Soccer ball
The PHS boys soccer team will play Thursday at Stayton to open the season. (Getty Images)

More than 16 months ago, Philomath High’s boys soccer team battled Hidden Valley in an attempt to play its way into the state playoffs. The score didn’t favor the Warriors on that Saturday afternoon, but the team had finished with an overall winning record for the first time since 2014.

As with everything else, the pandemic forced high school athletics to a screeching halt. There would be no momentum to carry over into the fall of 2020 with players and coaches hungry to build upon the successes of the previous season. Instead, they wondered if they would ever get to play at all — especially a group of six seniors.

“It’s such a short season, it’s so compact,” said third-year coach Dave Ellis. “We’ll just make the best of what we can do with it.”

The team’s objectives that would be in front of them if taking the field this past fall have instead fallen by the wayside. Ellis mostly wants the seniors to experience playing a few more games wearing the Warrior colors.

“We’re not looking at this for competitive goals this year,” Ellis said. “We’re just trying to give the seniors a decent senior year and prep the team for the fall.

“There’s no playoffs, and I don’t think you can even count league standings because there are already games canceled and games that are going to be canceled,” he added. “You just make the best out of whatever you can for the season.”

Ellis hoped to have more than 30 students in the program but the tally came up at 26.

“We lost between four and seven kids to various concerns, but mostly around the pandemic and I totally understand that,” Ellis said.

Junior Mark Grimmer, senior Nick Stucki and senior Andrew Mecham all return to keep Philomath’s group of primary offensive contributors intact. Grimmer and Stucki had double-digit goals and Mecham was only a few short of that standard during the 2019 season.

“Our attack is still the same as it’s been for the third straight year with Mark and Nick and Andrew and I would expect them to be pretty exciting; they know how to play together,” Ellis said. “They’re physical and they’re fast.”

Joining Stucki and Mecham as seniors on the team are Andrew Chatfield, Judah Bacho, Adam Hernandez and Lucas Ainsworth.

“We lost hugely in the back — we lost our two center-backs in Bryce (Beeton) and Ben (Reams), so that’ll be a big loss but we’ve got people to fill them,” Ellis said.

Although those three primary scorers are back in uniform, Ellis does see a change on the horizon with the Warriors’ modus operandi on the pitch.

“I think this is definitely a transition year style-wise in that we’re bringing through a group that is more technical and tactical as opposed to the last two years, we pretty much have relied on our physicality and athleticism to get us through games,” Ellis said. “I think there’s going to definitely be some growing pains this spring season as we transition.”

Ellis said that it’s not easy to know what to expect in the coming month.

“Honestly, there’s so many changes and so many things going on and the low numbers are providing its own challenge, so I really don’t know how to handicap the season at all because you also don’t know what everybody else has,” he said.

Ellis does anticipate more goals, however. With his own team, he believes his core athletes are in pretty good shape but conditioning does not concern him that much because he doesn’t expect high-pressure, high-paced games.

“This season will probably be a little bit more of open games — more goals conceded but probably more goals scored,” he said. “We’ll see, it kind of depends on how everybody plays.”

The short season begins Thursday with an evening game at Stayton. The Warriors will then come “home” for a 2:30 p.m. matchup against Cascade. Philomath is playing its home games on the turf field at Crescent Valley High in Corvallis.

“It’s nice for training, it’s something that we don’t get an opportunity to train on very much or pretty much ever,” Ellis said. “It was wonderful for Crescent Valley to let us use it and many thanks to them and their athletic director.”

Ellis said the program will have a junior varsity team.

“That was something I wanted to hold on really hard to because if we didn’t run a JV team, you’re just going to lose more players,” he said. “Heading into last fall, I was hoping we would be able to push on to three teams. But now who knows? I’m hoping the environment by fall is such that everybody wants to come out.”

Ellis will be assisted this season by Evan Mund and Bill Callender. Mund comes to PHS from Oregon State where he was a goalkeeper.

“He’s come on and made a very positive impact already this year … good kid, works hard,” Ellis said. “The boys have a lot of respect for him.”

Callender will again serve as the JV head coach.

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