Ashland boys, girls soccer teams brace for playoff openers

After earning their way to No. 1 seeds in the regular season, the Ashland boys and girls soccer teams begin postseason play exactly where they want to be: right at home.

The teams will play a doubleheader on Tuesday with the right to play in the Class 5A state quarterfinals on the line in a couple of win-or-stay-home elimination games.

The third-ranked boys will kick off the proceedings at Ashland Middle School, hosting sixth-ranked Woodburn, the second seed out of the Mid-Willamette Conference, at 2:30 p.m. The twinbill continues into the evening with a 5:30 p.m. start time at North Mountain Park between the lady Grizzlies and West Albany.

Woodburn (10-3) will be making its second visit to Ashland this year after downing the Grizzlies 6-3 in nonconference play in September. Ashland had a 3-2 halftime advantage in that game but was unable to hold on.

"We're a much different team now," Ashland coach Brad Roupp said. "Woodburn came down and played a great game, but we had a little quit in us early in the season. I think we've removed that now."

Roupp says much of the reason for his team's steady improvement in the season has been due to a budding sense of leadership, much of which he credits to senior captains Adam Pavlich, a center-midfielder, and goalkeeper Noah Sohl.

"Getting Noah out here after his injury kept him out last season has been huge for us because he's such a positive influence on everybody," Roupp said. "And Adam is just such a competitor that it can't help but rub off on the other guys."

Pavlich and senior Reed Chasmar led Ashland in league play with nine goals and two assists apiece. Both, along with three other Grizzlies, were a part of the postseason run last year that landed AHS in the state championship game.

Ian Murray and Pavlich are the only returning starters from that team, but Roupp says this year's team has finally developed its own identity.

"We struggled with it early in the year, but our defenders have become a unit now," he said. "We were allowing several breakaways, but I think we've fixed that, and we feel much differently about playing Woodburn this time around."

Roupp also credited a spark in the attacking game to junior forward Chris Landt. He says his team's attack has become much more varied since the early stages of the year when the Grizzlies sometimes had trouble using the whole field.

When both Ashland teams take the field Tuesday, it will be the first time either of them has played since they defeated Crater two weeks ago. Neither team, though, believes the layoff will result in rust.

"We're still trying to build tactical awareness in practice, but we've also tried to put the boys in positions during the last few weeks where they've gotten back to having fun," Roupp explained. "I'm not a coach that drills a lot, but I've tried to put them in situations they'll find themselves in during the game."

Roupp described Woodburn as a good ball-handling team with solid speed across the board, big defenders, fast forwards and "when the whistle blows, they go on the attack."

The West Albany girls (12-4, 6-1) also enter Ashland as the second seed in the Mid-Willamette Conference.

Ashland last saw action in their Southern Sky-clinching 2-0 overtime victory against Crater. Chloe Deckwar scored both goals in that win, which allowed Ashland to avoid a first-place tie.

As it turned out, AHS won the league title with a 7-1 SSC record after going 1-5 in the preseason.

"We know that the way we play, we can beat anyone and we can lose to anyone," AHS coach Eric Wolff said after the clinching game. "I think with the way we've played lately, we're certainly in the right direction. These girls are ready for the challenge of the playoffs, and I have no doubt that they'll come to play hard."

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