Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Joe and Christian Siordia are as optimistic as any two teenagers could be, but even they couldn't foresee the kind of season their North Medford boys soccer team has been enjoying this fall.
Not a single loss in 13 games played? Only six goals allowed overall? The No. 2 spot in the Class 6A power rankings?
None of that was on the radar when the Siordias were kicking the ball around during the preseason.
"Honestly, I didn't think we'd do anywhere close to what we've done," says Joe, a 17-year-old senior in his first season as starting goalkeeper. "We've pretty much surpassed all of our expectations. We've done amazing this year."
"I knew we would have a good passing team," adds Christian, a 16-year-old junior forward, "but this year I would've never thought that we would be undefeated. We've been doing really good up to now and hopefully we can keep it going."
The next step comes Saturday when North Medford (12-0-1) plays host to Beaverton in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs. The game will be at 3:30 p.m. at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
While there's no denying the Black Tornado's depth and skill has helped put the team in its current position, there's also an underlying theme of family that also deserves some credit — and that's where the Siordias come into play.
"They're both really great kids," says North Medford head coach Michael Belzberg. "It's a joy to be around them."
The brothers bring a joy to the game that they love so much, and an undeniable spirit to the Black Tornado. Even though they're related by blood, they both first talk about the close bond shared throughout the team.
"I've been overwhelmed by how much my team has grown together," insists Joe. "It's just amazing how close we are."
Adds Christian: "Everybody getting along has really been helping us a lot. We can really communicate with each other and everybody understands each other and what we need to do."
That understanding especially holds true for the Siordias, who have a knack for pushing each other but always with a foundation of support and love.
"They're very supportive boys and build each other up but can also be critical of each other to make sure they're always doing the right thing," says Belzberg. "They just have a very good relationship and it's a credit to their family for doing such a great job with them."
It was under their father Manuel's guidance that they began playing soccer together about nine years ago. There's only been one year since then that the Siordia brothers didn't play on the same soccer team, so their bond has enjoyed the test of time both on and off the field.
"Experiencing playing with my brother all these years has really helped me," says Christian. "Not a lot of people get to play with someone they really know like that and that's what has helped me really get better."
The fact that they each took to the opposite side of the field really was by happenstance, and there's nothing truly poetic about how Joe became a goalie and Christian ventured elsewhere.
"At first the only reason I became a goalie was so I didn't really have to run," Joe says with a laugh. "It was just out of laziness pretty much."
"Yeah," Christian adds in support of that theory, "I remember when we were little he used to never want to warm up, he just wanted to be a keeper."
However his decision came about, no one argued much with Joe's self-chosen position.
"(Christian) loved it, my whole family did," recalls Joe, who is the oldest of three children and has a freshman sister named Aylin. "They finally had a keeper to shoot on."
Such a situation has helped both Joe and Christian blossom on the pitch, with a training partner always at the ready. The success rate is about 50-50, according to the brothers, when they go one-on-one, but the real winner has been North Medford.
"We've been each getting better with our training since he's a keeper and we can go together and I can shoot on him," says Christian. "That's been really good practice for us."
The end result has been a season in which Joe has secured eight shutouts in goal and been a guiding force for a defense that's allowed only six goals this season — two in Southern Oregon Hybrid play for the league champions.
"Joe's done a tremendous job all year," says Belzberg. "For not starting the last three years, he plays like he has been. He's been tremendous back there this season."
Joe says his plan heading into the season was simply to give it his all and see how far that would take him. Watching from the sideline made him aware of the need to stay on his toes at all times, and also helped give him a good understanding of how best to shape the defense.
"Communication is probably my strength as a keeper, getting the defense where it needs to be and sorting everyone out," says Joe.
He says that job has been that much easier thanks to the surrounding talent on defense in stopper Benito Torres, sweeper Jose Mendoza, left defender Louis Michelon and right defender Cole Owings.
"They're just solid, nothing can get past them," says Joe, "and when it does, I'm just back there as security for us."
Where Joe serves as a security net, Christian is more of a playmaker up front for the opportunistic North Medford attack. The junior has seven goals and five assists this season and plays with a steady, level-headed approach that features a unique vision for the game.
"He's got a good feel for where he needs to be and what he should do with the ball," says Belzberg. "He's unselfish but when the shot's there, he takes it. He's got a good knack for playing with the team up top but also getting back and playing defense."
Belzberg says both brothers have a knack for working with any and all of their teammates, but there's still something special about the bond the Siordias share.
"We're close and soccer's brought us so much closer," says Joe. "It's just nice being able to play with my brother and having soccer being our common base. We have fun with all that."
And both credit that fun and unity to the example set by their father over the years.
"He's been with us throughout and supporting us since we started playing," says Joe. "He's probably my biggest role model; he's an amazing dad."
And one with two undeniably amazing sons.