Two years removed from winning its first-ever Cascade Conference title, the Southern Oregon women’s soccer team can’t hide aspirations of returning to the top of the league standings.
But there is one other goal that still eludes sixth-year head coach Jenni Rosenberg.
“We haven’t gone to the national tournament once,” Rosenberg said. “We won our conference (in 2016) and didn’t go on to the national tournament. That’s really the drive behind this (season). Yeah, winning the conference is great, we want to do that absolutely, but we really want to get past that last hurdle and get into the national tournament.”
SOU, which opens the 2018 season with a non-conference game against Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls on Thursday, Aug. 23, finished 10-7-1 overall and 7-4 in conference play a year ago.
It was the Raiders’ third straight season where they finished with at least 10 wins.
The Raiders have also advanced to the CCC tournament in all of the previous five years Rosenberg, an Ashland native, has been at the helm and eight straight years overall.
It’s just been that ever-elusive spot in the national tournament that they’re still waiting on.
Despite that, though, the Raiders are confident that they can improve on their fifth-place finish from last season and get back into the mix amongst the contenders for a CCC title.
“I think that every team really wants to be the best and be No. 1,” SOU senior defender Maddy Spangler said. “Our goal this year is to be a really unified team and be a pack. We definitely want to compete for first place (in the conference).”
“I think we know what it takes to get first place, but this year we’re really focused on going beyond that,” said fellow senior defender Daily Cervantes, a first-team all-conference selection last season. “We’re not only focused on (a conference title). We’re focused on going to the national tournament this year. The passion, we have to show everybody that we have it and we really want it. We have the players for it, and I think it’s something we can really do this year.”
Twelve months ago, Rosenberg looked at her starting lineup from the season before and see hole after hole after hole that needed to be replaced as seven senior starts moved on with graduation.
This season, the Raiders entered fall camp with a different kind of situation.
Southern Oregon returns eight players that started 12 or more games in a 2017 season where the Raiders played two-thirds of their conference schedule on the road.
There is a healthy balance of both experience and youth, with just four seniors on the roster.
“Having a larger number (of players) return, we can teach the youngins the ways of the game and how much more competitive it is coming out of high school,” Spangler said. “We’ve been playing together; our senior class has been playing together for four years now and we have a chemistry. We’ve been competing against the other teams and we’ve seen them time and time again.”
Essentially, there is a very good idea of who the team’s leaders are as well as a group of underclassmen who got valuable experience — and a healthy dose of success — last season.
“We still wanted to win the conference (last season), and it was in our reach,” Rosenberg said. “We were one game away from going to the conference tournament title game, so we had but we just let it slip through our fingers. So, I think that this year they’ve felt that. They’ve tasted both. They’ve tasted winning the conference, they’ve tasted not winning the conference, so now we have that drive and we’ve figured everything out. We’re going to really push.”
Not only do the Raiders know that they enter this season with a much more experienced core group of players than they did a year ago, but the CCC schedule is much more in SOU’s favor now that the calendar has flipped to 2018.
And in a conference that saw all six of its top teams record double-digit win totals, you better believe that fact that they’re going to be home for seven of their 12 conference games isn’t escaping them.
“I think a lot of people are underestimating the team that we have,” Cervantes said. “A lot of our games last year were so close, so we already know what went wrong and know how to fix it. I think we’re working on that and if we just fix those little things, we’re definitely going to be one of the top teams in the conference.”
Confidence in their abilities isn’t lacking.
And the more success they have, the more that confidence will grow, with an end result that could see them get back to where they were two years ago — and maybe beyond.
“They’re focused, they’re driven,” Rosenberg said. “We talked about working as a pack, hunting as a pack, and doing everything pack-minded. They have the experience to focus and have a ‘How do we progress forward?’ kind of view, so they’re focused and they’re driven. It’s really cool.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.