In year one, the Southern Oregon University men's soccer team laid a precocious foundation. In year two, the Raiders set a new bar by going 9-2-2 in the Cascade Conference and just missing out on a title. Going into year three, head coach Biniam Afengus has shown that his team is already an attractive destination for some of the state's top talent.
Afenegus has introduced seven newcomers who were with the Raiders when they started practice in earnest on Monday morning. The class includes five freshmen: Andrew DePaepe, Renee Resendez, Junior Rivas, Gavenn Saftich and Lucas Wagar. The other two, Esteban Castaneda and Wesley Mukerinkindi, are international players who have transferred in as sophomores-to-be.
Resendez and Rivas are the Oregonians of the group. They came to Ashland via McMinnville High, a pair of all-state performers who combined to record 32 goals and 31 assists last season for a team that appeared in the OSAA Class 6A state championship game.
"We're very excited about these guys, and especially being able to bring in in-state players who we feel can come in and contribute right away in certain aspects," Afenegus said. "Overall, this class has made us more technically skilled and athletic."
They'll join a group that features 23 returning players, including nine starters, off a team that went 11-3-3 overall in 2016. SOU's first counter of the season is Aug. 25 against The Master's (Calif.).
• ANDREW DePAEPE, 6-0, Forward, South Anchorage High (Anchorage, Alaska)
About: A two-time state champion at South Anchorage, DePaepe led his team with 17 goals scored, was voted all-conference for the third year in a row and all-state for the first time. In 2015, he was accepted to the Real Salt Lake Youth Academy and played club soccer with Cook Inlet Soccer Club.
• ESTEBAN CASTANEDA, 5-7, Midfielder, Andre Michelin High/Lindenwood-Belleville (Bogota, Colombia)
About: Castaneda comes to the Raiders after playing his freshman season at Lindenwood Belleville, another NAIA school in Belleville, Illinois. He appeared in 10 games and started four for a team that went 9-2 in the American Midwest Conference before an injury cut his season short. In Bogota, Colombia, he played for Club Colonia D.C. and scored 17 goals in his final season before coming to the U.S.
• WESLEY MUKERINKINDI, 6-0, Forward, Institut Saint Henri/Utah State U. Eastern (Comines-Warenton, Belgium)
About: Mukerinkindi was born in Rwanda, grew up in France and prepped in Belgium, right on the border of France. He played at the junior college level last year as a freshman at Utah State University Eastern in Price, Utah, where he appeared in 16 games, started six and scored two goals on nine shots.
• RENEE RESENDEZ, 5-9, Midfielder, McMinnville High (McMinnville, Ore.)
About: Teaming with Rivas, Resendez had a banner senior season for McMinnville's powerhouse team with eight goals and 18 assists. He was selected conference player of the year, first-team all-state and News-Register Prep Athlete of the Year as a result. He was an all-conference performer as a freshman, junior and senior; as a sophomore, he was selected to the Portland Timbers Academy (U16/17). Additionally, he played club with FC Portland.
• JUNIOR RIVAS, 5-4, Forward/Midfielder, McMinnville High (McMinnville, Ore.)
About: Rivas was equally imposing as his teammate at McMinnville with 24 goals and 13 assists as a senior and 28 goals and 26 assists for his career. His final season yielded first-team all-league and first-team all-state honors, as well as the News-Register's Leadership Scholarship Performance Award. Rivas played club soccer for FC Portland.
• GAVENN SAFTICH, 6-2, Defender, Skyview High (Vancouver, Wash.)
About: Saftich was a four-year letterwinner at Skyview, beginning his prep career as a starter for a team that placed third in the state and ending it with three consecutive first-team all-league selections. He also picked up experience playing with the Portland Timbers U17/18 Academy, Oregon ODP and club teams Spartans FC and Westside Timbers.
• LUCAS WAGAR, 6-2, Midfielder/Defender, East Anchorage High (Anchorage, Alaska)
About: The third Alaskan on the roster (joining DePaepe and returning starter Paul Matyas), Wagar was a two-year captain at East Anchorage and as a senior earned first-team all-conference recognition. Along with DePaepe, he competed for the Cook Inlet Soccer Club.