Nyssa and Four Rivers soccer players clash as the teams opened the 2019 prep soccer season last week. The Lady Bulldogs claimed a 3-0 victory. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)
ONTARIO — The Ontario High School girls soccer program will be a family affair this year.
The Lady Tigers have a new coach who is determined to mold a team that struggled last season into a force to be reckoned with.
His name is Javier Gonzalez, and his brother, Jaime Gonzalez, is coaching the boys team.
Javier Gonzalez has coached soccer on the college level, and is both excited and anxious for the upcoming season. Assistant coach Hailee Turner will join Gonzalez.
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This year will be both Gonzalez and Turner’s first coaching the girls soccer program.
Both coached at the Ida-Ore Soccer Club, and both played soccer while attending Ontario.
“I’m just ready for these girls to get on the map,” Gonzalez said. “Our goal is winning districts and then carrying momentum into the state to play against those teams in western Oregon and win.”
Gonzalez said that would be tough given that he is taking over a team that didn’t do well last year, but he is up for the challenge.
La Grande, Baker and Mac-Hi are the top teams in the 4A-6 Greater Oregon League.
This year, Gonzalez said his team will have eight returning players, five of them seniors.
Among the seniors are Briona Romayor, who will play center-mid, Deisy Montoya, who will play attacking-mid or forward, and Iris Meza, defensive-mid.
“Those three are kind of my triangle,” Gonzalez said.
Returning juniors Tiffany Nelson will play as either a left-back or right-back on defense, and Vyvanna Lopez will play mid-field, possibly right-mid or left-mid. “These are the returning varsity girls that will impact the middle and then we will build around them,” Gonzalez said.
Junior Boston Garcia, given her speed and control, will definitely play right-mid, Gonzalez added.
“My expectations are high. I’m just trying to set the atmosphere on goal setting. I really think that with conditioning and with my style and play, with tactics and strategies, we should be up there contending,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that the girls just finished their first week of practice and that their attitude is good, and that they are really eager to get started on the right foot.
With young talent and new faces in the mix this year, coaches and players alike will have their work cut out for them, and the Lady Bulldogs are in for a tough season.
The season kicked off in Ontario Thursday against the Four Rivers Falcons where the Bulldogs won 3-0.
Ashley Macedo scored one goal in the first half and Lydia Woodruff scored two in the second.
“It will be an eye opener for our girls,” Coach Carol Steinmetz said. “But I think it will be nice, because we’ll be playing teams that will make us better.”
There are five teams in total in the Eastern Oregon League this year, and Steinmetz anticipates Riverside putting up the toughest fight given that it has the most experience.
Umatilla and Irrigon will also be tough challenges.
Steinmetz said that the Bulldogs lost eight seniors to graduation last year, but gained seven freshmen, none of whom have played soccer.
Given this shift in experience, Steinmetz said she plans on preparing to play as a defensive team, and expressed confidence that the girls are in the process of pulling together as a formidable force on the field.
“Our team is pretty young but we are quick learners,” Steinmetz said.
She added that the girls are playing well in practice and that the team has good chemistry.
Steinmetz is optimistic about returning midfielders Cristal Trinidad and Kate Vineyard, returning forward Lydia Woodruff and returning defender Lynzie Torres.
“Last year we took second in league and went to state, we are hoping to at least repeat that,” Steinmetz said. “I think we are going to do well.”
Despite the team’s inexperience, Steinmetz is confident that the girls are eager to learn and that they want to do well.
“Our preseason games were pretty tough, and the hope is that by the end of the season we’ll be where we need to be,” Steinmetz said.
Javier Gonzalez’s brother, Jaime Gonzalez, is the coach for the boys team and he is hoping the Tigers can repeat the success they found in 2018 into the fall season.
“We get to watch each other’s teams play, and critique each other,” Javier Gonzalez said.
Jaime Gonzalez said that he is hoping to repeat last year when the Tigers won the 4A-6 Greater Oregon League championship, something that had not happened since 2002.
“La Grande and Mac-Hi will give us battles with that,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that the team would get one of its star players, senior and forward Greg Rodriguez, back this year after he was out last year after having ankle surgery.
“With his firepower, we are hoping to get a little farther in the playoffs this year.” Gonzalez said. “We are hoping to go farther if not win it all.”
Other returning players include junior Erick Lopez, who was one of the team captains last year. Lopez, who plays center-mid, and Rodriguez “are pretty big parts of our offense and defense,” Gonzalez said.
Last year, Gonzalez said, the team played a little more defensively with four defenders in a back, and a 4-5-1 setup. This year, however, Gonzalez said, “we’ll probably open it up a little more.”
Gonzalez added that the team’s philosophy and style is defense first and then keeping possession.
Gonzalez said that he takes the rankings with a grain of salt, but that he is shooting for the same goal as last year when the Tigers were ranked in the state’s top five.
Woodburn and Stayton are the teams to beat, Gonzalez added.
Steven Escobedo is coaching the Nyssa Bulldogs boys this year, and suspects that once again, Nyssa will have to push hard in preparation for a face off with league powerhouses Riverside and Umatilla.
Last year, Escobedo said the Bulldogs split with Riverside and Umatilla beat them twice.
“Umatilla was kind of our thorn last year. That’s the team that stopped us from making it to the state playoffs. Those are the ones we are targeting,” Escobedo said.
Senior Abram Castro and his brother, junior Javier Castro, will be back on the field this season.
Incoming junior, Miguel Ramirez will play midfielder.
Escobedo said that the team is stacked with seven freshmen this year, and that they have lost most of their defensive line.
“I’ve got a lot of young talent and I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to slide some of those into those starting positions,” Escobedo said.
Still the Nyssa coach said he is optimistc about the upcoming season.
“We are young, but we are pretty fast. I don’t feel like we’ve dropped in talent.”
News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: firstname.lastname@example.org
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