Sure, the senior-dominated South Eugene girls soccer team would have relished an opportunity to chase after 6A title this year after reaching the semifinals in 2019.
Still, the Axe was able to find some level of satisfaction from simply performing at a high level, outscoring opponents 47-3 to finish with a 10-0 record. The dominance that South Eugene showed last season – when it went 16-1-1 and outscored foes 68-8 – seemed to carry over.
“This was just an extension of that,” coach Dean Blachly said. “I was really impressed that they could come back and just pick up right where they left off, at an ever higher pace, higher level, higher quality. Everything was better. It was ideal.”
South Eugene brought back 18 players from last season, including 13 seniors, eight of whom were four-year letter-winners. Five Southwest Conference first-team picks came back in senior forward Devyn Simmons (SWC player of the year), senior midfielders Sahve Beller, Tessa Bretschneider and Haley Sherrill and senior defender Lily Lauderbach.
The Axe showed its experience with two wins over Sheldon (6-3) and one victory each over Bend (6-2-1), Corvallis (6-1-4) and North Eugene (7-2).
The team's closest match was a 2-1 win over Sheldon on March 8. The Axe kept its hold on the Emerald Derby trophy by blanking rival Sheldon 3-0 in the rematch March 31.
Perhaps the team's biggest challenge came April 1 in a 2-0 win at Corvallis, a 5A quarterfinalist in 2019. It was the only match the Axe played outside of the Eugene area and had an emotional element after Corvallis observed a moment of silence to recognize the recent deaths of a student and local coach.
“It was more of a mental challenge,” Blachly said. “It was probably the best match we played, and the best matchup we played against. We got off to a rocky start but kind of got control of the match after 10, 15 minutes. The girls were proud of how they played.”
In 2019, Simmons had a conference-record 31 goals and 12 assists. She continued as an offensive force again this season with a team-high 18 goals and six assists.
“There was a lot of challenge for her in that everyone knows who she is and they organized their defensive accordingly,” Blachly said of Simmons, who has yet to commit to a college. “There were a couple matches where they were pinning her in with a couple defenders.”
Simmons found another gear against the better teams, according to Blachly.
“She turned it up to 11 against Corvallis,” Blachly said. “I saw a level of quality from her that was tremendous. It really speaks to her abilities and what's she's going to do when she gets to the collegiate level.”
Beller, who has signed with Utah, had eight goals and three assists and senior midfielder Jolie Croissant added six goals and seven assists. Junior Jessie Hawes also excelled in the midfield.
“Watch out for her next year. She's an absolute force,” Blachly said of Hawes.
Lauderbach led a defense that was outstanding in front of senior goalkeeper Bri Alvarez.
“She was always the foundation of that center back line,” Blachly said of Lauderbach. “She had that calming effect when things got hectic.”
Blachly said the season-ending 3-0 win over Bend was “bittersweet” for the seniors, but turned out to be a fitting sendoff.
“You could see the emotion in them. They were overjoyed,” he said. “It all came to a crescendo like we wanted it to. It wasn't a state final, and that's OK.”