The interview was supposed to be over, but Brad Roupp couldn't help himself.

The interview was supposed to be over, but Brad Roupp couldn't help himself.

"Turn that thing back on," said the Ashland High boys soccer coach, referring to a reporter's tape recorder.

Roupp then reeled off about five names, players he's excited to watch and coach, attaching to each a string of superlatives.

"We have very brilliant, experienced, intelligent players," he said. "I want that in there somehow."

It's there, and in this case Roupp, an eternal optimist, may not be exaggerating.

A year after advancing to the 5A state quarterfinals, the Grizzlies return three of four players who earned all-state recognition in 2009, and also expect to reap the benefits of a schedule loaded with 6A opponents, thanks to the OSAA's latest reclassification.

Ashland's first chance to put it all together comes Saturday against Klamath Union. The Grizzlies and Pelicans are scheduled to square off at 1 p.m. at Ashland Middle School.

Senior midfielders Neil Presicci and Dakota Wolff and senior forward Chris Landt each were all-state honorable mentions last year, when the Grizzlies fell to Bend in the elite eight.

Also expected to play big roles for Ashland will be senior midfielder Ian Murray, junior forwards Leland Sanchez and Dylan Fisher, senior sweeper Zane Pindell and senior goalkeeper Zach Hartman.

In contrast to the power team that turned Ashland into a state finalist two years ago, the Grizzlies this season will be smaller in stature, but heaping with skill, says Roupp. To take advantage of their considerable on-ball talents, the Grizzlies will look to crank up their attack and employ a more aggressive style of play.

Roupp expects the change of pace to make life tougher on Hartman, occasionally, but is confident that the benefits will outweigh the risks.

"What we are going to be is a team that certainly plays a lot of beautiful possession," Roupp said. "We are going to be a team that moves the ball east-west and north-south, and has lots of movement. So teams that play against us are going to have to be in great shape and very smart because we're going to break them apart. We're going to split them apart and find beautiful runs to goal."

Responsible for a large chunk of those breaking apart duties will be Pindell, who Roupp says has morphed into one of the best sweepers in the state. From there, the Grizzlies will be looking to move the ball up quickly, utilizing a host of solid ball-handlers who know each other well.

"Yeah, we've played together for a long time and we've had common leadership for a long time so we work well as a team and move the ball," Presicci said.

Pindell agreed.

"I've been playing with these guys my whole life," he said. "We just have a very strong group right now. We're all really driven. We're not as big, but we play more of a finesse game and we're a lot quicker, and that's something that our opponents haven't seen from Ashland yet because they're used to Nate Roupp and all those big guys."

Speaking of big, Ashland's schedule will feature some of the largest schools in the state as the Grizzlies begin their four-year time block in the new hybrid Southern Oregon Conference. The gauntlet will include two games apiece against North and South Medford, Roseburg, Grants Pass and Crater, as well as the two games that really matter against Eagle Point. The Ashland-Eagle Point games take on greater meaning now because the winner of that series will head to the playoffs as the league's top seed. That twist should add at least a little drama to what has traditionally been a lopsided rivalry, with the Grizzlies winning the last four matchups by a combined score of 21-2.

"The main thing is just trying not to get overconfident," Pindell said, "because that's a game that we really can't lose. That is the one thing, it's a little higher stakes, it shouldn't be, but it is."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-482-3456 x224 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.