Elizabeth Morales (21) is all smiles after scoring a goal in the first half of a jamboree game against Taft. Also pictured are Heidi Bacho (23) and Izabella Nanoski (8). (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High girls soccer has been among the most consistent team sports by putting together winning records year after year. Over the past six years under head coach Mat Phelps, the Warriors have won 72% of their games and will be looking to not only maintain that rate of winning, but improve upon it and take the next step in the postseason.

But first, the team will be focused on winning the Oregon West Conference.

“We’ll see how it progresses but definitely (the goal) is to start off by winning our league,” Phelps said last week after PHS hosted a soccer jamboree. “Their motivation for a lot of things we’re doing is we want to show that we’re the best team in the league.”

Junior Kamilla Grimmer works the ball in last week’s home jamboree. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Last year’s league and state champion, Woodburn, has moved up to Class 5A but new member North Marion brings an exceptional girls soccer program into the Oregon West and represents one of Philomath’s hurdles to clear on the way to a possible conference title.

“We feel like that’s a good thing because we want good competition,” Phelps said. “Some of the other teams are still growing.”

The Warriors and Huskies will bring some history to the table when they play on Sept. 29 and Oct. 18. Philomath is coming off a 10-3-3 season from a year ago, which included a first-round playoff victory over Henley before falling 1-0 to North Marion in the quarterfinals. The Warriors beat North Marion in their season opener, 1-0.

In the OSAAtoday preseason coaches poll published last week, Gladstone was ranked No. 1 in a fairly close vote over Marist Catholic with North Marion at No. 3. The Warriors enter the season at No. 6. Five teams had at least one first-place vote — Gladstone (3), Marist (3), North Marion (1), Scappoose (1) and Philomath (1) — so from the coaches’ perspectives, the race appears to be wide open.

A look at Philomath’s roster reveals the return of five players who were all-Oregon West selections last season. Juniors Bailey Bell and Kamilla Grimmer were on the first team, and seniors Mia Cook, Elizabeth Morales and Hailie Couture were honorable mention.

The varsity roster includes five seniors, three juniors, eight sophomores and one freshman. Team captains are Couture, Cook and Morales.

“The senior leadership has been good and those juniors — obviously with Bailey (Bell) and Kam (Grimmer) — are dynamic,” Phelps said. “They make things happen.”

Couture brings a wealth of experience to the net for the Warrior defense as a fourth-year starter at goalkeeper.

“She’s a great leader back there,” Phelps said. “She’s learned to communicate well and we know we can trust her back there, so that really does start there.”

The back-line defense at first glance appears young, but Phelps believes there’s some good game experience on the field.

“Though it’s young, it really is strong,” he said. “Melea Lattin will be playing center back paired with somebody, probably another sophomore, maybe one of the other seniors, but she’s really solid back there and kinda leads that charge.”

Lattin is one of eight sophomores on the varsity roster — that’s nearly half of the team.

“If you look at our roster, you’ll see a lot of 10s — sophomores — but because of last year, they’re all experienced,” Phelps said, referring to younger players getting more field time than usual on varsity because there was no JV program. “I feel like they’ve really taken a good step forward being confident and know that we can trust them, so I’m excited to see that progression with the sophomores.”

Phelps believes he has good options at midfield, including Cook and Ana Candanoza, who comes in as a freshman but has a strong soccer background. Bell, Grimmer and Morales all bring exceptional talent to the table in their roles.

“So, there are a lot of options and I think we have to really work on refining our movements around the goal and being a little more efficient,” Phelps said. “We have a lot of stamina, our girls are in good shape after working really hard over the summer.”

Junior Bailey Bell is among the team’s top returnees as a first-team all-league choice a year ago. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The numbers are up this season to the point that the program will again be able to field a junior varsity team. Anton Grube, who won a state title as the PHS boys varsity coach in 2012, will serve as an assistant coach.

“I’m really excited about this year — our numbers are up, so we’ve got a JV team and we’re able to offer more opportunities for those girls to get playing time,” Phelps said. “The varsity girls are getting more playing time as well, so that’s a really big benefit.”

Philomath opens the season at home Thursday against Marist, the No. 2 team in the preseason coaches’ poll. Then the team will play back-to-back road games at Cottage Grove and Estacada before getting into conference play.

“Starting with Marist, we know every year they’re one of the top teams in the state that’s really good,” Phelps said, “and it’s a good way to measure ourselves to find out where we’re at.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.