Much of the firepower from last year is gone, but the Hood River Valley boys soccer team still has a little left in the tank after its second consecutive state quarterfinal run.
Following the graduations of first-team all-conference players Matt Dallman and Dereck Ponce, as well as playmakers Corey VanDlac and Jon Munk, the Eagles’ offense has been effectively turned over to Ponce’s younger brother and two-year starter, Alex.
“In many ways, this is Alex’s team,” said third-year coach Doug Beveridge, who views this season as an enigma. “He will be the star of the show, and with his quickness and touch, he is almost unstoppable.”
Beveridge will be looking to junior forward Jorge Hernandez and seniors Todd Price and Jake Pruitt to complement Ponce up front, but hasn’t settled on a firm starting lineup.
Part of the uncertainty comes from the fact that two key offensive players from last year’s team, Tony Diaz and Obed Garduño, did not come out for the team in 2003.
“We have a lot of young kids in the starting lineup, and that could be our biggest question mark,” Beveridge said. “Only a handful of the guys have varsity experience, and it may take us a few games to get on the same page.”
But, lucky for Beveridge, he does have some stability up the middle. Former sweeper Alvaro Lara will move into a center midfield role, while former outside defender Sean Rawson will take over as the sweeper.
“The juniors have played together forever, which gives our team a good character,” Beveridge said. “Alvaro, Sean and Jorge know what each other can do, and that familiarity should help us out a lot.”
Beveridge says that Lara has the potential to be “one of the best center midfielders this program has ever seen,” and praises his ability to win balls in the air and recover quickly on defense.
“Alvaro likes to take risks, but he doesn’t get hurt by them because he’s so fast,” he said. “He is also very strong physically, and has good passing instincts. He could be really exciting to watch this year.”
Beveridge is also excited to see what Rawson can do in his new role.
“Sean is the coach out there on the field,” he said. “We played him at sweeper over the summer, and he really excelled. He has matured into a fine player, and gives us great stability on the back line.”
The outsides are a different story, however. Sophomore Jesus Lara and junior Miguel Najera are slated as the starters, and neither has a single game of varsity experience.
Neither does midfielder Ricardo Muñoz, who will be joined in the starting lineup by returning varsity players Jose Avila and Stephen Hanners.
“Stephen has really come on strong this year, and he has earned a starting spot. Jose is also showing his maturity out there, and gives us options in the midfield.”
Starting in goal for the second straight year will be senior Julio Loza, and the key substitutions will be Sean Ritter, Angel Rojas, David Chance, J.J. Rivera and Pruitt, who is coming back from a broken ankle.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Beveridge said. “But we will find out when we play Redmond next week.”
HRV opened Friday at home versus Crook County, but results were not yet available.