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Aiming for more

The South Medford and North Medford girls soccer teams didn't net any goals on Saturday, but they learned more about themselves and each other.

The crosstown rivals finished in a scoreless tie during Southwest Conference action at South Medford High.

The Panthers (1-2-1, 1-0-1 SWC) return seven starters and 11 total players. They finished third in the league with a 5-3-2 mark last fall and were 9-5-2 overall, ultimately falling to Sunset, 2-1, in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

The South squad that battled with the Black Tornado under a blazing sun on Saturday is relatively inexperienced but well-rounded, Panther head coach Chris Hollewijn said.

"We are still trying to find ourselves a little bit (and) trying to find our identity a little bit," Hollewijn said. "Defensively, we lost some players (last year), but that has created a great opportunity for new players to step up."

Helping lead the charge on Saturday was junior midfielder Courtney Herick. Her free kick in the second half was a near goal, deflecting off the crossbar.

"I was hoping it would drop in just right under the crossbar, but I guess it was just a little too powerful," she said. "We did follow it, though, and Whitney Winans got a touch on it."

Other players to watch for the Panthers include returning all-SWC first-teamer Chloe Alvarez (sophomore forward), a fast scoring threat; senior defender Anna Rose, sophomore defender Baylee Smith and sophomore Madelyn Pineda, who moved from midfield to defense.

Forwards Hayle Mehl (junior) and Ula Chamberlain (sophomore) add to South's offense. Panther senior Kaitlyn Weber had four saves on Saturday.

"I think we are gonna be pretty successful this year," Herick said. "We are putting in a lot of hard work during practices, we are working really hard and we are making a lot of progress."

North Medford (0-1-2, 0-0-1) returns four starters, including three on defense. Seniors Natalie Parker, Meghan Cowan and Savannah Bumgardner are all back, along with junior midfielder Michala Denn. 

Cowan, who was an SWC first-teamer last year with Denn, liked what she saw on Saturday.

"We've been working in practice on building out of the back, and I feel we did a good job of using our outside backs to our center mids to our wings," she said. "I'm very proud of my team for that."

North finished second during conference play in 2015, going 10-4-2 overall and 8-2 in the SWC. The Tornado lost to Westview, 1-0, in the first round of the state playoffs a year after advancing to the state finals.

Freshman centerback Jaida Ross brings an added spark to the squad, said North head coach Jeff Thomas. North sophomore goalkeeper Brinley O'Neill, like Weber, also made a handful of heads-up plays in their opening meeting.

"We are really proud of our girls today," Thomas said. "We had kind of a slim roster today with a couple injuries. With it being close to 100 degrees outside and probably 120 to 130 on the turf, I think we performed pretty well."

Both teams have six seniors. The clubs split their two SWC matches last season.

"South looks great and they are a great team in this conference," Thomas said. "They have a bunch of tough kids (like) sophomore Whitney Winans and senior Liz Beattie."

As for his club?

"Everything we do with this program is building for success," he said. "We want to be known as one of the best teams in the state of Oregon, so we are always building for the end of October and not for the second week of September. We feel if we are building, we'll be great."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

North Medford's Savannah Bumgardner, right, and South Medford's Madelyn Pineda go for the ball at South Medford High on Saturday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Whitney Winans, right, of South Medford, and Michala Denn, of North Medford, get tangled up as they fight for control of the ball during a Southwest Conference match at South Medford High on Saturday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.