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North, South set for soccer showdowns

Southern Oregon Conference's top teams eager for first meetings in cross-town rivalry series

The usual spoils won't yet be available Tuesday for the victors of the North and South Medford boys and girls soccer matchups.

Prizes such as Southern Oregon Conference championships, state seeding and bragging rights will have to wait until the second meeting between the teams next month.

But with all four teams wedged into the top slots in the standings, there's no shortage of anticipation.

The boys meet at 4 p.m. at North's Hoffbuhr Field. The girls tangle at 5 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium.

The last two years on paper, we looked like the much stronger team, and North gave us tremendous battles, says Dave Potter, coach of the defending state champion South boys. Three of the last four games have gone into overtime. This year, North gets the upper hand on paper. But again, this is the North-South game. Nobody's fooling anybody when you talk that way.

— The North and South boys are 4-1 in the SOC and tied with Ashland for first place.

In the girls race, South is 6-0, one game up on North and Roseburg. The Black Tornado suffered its first loss on Saturday, 1-0 to Roseburg.

A bad sign for the North girls? Maybe not.

It's probably a good thing, says coach Dick Darcy. It'll just motivate the girls to show how good they are. We've been better than every team we've played, and we were better than the team we played (Saturday). We lost the game. Other than that, a lot of positives came out of it.

In years past, the teams met only once in the regular season, and often in the final game. This season, the conference adopted a home-and-home format, in which each team plays the others twice.

The new schedule relegates the first meeting as just another game, says Darcy.

The atmosphere at the two venues, however, might suggest otherwise.

First, the boys.

North has discovered a recurring theme: payback. The Tornado, which two years ago uncharacteristically won only one SOC game, has already gained redemption over Crater and Roseburg, two teams that had beaten it the previous two years.

Fresh in the Tornado players' minds now is the eleventh-hour defeat South pinned on them in a playoff game last fall to determine state seeding. After the two teams tied with Ashland for the SOC title, the Panthers, with only about 15 seconds left in overtime, got a beautiful free-kick combination from Spencer Hunter to Andrew Egan, whose header resulted in a 1-0 triumph.

It gave the Panthers the No. — seed to state, a position that facilitated their journey to the state title.

North, the No. 2 seed, beat fourth-ranked Southridge in the first round of the playoffs before falling to defending champion South Eugene.

Speaking on the payback theme, Tornado coach Rich Garcia says of his players, Of course, they remember that loss last year, and they're excited to play this game. We're looking forward to it.

Win or lose, you still get another chance because you play them again. But, hopefully, we can keep momentum and beat them. The less losses you have, the better off you are.

There are differences this year from last. The likes of Hunter, the SOC player of the year and a first-team all-state choice, Egan and others are gone. Defense, in particular, took a hit, where only Kevin Potter, the coach's son, and goalkeeper Mike Belzberg return.

The newcomers ' Jesse Bright, Dane Happeny and Walt Wimmer ' have responded well to their assignments of marking, making quick transitions from defense to offense and body positioning and posture, says Potter.

All have to be done faster and better at the varsity level, he says. Several players have stepped up from junior varsity to varsity to fill those roles. It's a fast learning curve.

Further, Bryan Waggener, who moved from winger to midfielder, has been solid, and veteran Scott Marlow has been a steadying influence in the middle.

Garcia recognizes South's the losses to graduation, but he notes that Belzberg, like the Tornado's own keeper, Oscar Benitez, makes a big difference.

North lost only two players from last year's team. Among its chief returnees is Luis Cabrera, a senior forward Garcia rates as one of the SOC's best.

He can create his own shot, and he has a heck of a shot, says Garcia. But Dave (Potter) does a heck of a job of putting defenders on him, so I have to work a little scheme to free him up.

South lost a couple of players ' midfielders Chris Swartsley and Eric Loeffler ' to concussions in its 4-1 win over Crater Saturday. Their availability for Tuesday is uncertain.

The girls showdown dopes out similarly to the boys: It'll be North's veteran players with recollections of a drubbing last year against a Panther team hit hard by graduation on defense.

South, getting all of its scoring from freshman Chelsie O'Neill, finished off an unbeaten SOC season last year with 3-1 rout of the Tornado.

I think that was the worst loss we've ever had to them, says Darcy, in his ninth year. I don't look for that to happen again this year.

North is led by all-conference keeper Caitlin Seeley and a strong defense spearheaded by fullbacks Jennifer Standifer and Alicia Stormberg. The Tornado has four shutouts and has allowed two goals.

Midfielder Amber Wihtol is also a force.

South is coming off a 3-2, shootout victory over Crater, and coach Cindy Jolly didn't hesitate when asked what her team needs to do well against North.

Tighten up our defense, she says.

The Panthers are learning as they go, which is great, says Jolly, when you're still pulling wins. But when you're talking about your cross-town rival, you don't want to be learning on the fly.

She used Amy Furlan at stopper Saturday and was pleased with the sophomore's performance. Furlan and junior fullback Jenna Smith will be in the back line, but after them, any of five girls could work into the mix as Jolly continues to work out the kinks.

We've been scored on, says the coach, so where is my breakdown?

The Panthers were hurt Saturday when senior keeper Bethany Stousland suffered a slight shoulder separation. She is expected to miss at least a week, says Jolly.

In Stousland's stead will be freshman Alanna Stevens, who was tremendous in the shootout against Crater, says Jolly. Breanna Reorden, a junior, will back up Stevens.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail