Lakeridge senior center midfielder Rafa Loyo was voted the Three Rivers League player of the year. (Miles Vance Sports Journal)
Lakeridge senior center midfielder Rafa Loyo was voted the Three Rivers League player of the year. (Miles Vance Sports Journal)

Early in the season, Lakeridge's boys soccer team was walking a fine line. Six of the Pacers' first eight wins came by one goal, including five a row.

The wins were piling up, but the Pacers, who start nine seniors, had more to give. It took a 2-1 loss to Hood River Valley for them to refocus and begin delivering on their vast potential.

“That's the best loss we've ever had,” coach Alan Cox said. “We talk about it ever since that game. We were good enough to win games, but we certainly took our eye off the prize for a second.

“It was a really good slap of reality, especially knowing the next game was the start of league. We didn't get beat by Hood River, we beat ourselves. It was an excellent turning point, and couldn't have come at a better time.”

The loss stands as the only blemish on the record of the top-seeded Pacers (17-1), who will play in the 6A final against reigning champion and No. 2 seed Jesuit (14-2-2) on Saturday at Sherwood High School. In the nine games since that defeat, Lakeridge has outscored its opponents 47-3, cruising to a repeat title in the Three Rivers League.

“All of the sudden we were scoring goals for fun,” said Cox, whose team has scored a 6A-high 66 goals. “It just took a minute. It took a little bit of resilience and a little bit of grit. Once the floodgates opened, that was it.”

Lakeridge returned eight players with starting experience from a team that exited in the state quarterfinals for the second year in a row. Since winning a combined five games in 2018 and 2019, Lakeridge has made big gains under Cox, who is in his fifth season as coach after spending nine years assisting at rival Lake Oswego.

“This has been a process for us,” Cox said. “Three years ago, we put our trust in freshmen and sophomores, knowing that they had tons of potential and quality. But now they've matched it with experience. It's really kind of paid off.”

Lakeridge placed five seniors on the Three Rivers first team, led by center midfielder Rafa Loyo, a fourth-year letterman and the league player of the year. The others are center midfielder Rollo Van Driesche, forward Mauricio Loyo, center back Karson Kosik and goalkeeper Dane Whipple.

The midfield is loaded with experience in Rafa Loyo and two third-year varsity players in Van Driesche and senior Niko Lampros. Kosik and senior forward Jacob Real also are in their third varsity seasons.

Lakeridge has a diverse attack, with 15 players scoring goals this season. Mauricio Loyo, Rafa's cousin, led the Three Rivers in goals and has a team-high 18 entering the final. Van Driesche has eight and Rafa Loyo and freshman Liam Kutella have seven each. Junior Westley Watts has racked up 17 assists.

Still, the Pacers had difficulty finding the net Tuesday night in the semifinals against Lake Oswego. The match was scoreless heading into overtime, but Mauricio Loyo struck 17 seconds into the first overtime and added two more goals in the second overtime of the 3-0 victory.

“I was never really concerned that it wasn't going to happen for us,” Cox said. “Credit to Lake Oswego. They were super organized. They made it really, really difficult for us to play through the midfield, which is something we've excelled at through the season.”

Maurcio Loyo has scored in all four playoff matches.

“We've got people all over the field that are able to score goals, but he's certainly been our talisman,” Cox said.

Lakeridge once again flashed its ability to come through in the clutch. The Pacers' knack for winning close games is no accident, according to Cox.

“The kids have a drive to get results, and manage moments to get results,” Cox said. “The vast majority of our goals have come in the second half of games because we're super fit and we've got a lot of quality to match it. We've been good at wearing teams down. We've been really, really good at frustrating teams into making mistakes.”

Lakeridge is 5-1-1 in state championship games, winning its last title in 2016. The Pacers must be on top of their game against Jesuit, which has won a state-record 16 titles.

“We respect Jesuit for what they are,” Cox said. “We don't fear anybody at this moment, though. We're going into it feeling pretty confident.”

A look at Saturday's finals:


6A – Sherwood HS, 3:30 p.m.

No. 2 Jesuit (14-2-2) vs. No 1 Lakeridge (17-1): The Crusaders are back in the final despite graduating all but four starters from last year's final, including star forward Drew Pedersen, now at Gonzaga. Jesuit has won with defense, yielding three goals in its last 10 matches. Senior defender Kogen Albertini and senior goalkeeper Elliot Parelius were Metro League first-team picks. Senior Pablo Salazar-Rodriguez has a team-high 10 goals. The Crusaders' only losses came against West Linn and Lincoln. The teams haven't met since the 2019 season opener, a 4-0 Jesuit win.

5A – Sherwood HS, 1 p.m.

No. 8 Hood River Valley (13-4) vs. No. 2 Summit (14-1-3): Hood River Valley, the lowest seed in the finals this year, goes for its first title since going back-to-back in 2014 and 2015. The Eagles have one shutout and have posted nine one-goal wins. They are led by junior forward Aran Garcia (13 goals), senior midfielder Julian Lara (12 goals) and junior defender Oscar Moline. Summit was the 6A champion in 2021 before returning to 5A. Storm senior Bowen Teuber (19 goals, 12 assists), the Intermountain Conference player of the year, teams with senior Tommy Carroll (14 goals, 11 assists) in the midfield. First-year Summit coach Tom Bunnell won five Washington girls state titles at Issaquah (2004-17).

4A – Liberty HS, 6 p.m.

No. 6 Cottage Grove (14-2-1) vs. No. 4 Newport/Waldport (14-1-2): Cottage Grove is playing in its second final, the other coming when it won the title in 2008. The Lions, who lost to Thurston and Stayton, enter on a 14-match unbeaten streak. Junior forwards Hayes Valley (19 goals) and Armando Legorreta (12 goals, seven assists) and junior midfielder Rogelio Soto-Cruz (11 goals) lead the offense and junior Carter Bengston and senior Eli Williams anchor the defense. Newport won its only titles in 2016 and 2017. It's been an emotional season for the Cubs after sophomore Yael "Santi" Felix-Trejo passed away after falling ill during an August practice. "It was our team's destiny to play at Liberty this year," coach Ollie Richardson said. "This season will always be remembered as Santi's season." Senior midfielders Anthony Gonzalez (12 goals) and Ivan Hernandez (seven goals, nine assists) and senior defender Brock Spink made the Oregon West Conference first team.

3A/2A/1A – Liberty HS, 3:30 p.m.

No. 3 McLoughlin (17-0-1) vs. No. 1 Westside Christian (16-1): Since a three-peat from 2005 to 2007, McLoughlin has finished runner-up in 2009 and last year. The Pioneers have scored a state-high 131 goals behind senior midfielders Angel Castillo (40) and Almikar Garcia (38 goals) and junior forward Geovanny Sandoval (28 goals). Castillo is the state's all-time leading scorer with 106 goals. McLoughlin coach Jose Garcia (318-96-25) is No. 4 all-time in wins in the state. It's been an historic season for Westside Christian, which won its first district title and will appear in its first final. Senior forward Brady Housley (27 goals, 24 assists) was the Special District 1 player of the year. Sophomore midfielder Adrian Vidican and junior goalkeeper Gabe Wong also made the district first team.


6A – Sherwood HS, 6 p.m.

No. 4 Cleveland (15-1-3) vs. No. 2 Grant (16-2-1): The first all-Portland Interscholastic League final matches the league champion Generals against the second-place Warriors. The teams played to a 1-1 draw Oct. 6, with Cleveland scoring early and Grant converting a late free kick. Prior to this season, Cleveland had never made it past the quarterfinals. The Warriors extended their unbeaten streak to 17 by defeating West Linn 3-0 in the semifinals. Senior midfielder Elsie Koehler and junior defender Lola Pierce – the team's first-team all-league picks – had goals in the win. Grant, the 6A champion in 2021, lost in the second round last year. The Generals landed four players on the PIL first team in senior midfielder Maggie McGair, junior midfielder Paige Nakada (10 goals), senior forward Abbie Day (11 goals) and sophomore goalkeeper Lucy Kapranos. McGair and Day are fourth-year varsity players. Grant has rebuilt after graduating 13 players from last season.

5A – Sherwood HS, 10:30 a.m.

No. 3 North Eugene/Triangle Lake (14-2-1) vs. No. 1 Wilsonville (15-2): Wilsonville, appearing in its fourth final since 2019, goes for a three-peat against the Highlanders, who have never won a title. The Wildcats have starters back at all but three positions, including senior midfielder Kenley Whittaker (29 goals in 2023, 80 in career) and sophomore forward Camryn Schaan (18 goals in 2023), the team's leading scorers the last two seasons. North Eugene has been one of the state's most successful programs in 28 seasons under coach Brandy Wormdahl (265-126-41), but played in only one final, losing in 2017. Senior forward Kendal Priaulx (22 goals, nine assists) is the Midwestern League player of the year. The Highlanders had two freshmen on the first team in center midfielder Payton Buschelman (13 goals, 13 assists) and forward Zari Thomas (21 goals, seven assists).

4A – Liberty HS, 1 p.m.

No. 3 North Marion (14-3) vs. No. 1 Marist Catholic (17-0-1): Marist Catholic, coming off its first state championship, faces the Huskies, a team it defeated 2-1 on the road Sept. 12. North Marion has never appeared in an official final, but won the 4A Showcase title in the COVID-shortened season in early 2021 by beating Marist Catholic in the championship match. The Spartans are led by Oregon-bound senior forward Cloe Chase, who has 52 goals this season (No. 3 all-time) and 118 in her career (No. 5 all-time). They also have a dynamic freshman in forward Libby McLaughlin (26 goals, 28 assists). Marist Catholic has a 34-match unbeaten streak. North Marion senior forward Caile Lader (17 goals, 17 assists) is co-player of the year in the Oregon West Conference. The Huskies have had 15 different players score goals this season.

3A/2A/1A – Liberty HS, 10:30 a.m.

No. 2 Catlin Gabel (15-1-2) vs. No. 1 Valley Catholic (16-0): A rematch of last year's final between the Special District 1 rivals, won by Valley Catholic 4-1. The Valiants have outscored their foes 77-5 this season, including a 2-0 win at Catlin Gabel on Sept. 14. They have had 21 different goal-scorers this season, the most in coach Chris Thurley's 30-year high school coaching career. Senior defender Malia Groshong (34 assists) was the Special District 1 MVP and senior forward Paulina Filip led the team with 15 goals. Thurley, who replaced Morgan Fry as coach this season, went 267-41-18 in 19 seasons of coaching boys teams, winning three state titles each at La Salle Prep and Jesuit. Catlin Gabel has won 15 titles, tied for the most in state history with Jesuit. Sophomore forward Addi Dauler (31 goals, 16 assists), senior midfielder Campbell Swaim (19 goals, 17 assists) and freshman midfielder Alana Hill (12 goals, 22 assists) made the district first team.