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Hirning takes over as Crater boys soccer coach

CENTRAL POINT — Rael Hirning's first job as a high school soccer head coach should provide ample opportunity to succeed.

Hirning, a co-founder and team captain of Southern Oregon Fuego of the National Premier Soccer League, takes the reins of the Crater boys program in the wake of Chris Gallegos' departure.

Under Gallegos, the Comets went to the state playoffs four times in seven seasons, including the past two years, when Crater lost in the second round.

The Comets return most of their starters from 2008 and have four players expected back who earned all-Southern Sky Conference acclaim last season. They are senior J.D. Walker (second-team defender) and juniors Matt Crowl (second-team forward), Ben Purtzer (second-team goalkeeper) and Noel Cummings (honorable mention midfielder).

"I'm excited," said Hirning, who graduated from Illinois Valley High in Cave Junction in 1998 and Southern Oregon University in 2008. "They have some great athletes over there, and I have a good coaching staff coming in with me. Just looking at the conference, it looks to me like it'll be a fun season and exciting, and I think we can be pretty successful right off the bat in the first year."

He'll get his first look at the players in mid-August. Practice officially begins Aug. 24.

Crater was 8-7-1 overall last year and placed second in the SSC with a 6-2 record to eventual Class 5A runner-up Ashland.

"It looks like we have a fair amount of seniors coming back," said Hirning, 28. "Hopefully we'll have some good numbers as far as experience. And I'm very open to bringing young players up from the JVs and recruiting players who maybe haven't come out for soccer before. I'm not a big proponent of cutting players. I'd like to build a large program."

Hirning has worked as a co-head coach with the Southern Oregon University women's team and has been an assistant at Ashland and Illinois Valley high schools.

Prior to that, the center defender played professionally for one season in El Salvador. He returned in 2002, when the Biscuit Fire threatened his parents' home. Thereafter, he tried out for some professional teams before injuries curbed his career.

His exposure to high-level play, however, has helped him as a coach.

Hirning coaches "tactically as opposed to technically," he said, letting the opponent and the stage and score of the game dictate his machinations.

"It's not everybody's coaching style, but it's definitely my coaching style," he said.

Under Hirning, Crater will be an attacking team.

"I'm not a coach who likes to put his best players in the back and sit back," he said. "I like to go for goals. I don't like to sacrifice most of the field and let (opponents) come to us. I want to make them work for the field."

Hirning lives in Talent and is a licensed teacher. He was laid off from Ashland High last school year.

Gallegos stepped down in late April and has since been named the North Medford boys coach.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com