It was three years ago, in a crucial moment of the 5A boys soccer playoffs, that La Salle Prep’s Luke Strange showed that he was made of different stuff.
Locked in a penalty-kick shootout in the quarterfinals against two-time reigning state champion Hood River Valley, which was unbeaten in 51 games, the freshman didn’t flinch.
“It was like this heroic moment,” Falcons coach Seth Altshuler said. “Totally calm, really at peace with it, no fear, no nothing. And he goes up, knocks it in and puts us into the semifinals.”
Altshuler said that Strange is a “natural-born winner,” and the results back it up.
The 5-foot-11, 145-pound senior forward has been the leading scorer on La Salle Prep teams that reached the 5A semifinals in 2016 and 2017 and the final last year. In club ball, he played on two State Cup champion teams with Eastside Timbers before switching to Westside Timbers and winning another title this year.
Still, a high school state championship has eluded Strange, something he and the senior-dominated Falcons hope to remedy this season. After losing to Corvallis 1-0 in last year’s state final, the team enters 2019 with a heightened sense of urgency.
“Now more than ever,” Strange said. “Last year we were so close, closer than we’ve ever been. We’re going to want to go away with the state title this year. That’s our only goal.
“It would mean everything, not only to us, but to the school. We’ve wanted this for so long. This would be like the cherry on top of everything for us.”
Much of La Salle Prep’s offense will revolve around Strange, who had 13 goals and nine assists for a team that finished 16-1-1 last season, earning 5A first-team honors. Altshuler expects Strange to take his game to another level this season for the Falcons, who bring back nine starters.
“He’s grown a lot as a player in terms of how dangerous he is for longer periods in the game,” Altshuler said. “He’s always been a goal-scorer, so he’s always been a dangerous player for us. But he’s become really dominant in terms of how he posts up. He’s become a far more technical player.”
Strange said he can do more than just attack to help the team this season. He wants to win more balls in the air and get others involved in the push forward.
“So it’s not just one or two guys scoring the majority of the goals, but three or four,” he said.
Strange has improved his finishing throughout his high school career and become more physical. He played essentially as a wing as a freshman and sophomore but transitioned to more of a post-forward as a junior.
As a senior, he has challenged himself to become relentless in pursuit of the ball.
“Since I’ve come in, staying engaged for the whole 80 minutes has been a little bit of a struggle,” he said. “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at pressing, and staying engaged and not giving up on a ball.”
Altshuler said that Strange is in excellent shape – clocking 11:30 in the team’s two-mile test – and is more determined than ever.
“He’s really stood out as the guy who’s kind of taken everything under his wing,” Altshuler said. “I think we’re going to see the best Luke Strange we’ve ever seen. And knowing what he’s put in the last three years, we’re really excited to kind of let him loose and let him go.”
The Falcons are loaded with veterans, but one potential impact newcomer is Strange’s freshman brother, Quentin. It appears that Quentin has the ability to carry the La Salle Prep torch forward once Luke departs.
“His technique is insane. It’s breathtaking watching him play sometimes,” Luke said of Quentin. “Playing with him in our backyard, sometimes he schools me. I love playing with him. I’m super excited to get him on the field. Some think he’s going to be even better than me.”
That would suit the Falcons just fine.