PREP NOTEBOOK: Eagles eager to make history
With players actively checking their phones for updates on the bracket for the Class 5A boys soccer state playoffs, Eagle Point head coach Juan Palomares could hardly blame them for their recent curiosity and excitement.
After all, it’s been quite a breakthrough campaign this fall for the Eagles, who fell one win shy of their first-ever conference title but were still able to net a program-best 10 victories by the end of the regular season.
And with the hours dwindling until the opening of the 5A playoffs on Wednesday, fourth-seeded Eagle Point has its sights set on a little more history as it prepares to host No. 13 North Salem at 5 p.m. at Eagle Stadium.
In all the years of Eagle Point boys soccer, there has never been a playoff victory. Not one.
“We’re hoping to change that this Wednesday,” said Palomares, in his first year as head coach after serving as JV coach the past two years.
In fact, it was only last year that the Eagles actually advanced to the state playoffs for the first time in school history, finishing 9-4-2 with a 4-1 first-round loss to Ridgeview.
Eagle Point had seven play-in opportunities from 2010-17 but failed to advance to the official 5A bracket each time in what has become quite a drought for a program that has enjoyed only a handful of winning seasons since its inception.
None of those past woes have mattered much this season, however.
The Eagles have produced a year for the history books with a 10-2-2 overall mark and finished 5-1-2 in Midwestern League play for the second straight season, falling shy of the league crown to second-seeded Ashland (9-2-3, 6-0-2).
“I think they’re a little bit aware of it,” Palomares said of what his team has already accomplished. “I don’t think that looking back at our entire history they know exactly how big it is, but they for sure know it’s a big step.”
And the Eagles most certainly know they want to take that next step Wednesday against the Vikings (6-6-2).
“Just from talking to the guys and from what they’ve told me is that it’s not even in their minds that they’re going to lose this game,” said Palomares. “They’re just so excited and ready for it, especially after the season we’ve had this year. They’re just confident we’re going to get the first playoff win in Eagle Point history.”
Those positive vibes stem from the Eagles showing their most unified front in years, and the talent to back it all up.
Palomares, whose run at EP began as a volunteer coach in 2011, felt good about the team he was inheriting from Matt Soper but has been incredibly impressed by how fast and well it has all come together in 2019.
“From the last couple seasons we’ve had and knowing the young talent we had coming up, I could see we were definitely on a good trajectory,” said Palomares, “but I was even surprised with how well we did this season.”
Make no bones about it, too, the Eagles have done it against top-notch competition. The Midwestern League advanced four teams to the 16-team state playoffs, with No. 9 Churchill and No. 14 Willamette joining Ashland and Eagle Point, who have been at or near the top of the state’s power rankings all season.
“That’s one thing we’ve been talking about really,” added Palomares, “is it wasn’t just kind of a fluke season for us because arguably we are probably in the toughest conference in 5A.”
The Eagles have tallied a program-best 37 goals entering the playoffs while limiting opponents to 10 goals all season. Only top-seeded La Salle Prep with six goals allowed has been better in 14 games, with No. 11 Ridgeview at nine goals allowed in 13 games.
Key to all the success has been a trio of returning starters in senior captains Jaydyn Budrow (forward) and Giovanni Rodriguez (goalkeeper) and sophomore Mathew Angel (midfielder).
“Those three guys have been a huge part of balancing the team in every aspect of the game, whether it’s defensively or offensively,” said Palomares. “They’re a major part of why we did so well this season.”
Rodriguez has been in goal for all but one of EP’s eight shutouts, while Budrow has led the team with “either 13 or 14 goals” and Angel simply has been the connecting force between the back and front levels.
“Giovanni had a couple pretty big games this season that got us to the position where we’re at now,” said Palomares, “and Jaydyn Budrow is just a monster. Teams that we’ve played already know him so they kind of know what to expect but even with that he’s just incredibly hard to deal with.”
“Jaydyn has a little bit of everything you could ask for in a perfect forward,” added the coach. “He’s physical, he’s fast, he’s very creative on the ball and he’s got a monster shot. Even when we scrimmage against each other, none of our guys want to defend him.”
While Angel may be one of the youngest and smallest Eagles on the field, he has surpassed both issues with his steady play.
“Mathew’s pretty much our link between our defensive play and offensive play,” said Palomares. “He’s been a huge key in the midfield controlling the pace of the game for us, and we’re pretty lucky to have him stick around another two years.”
Senior Freddy Barajas has provided a nice complement to Budrow up front with about nine goals, with senior midfielders Gabriel Campuzano and Alex Rodriguez playing key roles in the midfield.
It’s been Palomares’ style to set a plan but then get out of the way and let his players do what they do best.
“I have a system set for them but once it’s on the field I try not to over-coach them because at that point it just kind of throws them all out of whack,” said Palomares. “I just kind of let them free. By now they know how to play, it’s just organizing them right to the point where they’re going to work together well and execute the plan to get the win.”
Defensively, juniors Dylan Villa, Isaiah Lundberg and Noe Cortes have combined with senior Alonso Avila-Pantoja and Giovanni Rodriguez to put up a nearly impenetrable force.
“Athletically, I’ll be the first to admit we’re not the fastest, we’re not the tallest or biggest defensive group,” said the coach, “but the organization they have and just the way they play so calm and relaxed on the ball has definitely been a big part of (allowing only 10 goals).”
After an initial buzz of activity, that relaxed approach has made its way through the lineup more and more as Wednesday’s match grows near.
“Their mood and attitude towards it has been super relaxed,” said Palomares. “None of them are really nervous about it. They’re just relaxed and ready for it and just excited for the opportunity.”
Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry