are very limited.”

Still, it’s not all bad in terms of readiness with Philomath’s roster including a handful of girls that have been playing club soccer.

Philomath will play its home games this season on the artificial turf at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis. Phelps said he is appreciating the opportunity to practice on that surface because almost all of the team’s opponents have artificial turf fields.

Phelps will be assisted this season by Becca Davis and Loren Rogers. Davis has been with the Warriors even before Phelps came on as the head coach. Rogers, a former co-player of the year in the Oregon West and all-state selection, played her senior season at PHS when Phelps was in his first year as coach. Davis has a 42-16-9 overall coaching record, 30-5-9 in the Oregon West.

The season begins Thursday at Crescent Valley for what will be a tough opener against the 5A defending state champion Raiders. The team will host Sisters on Saturday.

As of last week, the schedule included 10 games. Last year’s 4A state champion, Woodburn, will face the Warriors on the CVHS field on March 27. Those two teams played to a pair of ties in 2019.

Phelps is confident that his team will be ready to dive into the schedule.

“I have no doubt that we’ll be ready,” Phelps said. “They know each other, they know each other’s tendencies and strengths, they’re putting in hard work and ready to get after it.”

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PHS soccer player Reese Grube
PHS junior Reese Grube sends the ball downfield during a Feb. 24 practice. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)