The thud of a cleat smashing a soccer ball, that ball hitting the back of the net and the celebration cheers were a welcome sound to seven high school boys soccer teams teams Thursday during a preseason jamboree at Tiger Stadium in Centralia.
This season, Tigers coach and jamboree host Henry Gallanger said, is a transition from the past two years of COVID to now a sense of normality as a full postseason and a state tournament is finally reinstalled.
“It’s good because everyone’s going through that transition of getting back to normal,” Gallanger said.
And Thursday’s jamboree, in which all seven teams played two 20-minute games, was hopefully the beginning of the first normal season for these squads since 2019. Competing were Centralia, W.F. West, Tenino, Rochester, United (Winlock-Toledo), Ilwaco and Raymond-South Bend.
The Tigers are coming off a 2-8 overall season, ending the year with two wins in their final three games. After losing five seniors — including three starters — they bring in an influx of freshmen and newcomers who will look to make their mark on the team.
The Tigers were missing a handful of expected starters in their two jamboree games Thursday, the first being a 4-0 win over Pacific County’s Ilwaco. Sophomore midfielder Fernando Lopez led the offensive attack with a brace against the Fishermen, scoring in the ninth and 17th minutes.
Kevin Reyes-Gomez and Angel Rojas each added goals for the Tigers, in the 16th and 19th minutes, respectively, as the Tigers looked dominant in their first live action of the year.
Currently, Gallanger is focused on making sure his players get their practices in and their grades up so they’re eligible to play at the start of the regular season.
The Tigers bring back nine varsity players in total, including seven starters, from last season and Gallanger said every starting position is up for grabs this year.
“We’ve got competition this year and some of those guys are feeling the pressure of if they want to keep their job they’ve got to work hard to keep it,” Gallanger said. “It’s good competition and guys know there are other guys breathing down their necks for a job. So that’s been good.”
The Tigers will be led by senior captain and centerback Steven Neely, who will anchor the backline.
“We expect big things from him, and then a lot of our guys from last year are young,” Gallanger said. “We’ve got a couple other seniors who are pushing for starting roles but they’ve got to make sure their grades are all squared away.”
Centralia opens its season in a non-league contest at King’s Way Christian on March 19.
The Bearcats are coming off a district-playoff appearance, where they lost to league rival Tumwater in the second round of the 2A Evergreen Conference playoffs. Now they’ll look to challenge the Thunderbirds for the league title.
W.F. West coach Allen Anderson said many of the Bearcats began practicing on their own back in December in preparation for the upcoming season.
“This is probably one of the most enjoyable groups I’ve had in a long time,” Anderson said. “They’re competitive, and that’s what's nice about this group. We’re pretty solid in every position, and even our guys coming off the bench, there’s really no dropoff for us.”
On Thursday, the Bearcats took a 2-0 victory over Rochester, with Tyson Castillo and Damian Hernandez each scoring goals.
They then defeated Raymond-South Bend, 3-0, with Hernandez scoring in the first minute, Gideon Priest notching a goal in the third minute and Israel Lopez-Cruz scoring in the 20th minute.
“It was a good first night finally getting them out here a little bit,” Anderson said. “The first five minutes we had to adjust to being on turf. We’re used to the swamp grass. But once they got their footing and kind of the speed of the play on the turf, things slowed down for them a little bit. I got to see quite a bit from them, and they’re happy and had fun.”
The Bearcats return eight varsity players from last season, along with 27 upperclassmen in total. Anderson hopes having that experience will pay off for the Bearcats throughout the year.
“I think it’s going to be really beneficial for us in the long run this year, having those guys that have been around and have played at this level for a while” Anderson said. “These guys should be competing, hopefully, with Tumwater for that top spot.”
W.F. West opens its season by hosting Pullman at noon on Saturday in a non-league tilt.
The Warriors nabbed their first playoff win in 11 years last season and look to make even more noise this year with 40 total players turning out — about 15 more than coach Matt Ashton has had since he took over the program.
“It’s a good feeling and a good thing to have,” said Ashton, who was named co-Coach of the Year in the EvCo last year.
The Warriors have a dozen freshmen turning out this year, and even more seniors — 14 in total. And they also have some big names coming back, led by senior Alexis Castillo-Corona, who is the reigning EvCo Offensive Player of the Year.
Some other returning players who expect to make a big impact are Gabe Steward and Levi Jennings, said Ashton, as he hopes veteran leadership will be one of the strengths of the team this season.
“I think with the returning players we have, and the success we had in the shortened season last year, that they understand and realize we can compete with the bigger schools we’re playing against,” Ashton said. “I think that’s going to be a big bonus for us.”
And they have high hopes, with Ashton expecting his team to be competing for one of the top three spots in the EvCo.
“I want to be first, but if we’re not in the top three to make the playoffs then we really need to figure out what we’re doing,” Ashton said.
Rochester begins its season with a non-league clash with Mark Morris on March 16.
The Beavers are coming off a big rebound season, finishing fourth at districts and what would have been a state tournament berth had there been a state tourney last season.
Tenino coach Kevin Schultz said it's nice to finally get back on the pitch again as the Beavers begin their march back to more postseason accolades. He said it was nice getting some live action before their first game of the season.
“We lost some seniors from last year so seeing a couple new pieces plug in is always good,” Schultz said. “We were a little sluggish to start but we started to get some things going.”
Tenino defeated Ilwaco 3-0 in their first game, beginning with a Max Craig goal in the third minute, then the Beavers lost to Rochester, 1-0, to cap off their day.
“He’s a really good athlete, a cross country kid, and that lends well to soccer because he can run up and down the field,” Schultz said of Williams.
The Beavers bring back eight starters from last season — including 12 total varsity players — led by junior all-league goalkeeper Alex Reichelderfer.
The seniors they did lose were all on the outside, and that’s where Schultz will look to rebuild with an infusion of underclassmen.
“We lost a lot of depth, so we’re gonna have to develop some depth this year,” Schultz said.
One newcomer who could make a splash is freshman forward Tyler Minerich, who plays club ball and is coming off an injury sustained during football season.
“He’s experienced and has to get back to game fitness after being injured,” Schultz said. “But once he gets rolling, he really gives us something we didn’t have last season.”
Schultz expects speed and athleticism to be the team’s strengths this year as he has a team full of athletes, including Oregon State football commit Takari Hickle, and Salvador Ontiveros, an all-league forward.
“I think we’re gonna be able to score some goals this year, we’ve just got to make sure to solidify up in the back,” Schultz said.
Tenino kicks off its season when it hosts United on March 15.
The combined Winlock-Toledo team that competes in the 1A Trico League has high hopes after bringing back nine starters from last season.
“Really excited (for the season) and with high hopes,” United coach Corny Sanchez said. “I think our team has improved so we’re looking forward to it.”
United started Thursday’s jamboree with a convincing 5-1 victory over Raymond-South Bend, before taking a 2-0 loss to Class 2A Centralia in the nightcap game.
Sanchez said it was a good start to the year for his team, although he’s urging them to take it one game at a time and not get ahead of themselves.
He said the strength of the team is their camaraderie and closeness. The players scheduled workouts and pickup games in the offseason to stay in shape and build teamwork, he said, which is a hopeful sign for the upcoming season.
“It makes me feel like they’re a part of a family now,” Sanchez said. “That would be the strength of this team; the unity they have.”
With nine returning starters, and only losing two seniors in total from last year, he hopes everyone having played together last year will pay off as the season goes on.
“That’s what’s keeping us strong; because these kids played together last season and most of them are fairly young,” Sanchez said.
United begins its season at Tenino on March 15.