"We're young and we're fun," said Coach Oscar Stenberg of this year's Horizon Christian School co-ed soccer team.
Stenberg's infectious, positive attitude permeates throughout his 20-player squad, which will be playing in a new league this fall season.
"The attitudes are just tremendous," Stenberg said.
Of the players participating in preseason daily doubles, 14 are freshmen or sophomores. Among the five seniors are two who haven't played soccer since they were youngsters. This contrasts last season, when a senior-led Horizon squad advanced to the state playoffs.
Gone is all-league forward Andrew Stenberg, the coach's son (who is playing soccer at Corbin College). Gone are Brent Rovianek and goalie Jordan Anderson (both graduated) and defender Sam Anthony (playing football in The Dalles). The list goes on and on.
"We have one returning starter," Oscar Stenberg said, of sophomore wing Austin Requa.
This year's senior group includes Erin Starrett, Scott Halliday, Kenzie Schwab, Dylan Smith and Gabe Holste. Starrett played some varsity minutes a year ago, but Halliday and Holste are first-time high school players. Schwab and Smith have limited soccer experience at the high school level.
Stenberg is using two-a-day practices to get his inexperienced players as many touches as possible.
"I enjoy the daily doubles," Stenberg said. "Conditioning and some touches in the morning, and lots of touches in the evening.
"We, at Horizon, are seasonal players. Whereas at the (Hood River Valley) high school they're mostly year-round players."
Conference play for Horizon will be in the newly created 1A United Soccer League, which includes 10 Class 1A schools (enrollment of 105 students or less). Horizon is the lone school outside the Portland area.
The United League teams are playing schedules independent of the Oregon School Activities Association. The league will have its own playoffs and the top four regular-season finishers will compete for the championship.
In past years, the United schools were split among two OSAA leagues playing in the 1A-2A-3A classification (which includes enrollments of up to 399 students). Stenberg said some of the Portland-area schools were playing against powerhouse programs like Catlin Gabel and Oregon Episcopal and losing "15, 16 to nothing."
"That wasn't doing either school any good," Stenberg said.
That, in part, precipitated Stenberg and other Class 1A athletic directors to lobby the OSAA for a 1A soccer division. When that didn't materialize, the schools decided to form the United League.
"We're trying to bring parity, at least in competition," Stenberg said.
Horizon's season opener is Saturday, Sept. 10, at home against Westside Christian; the Hawks open league matches Sept. 22 at CS Lewis in Newberg.