PHS sophomore Ana Candanoza scored a goal on this play in a jamboree game against Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High girls soccer program possesses a very rare distinction in the annals of team sports.

From Tiffany Luebbert serving as coach for the first three seasons after the sport debuted as a varsity program in 1992 through Bijan Aria’s two-year stint, an 18-year run by John Williams — a stretch that included a state title — and a transitional period when Andrea Whiteman and Becca Davis were co-coaches, the Warriors have never had a losing season.

When Mat Phelps took over in 2016, the Warriors never missed a beat with trips to the playoffs each season while winning more than 70% of their games.

As Philomath gets ready to embark on this fall’s campaign, all indications point to continued success with the majority of its lineup returning following last year’s 12-4 season that ended in the quarterfinals at eventual champion Marist Catholic.

“We’ve got a lot of goals coming back in Kamilla Grimmer and a lot of assists with several of the other girls with Bailey (Bell) and Natalie (Dunn) and on and on — just a really strong group coming back this year,” Phelps said after the team won both of its games in Thursday afternoon’s home jamboree.

Coach Mat Phelps has been experimenting with moving Natalie Dunn, a first-team all-conference defender last year, to midfield. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Grimmer and Dunn earned first-team all-conference honors last season with stellar performances. Grimmer scored 24 goals and had five hat tricks and Dunn led a defensive unit that allowed a mere 10 goals all season and recorded nine shutouts. Phelps is experimenting with Dunn moving up to midfield this fall.

Other players that earned all-league honors last season include senior Bailey Bell, sophomore Ana Candanoza and junior Melea Lattin.

Phelps sees a lot of balance up and down the lineup.

“We’ve always been really solid defensively but our attack is looking good,” Phelps said. “In practice, they’re pushing the defenders more than they have in the past, so it’s looking good.”

One key position on the team where there will be a newcomer is at goalie. Heidi Bacho, who is part of the talented Class of 2025 class, takes over in the net.

“Hailie (Couture) was a four-year starter and Heidi’s worked really hard in camp and done a good job so she’s starting in goal for us,” Phelps said. “There wasn’t much of a challenge today (in the jamboree) but she’s doing good in practice.”

The regular season begins Tuesday and the Warriors will certainly be tested with its typical tough nonleague schedule. Philomath will first match up against 5A South Albany in a home game before heading down to Eugene Thursday to square off against preseason No. 1 Marist on the field where last season’s PHS playoff run ended. Home games against Cottage Grove and Estacada follow before getting into conference play.

“That’s pretty intentional because we’ve had weaker teams in the league that we know aren’t going to push us,” Phelps said scheduling tough nonconference opponents. “We want to see that really good, tough competition early on to know what it looks like.”

Philomath is ranked No. 7 in the preseason coaches poll as published by OSAAtoday. Conference foes North Marion and Newport were both ranked directly ahead of the Warriors.

“We had a good battle last year with North Marion and Newport and I would expect the same,” Phelps said, “and Cascade, I think, is getting better each year.”

Warriors sophomore Ellie Dye works the ball vs. Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Overall, the Warriors have 33 students listed on the varsity and junior varsity rosters. Those numbers mean JV coach Anton Grube will have a full squad to develop.

Philomath posted victories of 7-0 over Elmira and 3-0 over Junction City in the 30-minute jamboree games.

“We were testing out some new things, a new formation a little bit, in the second game and saw what we needed to see,” Phelps said. “We’ll still do some tinkering over the first three or four games to really get set with our lineup.”

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.