Even in a realigned Badger Conference, the Oregon High School boys soccer team’s mission remains the same.
“We plan to contend for another conference championship and earn a trip to the state tourney,” Oregon coach Chris Mitchell said.
Those two goals have become the hallmark for the Panthers. Oregon graduated 13 players from a team that went 6-5-3 and lost to Madison West in a sectional semifinal in the alternate fall season last spring. Two years ago, the Panthers reached the WIAA Division 2 sectional final and lost to Elkhorn 2-0.
Oregon returns its top five scorers, led by junior Noah Maclook, who was the team’s leader in points (15) last spring with six goals and three assists. The other players back for the Panthers are senior Eli Lehmann, junior Anthony Elert, senior Alex Rodriguez and junior Daniel Compton.
Lehmann scored four goals in 14 games last year. Elert, Rodriguez and Compton each scored three goals.
“We return several players up top that will likely make a dangerous team offensively,” said Mitchell, who believes the ceiling is high for the Panthers this fall.
“The level to which we perform will be highly connected to our ability to mesh as a team and act as one unit,” he said.
Mitchell said Malcook and Rodriguez are a dangerous attacking duo that will connect on many scoring combinations.
The core at midfielder includes Lehmann, junior Mason Diercks and senior Christian Wirtz, who will anchor the Panthers’ possession and control pace of play, Mitchell said.
The only returning defensive starter from a team that had five shutouts last spring is senior Quinn Belville.
Mitchell said the team will look to Belville for defensive leadership.
One of the challenges this year, Mitchell said, will be getting the defense organized early in the season with so many new starters. One player he is counting on to take on a larger defensive role is junior Luke Bennett.
“I expect Luke Bennett will take on a leadership role in the back line after learning so much on the team as a sophomore,” Mitchell said.
Senior Casey Farrar is expected to take over at goalkeeper for Coltrane LoBreglio, who earned all-state honors by the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association.
Mitchell said Farrar is a vocal and aggressive leader in the back.
If Oregon is going to win another conference title, the Panthers will have to go through Monona Grove. The Panthers also will be challenged by Mount Horeb in a conference crossover.
The Panthers won the conference by one game over Monona Grove two years ago, and Mitchell said the Silver Eagles will again be Oregon’s main competition. The winner of each Badger Conference four-team division will face its counterpart from the East in a championship game at the end of the regular season.
“To win a conference championship, you have to win that game,” Micthell said. “A team who doesn’t have the best record could win the conference. You just have to be at the top of your four-team pod and win the championship game.”
Elkhorn, a state qualifier in 2019, will be one the top teams in the same sectional as Oregon. McFarland won the alternate fall Division 2 state championship last spring with a 6-1 win over Green Bay Notre Dame.
Oregon opens the season at Verona on Thursday, Aug. 26. The Panthers then play at Sauk Prairie Aug. 31 and host Madison West on Thursday, Sept. 2. Sauk Prairie won the Division 2 fall state title last year.
“We always want to play great competition to prepare us for the tournament,” Mitchell said.