As usual, the Ashland High boys soccer team is not lacking in the talent department. Led by blurry-fast sophomore forward Stenley Graham, crafty senior ball-handler Nick Chouard and always-there senior fullback Gabe Young, the Grizzlies once again appear to have the bodies to earn a high playoff seed.
But it's how the team plays together that has Young excited.
"One thing that's really special about this team is it has the best team chemistry of any team I've ever played on," the senior said. "Basically, every single guy on this team has been playing together since we were 11 or 12 years old. "¦ So, we all communicate incredibly well, we all get along super well. We have to work on a few technique things, but the sky's the limit really."
The Grizzlies showed off some of that chemistry, and potential, Tuesday against Roseburg.
Playing against a Class 6A foe for the first time this season the Grizzlies aced what was supposed to be a tough test, blanking the Indians 2-0 on the rain-soaked field at Ashland Middle School.
Young took advantage of a beautiful pass by Chouard to score the first goal of the game in the 29th minute, and senior forward Andres Garcia intercepted a back pass to give the Grizzlies an insurance goal in the 58th, as Ashland improved to 3-1 in nonleague games heading into Saturday's clash with 6A power South Medford.
Roseburg (1-5) wasted a golden opportunity to cut the margin in half less than a minute after Garcia's goal when Kyle Flagor's penalty kick sailed over the crossbar. That proved to be the Indians' last real chance at challenging the Grizzlies, who dominated the game from start to finish, outshooting Roseburg 24-4, including 17-2 in the second half.
"We always expect (6A teams) to be really big and strong, but I think we were equal to them in that regard today," Chouard said. "And our defense had a monster game and didn't let anything go by them. Huge credit to our sweeper and fullbacks."
The Grizzlies appeared to catch the Indians by surprise on the game's first strike. It started with a short corner kick from Garcia to Chouard, who then fired a cross to the streaking Young. Young controlled the ball off his chest a few feet in front of the mouth of the goal then tapped it in past Roseburg goalkeeper Paul Johansen.
"We've had success on corners all (season)," Young said. "(Chouard) and (Garcia) and a number of guys on our team are just great at putting balls into the box and I can go up and get most of them and at least try and put it on frame. That time, I got pretty lucky and the ball just came right to me and I was able to just put it past the keeper."
Ashland's superior ball control tilted the game even more in the Grizzlies' favor in the second half, when they unleashed three point-blank shots in a span of about two minutes. Only Johansen's diving efforts kept the Indians within striking distance — that is, until a mistake by the Roseburg defense ended up costing the visitors big time.
During a lull in the action, a Roseburg defender sent a soft pass back to Johansen. Garcia spotted an opening and didn't hesitate, bolting for the ball and dribbling it away from the sliding Johansen. All that was left for Garcia was a 10-yard, sharp-angled strike into an empty net, and he delivered easily to cap the shocking sequence.
After the game, Garcia — brother of former Ashland soccer stars Jose and Fabian Garcia-Flores — dedicated the goal to his girlfriend, Ireland Reed.
"That's R - E - E - D," he said.
With nine shots on goal in the second half alone the Grizzlies barley missed several opportunities to add to their goal tally, but the Indians returned the favor in the 59th. That's when an accidental handball in the box gave Roseburg a penalty kick, which Flagor shanked three feet over the crossbar.
The rest of the game belonged to Ashland, which finished with 15 shots on goal to Roseburg's two.
"They grew up together playing this game that they love and that's what it comes from," Ashland head coach Abdiaziz Guled said. "They enjoy playing together and that's a good thing."
Ashland outlasted 6A South Medford, 25-20, 20-25, 25-22, 12-25, 15-13 in a nonleague match at Mountain Avenue Gym on Tuesday.
Hope Baldrica recorded nine kills and five blocks, Hannah Borgerson nine kills and Jordan Tilley five kills, four blocks and four service aces for the Grizzlies.
Ellie Case chipped in six kills and five blocks for Ashland (3-6), which used strong serving by Olivia Rooney late in the fifth set to build a 14-12 lead. After South Medford scored, the Panthers (3-7) committed a match-sealing error.