The philosophy is simple: plan ahead.

The philosophy is simple: plan ahead.

Therefore, South Medford boys soccer coach Dave Kaufman picks a handful of underclassmen each season to practice with the varsity squad.

The players won't see much game action, other than junior varsity contests and varsity blowouts. However, the idea is to prepare them for when the opportunity arises — whether that is via an injury or not until the following season.

"It bridges and shortens their development cycle," says Kaufman, who has six or seven players in that role this season.

"We're at a place where I think year after year, our pipeline will be pretty consistent."

Kaufman's practice has helped the Panthers reload rather than rebuild, which would seem to be the task for this season after South Medford graduated 11 players from its Southwest Conference championship team. The Panthers, who only lost one conference game and went 12-3-1 overall, ended the season with a 3-2 loss to Centennial in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

South Medford is in a similar situation this season with 14 seniors, including five who are on the varsity roster for the first time. While that has been a struggle for the players to develop team chemistry, the transition has been much smoother because of their backgrounds around the program.

"Your core changes every year," Kaufman says. "You're always losing players. So for me, I don't want to be reinventing the wheel year after year. When we have guys that have had some experience playing at this level, they've heard me flapping my gums for the past year, it's not new."

There are exceptions, such as senior forward Brian Avila, who has played varsity since he was a freshman. Avila noted that the most difficult challenge of this season has been finding team chemistry with only three starters returning from last season.

"We're just starting to know each other this year," Avila says.

However, that hasn't stopped the Panthers from envisioning another conference championship.

"I definitely want another championship," senior Blaine Rennels says. "I definitely want to win our conference."

North Medford

Since Chris Gallegos arrived at North Medford, the theme has been discipline.

"You have to have a ton of structure with these young men," says Gallegos, who is in his first season at North Medford after spending the past seven years at Crater.

And for good reason.

North Medford lost 12 seniors to graduation from a team that went 3-7-0 en route to a fourth-place finish in conference last season. The Black Tornado finished with a 4-10-1 overall record, including a 4-0 loss to Hood River Valley in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

There are only seven returning varsity players — four starters — on the current 19-man roster, forcing new players to quickly adapt to a new coach.

Gallegos' philosophy has been paying off. The Black Tornado has won three of its four nonleague games heading into Saturday's Southwest Conference opener against rival South Medford.

"That's part of my excitement about coming over here, is coaching the North-South game," Gallegos says. "We have to set our standard. We have to set what we are going to be right out of the chute."

However, the challenge is welcomed amongst the North Medford players, who say they are in better shape and have bonded as a team more than in years past. As such, the Black Tornado athletes have high expectations.

"We want to make a deep run into the playoffs," says senior forward David Formolo, who is returning to the sport this season after a three-year stint with football.

"And I think we have a shot at winning conference if we all come together. If everybody kinda meshes together and gets along with coaches and players, I think we can win a lot of games."

Teammate Brandon Schoenmann acknowledges that this is a rebuilding year, but the junior stopper hasn't shied away from high team goals.

"I really want to beat South Eugene and South Medford, and hopefully win conference," he says. "I want to beat them both times. Here and away. That really makes a statement. They're the people to beat."

South Eugene

Uncertainty reigns supreme at South Eugene, which returns a handful of starters from a team that finished second in conference at 8-2-0.

The Axemen graduated seven players after going 12-5-0 overall and losing to McNary, 3-2, in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Seniors Daley Stevens (midfielder) and Colton Hubler (midfielder) and junior Zach Donner (midfielder) earned all-league honors last season and will be the leaders this season, third-year coach Jürgen Ruckaberle says.

Roseburg

All-league seniors Brady Sheriff, a forward, and midfielder Josh Malone will guide Roseburg, which returns eight starters from a team that went 7-3-0 to finish third in conference last season.

The Indians were 10-6-0 overall but lost to Jesuit, 3-1, in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Third-year coach Kevin Hunt says his team's experience will be the difference, but it won't guarantee Roseburg anything.

"We've been close, but we just haven't been able to get over that hump," he says. "You're climbing to the top of that hill and until you get to the top, you don't know what it takes to get there."

For now, the Indians have relied on senior goalkeeper Brandon Johnson, who is in his third year on varsity, while Sherriff has been injured. Hunt says Sherriff should be healthy before Roseburg's league opener Saturday against visiting Grants Pass.

Sheldon

Five starters return for Sheldon, which scored only seven goals en route to an 0-9-1 conference record last season.

The Irish, who finished 1-11-1 overall, bring back all-league seniors Jonny Kim (defender), Kyle Dillon (midfielder) and Garrett Clay (defender).

Grants Pass

The numbers aren't staggering for Grants Pass, which finished in fifth place last season with a 2-7-1 conference record and 3-10-1 overall.

The Cavemen return only six varsity players and three starters, including all-league senior defender Russell Wilcox.

"What really I'm trying to push this year, I'm trying to change the mind-set," first-year coach Lowell Anderson says. "One or two kids make a difference in their work rate, their work ethic and their attitude. I'm just trying to encourage the kids to work hard."

Reach reporter Shawn Miller at 776-4469, or e-mail smiller@mailtribune.com