While many of the faces are the same, the similarities are few between this year's North Medford boys soccer team and the one that took the field a year ago.

While many of the faces are the same, the similarities are few between this year's North Medford boys soccer team and the one that took the field a year ago.

Last year, the Black Tornado struggled mightily, especially in conference play. The 2009 version sported a 3-10-1 overall record and was 0-9-1 in Southwest Conference action.

Things have dramatically turned around for North Medford this season, however.

With last Saturday's 3-2 win at Grants Pass, the Black Tornado (7-4-2) secured at least a share of its first conference championship since 2005 after wrapping up the Southern Oregon Hybrid slate 5-2-1. The title could be an outright one should South Medford either tie or lose its home finale today against Grants Pass.

"We only lost three or four key players from that team last year and these guys came back and showed that last year was a fluke and never should've happened," said Tornado head coach Dan Torrey, in his first season at the helm after three years as the varsity assistant.

"Our cheer for the last week or so has been, 'Worst to first,'" added Torrey. "This has been our goal all along, and they were pretty excited for it to come together like this. I think last year just toughened them up and they did not want to be one of those teams that lost that many games again."

Such a turnaround begs the question on how the Tornado was able to make it all possible.

The answer? How about the power of positive thinking?

It may sound corny, but the one aspect Torrey and company have been able to alter is how the North Medford players view themselves and their possibilities.

"Back when we started, what I'd try to do is tell them how good we were all the time and let them know my goal was to be conference champions and they could do it if they wanted to," said Torrey. "If they worked hard, played with heart and guts, I told them they could make it happen."

It was the mental aspect of the game that seemed to let the Black Tornado down last season. As the losses mounted, Torrey said it increasingly began wearing the team down.

"Once the losses started tallying up last year," said the 26-year-old, "they would just think about, 'Oh no, another loss,' especially if we gave up a goal or two early in a game."

Torrey's chief tactic was to take some of that burden off his team's shoulders for this season. The plan was to be confident in their abilities and, above all, to start having fun.

"At the beginning of the year it backfired on me a little bit because we got a little cocky," admitted Torrey of the Tornado's revised attitude. "It was like a roller coaster because we'd think we're too good, then we'd get put in our place and then we'd win again and start thinking we're too good again."

Midway through the regular season, however, Torrey said the Tornado was able to find a comfortable mind-set and turned the fun it was having into an unbeaten streak over its final five games with four wins and a tie.

"I think about it all and it still gives me goose bumps what we've done this year," said coach.

Torrey has been involved in his fair share of Black Tornado history. The 2002 North Medford graduate played three years at the varsity level and was a junior varsity coach prior to his duties as a varsity assistant.

That time in the program, especially recently, allowed him to go into this year optimistic even though the team went 7-20-2 over the past two years.

"I came into the situation knowing that we were going to have a pretty good team and I was put in a really good position," he said. "I was blessed to come into a team with so much skill, I knew once they started believing in themselves they were going to take off."

Senior Brandon Schoenmann and junior Jesus Solorio are generally considered the most skilled players for the Black Tornado, with Torrey adding that "everyone looks up to those two guys because of what they can do on the field."

Solorio leads the team with nine goals and three assists in his third year as a starter, while Schoenmann has scored six times to go with four assists.

Freshmen Garrett Byrd and Bennie Torres have provided a nice complement and an infusion of energy, with Byrd posting six goals and five assists and Torres tallying three goals and one assist.

Defensively, Torrey said the play of sweeper Kyle Lipscomb has also been invaluable.

"Without him in the back, we're lost," said the coach. "We didn't have him for the first game against Grants Pass and second one against Ashland (both 3-1 losses) and you could just tell the difference without him back there."

Brian Carbonell has provided a similar solid influence at center midfield. Although the junior owns no goals or assists this season, Carbonell has been instrumental in opening things up for his teammates.

The Black Tornado has also gotten help from an unlikely source in junior goalkeeper Conner Ginder, who hadn't played soccer since fifth grade but thought he'd come on out and give it a try again.

"He's come so far this year already," said Torrey. "Next year, if he keeps improving like this, he's going to be amazing."

And just like that, the positive imagery is already under way for 2011.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com