No. 4-ranked Sheldon awaits Eagles

Armed with a fearless group of attackers, an iron-clad defense and one of the deepest benches in the state, the HRV boys will try to one-up themselves tonight when they play Sheldon in the state 4A soccer quarterfinals.

Last year’s group was the first HRV soccer team ever to advance to the elite round of eight. But this year’s group has even loftier goals as they try to become the first team ever to reach the semifinals — or even the finals.

To do so, the Eagles must pass their biggest test of the season today in Eugene. The undefeated (15-0-1) and fourth-ranked Sheldon Irish await the upstart Eagles, who have found themselves smack in the middle of an eight-game winning streak of their own.

“The key for us is how we practice,” senior midfielder Dereck Ponce said after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Lincoln. “Practice keeps us in check and helps us maintain focus. And right now, we’re all

focused on the same thing.”

With Tuesday’s win over the eighth-ranked Cardinals, Ponce and the Eagles proved that their No. 9 ranking may have been slightly modest. Likewise, Sheldon’s last-minute 2-1 win over 10th-ranked Sunset showed that they are a team that knows how to win.

“This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us,” said sixth-year Irish head coach Mac Wilson, whose team has won two straight Midwestern division titles. “But our guys have been playing together since elementary school and they know how to win together.”

The Irish have been to the playoffs seven straight years, and have also proven that they can win under pressure, advancing to the third round in each of the past four years.

But 2002 is their first trip to the quarters, and Wilson’s team won’t be looking past anyone in their quest for a state title.

“We match up well with Hood River,” he said. “We’re small and quick like them, and I expect a fast-paced, quick-touch type of game.”

The Irish will look to senior forwards Tyler Hannum and Greg Erickson for their firepower and center midfielders Danny Williams (Sr.) and Loren Hill (Jr.) to start the attack. Senior sweeper Luke Bellotti and sophomore goalkeeper Garrett Staples round out the Irish’s six first-team all-conference selections.

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