Though short in stature, South Medford's Anna Sours plays as big as anyone in the state.

Though short in stature, South Medford's Anna Sours plays as big as anyone in the state.

She's tenacious. She's fierce. She's got spunk.

And she's the heart and soul of the playoff-bound South Medford girl's soccer team.

"She just never stops," Panthers coach Terry Fretz says. "She can go for the full 80 minutes and she never gives up on a play. She's the vocal and emotional leader on this team.

"Fearless. Ferocious. Non-stop. I mean she doesn't back down from anyone. That's one thing you love about her. We've had her playing against girls like 5-foot-10 and she wins the ball."

With Sours roving, midfield might as well be a pit of quick sand for opposing teams.

An all-Southwest Conference first-team selection two years running, the 5-foot-2 senior captain center-midfielder disrupts and slows opposing offenses while providing South Medford with a ball-control advantage in almost any match up.

Superior defense and ball control have steered the Panthers to seven SWC victories — five were shutouts. Even during South Medford's 2-0 loss to Sheldon, the Irish were limited to just three shots on goal to the Panthers' 11.

That's why Sours makes the Panthers tick.

Although leadership may be her greatest quality, her on-the-mark passing precision, ball skill and relentlessness keep the ball at the cleat-tops of the South Medford players.

And while she's a more than a capable scorer, her value in the center of the field is vital to the Panthers success.

"If you look at our team, she's in the middle of the field winning most of the balls and starting our offense and she's also back there defending," Fretz says. "She's just everywhere. We've put her up front for a game or two to see if we could spark something. But then we felt like we were just missing too much in the middle of the field."

She scored just three goals in SWC play, but two were go-ahead, victory-sealing shots. Her first was a go-ahead connection in the 33rd minute that lifted the Panthers in a 2-0 triumph over Roseburg. But none of Sours' goals were bigger then her game-winner against rival North Medford.

With four minutes left in regulation, Sours broke a scoreless stalemate when she shook a pair of Black Tornado defenders off the dribble and blasted home a 28-yard goal from the right side to the far corner.

"It was definitely really exciting," Sours says. "One of the more exciting goals I've had. I don't really score that often so for that to happen "¦ I wasn't really thinking I guess. It was just really exciting and it was really exciting for my team too because it was a really big booster. We just kept pushing until the end."

"She had been working on that shot," Fretz adds. "I mean, she did it against North and it went in. Then it was like, wow okay this is the spot. Then against South Eugene she split two defenders right there in the same spot almost and did the same thing in the same corner.

"She's got real good skill and good vision. She's really our playmaker."

To make it all the way to the state finals, the Panthers may need more of Sours' heroics.

The Panthers, who finished the season with an 8-5-1 overall record and with seven victories to three loses in conference, will enter the playoffs as the SWC's third seed.

They have made the playoffs in each of Fretz's four seasons at the helm, but have had early exits each of those years, including a 3-2 first-round loss to Tualatin last season.

The difference this time around?

The Panthers have nine seniors who know the ropes when it comes to Class 6A playoff soccer.

Fretz has also gone the extra mile to instill in his girls that they are among the elite teams. After last season's playoff departure, Fretz and several players traveled to watch the Lincoln-Central Catholic state title match.

"Last year we beat Central Catholic (during the regular season) and so I asked how many girls would like to go up and watch the final," Fretz says. "We went up just for them to see for themselves that they belong on that field."

The Panthers have been on some kind of roll as of late, winning five of their last six games with a four-game streak during that span.

With fourth-place finishes in the SWC each of the last two seasons, they may get the favorable playoff draw that finally catapults them out of the first round and beyond.

"We're gonna take it one game at a time," Fretz says. "These kids know that if they play the way they can, we can play with anyone in the state. We're real close now. How far we'll go? Who knows? We went on a four-game winning streak before, now we just need to go five or six games and we walk away with it."

Whether or not the Panthers make a deep run, Sours intends to continue competitive soccer in some form or another.

Academically, Sours could attend about any Division I college she desires. But Sours' most likely destination may be Linfield, where her older sister attends, and where she would start immediately as a walk-on for the women's soccer team.

As for now, the team-first star is only looking ahead to the next game.

"Everyone keeps saying five games and you're in the state finals and you can win state," Sours says. "That's the long-term goal, but we just want to take it one day at a time and try to do our best and work as hard as we can. Hopefully we go all the way."

Perhaps Sours delivers the sweet ending the Panthers have been longing for.

Reach reporter Warren Blenkush at 776-4480, or e-mail wblenkush@mailtribune.com