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With 6A state title in mind, Axemen count on one tough keeper.

Byline: Adam Jude The Register-Guard

The road opened wide for South Eugene senior goalkeeper Brian Rowe this summer, and with it came some unique opportunities.

First, he joined his Oregon United select soccer team at tournaments throughout the West Coast and Mexico.

Then, in recent preparations for the next phase of his life, Rowe began college visitations. His interest was piqued at Harvard two weeks ago, and he has a planned visit to powerhouse UCLA this weekend.

"It's a pretty exciting time," he said.

Yet for as far as he's gone, Rowe still has one major trip in mind before departing South Eugene. It's a road that ends at the state championship.

Rowe and his 10 senior teammates have never advanced past the state quarterfinals. Last season, led by star midfielder Ryan White (who is now at UCLA), the Axemen won their third consecutive Midwestern League title - then promptly lost to Woodburn, 1-0 in overtime, in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.

"I hate to say it, but that was heartbreaking," senior midfielder Aden Farina-Henry said.

But with the nine returning starters and a revamped offense, the Axemen are confident their journey will last longer this season.

"We realized that we weren't going to have any standout player this year, so we worked hard in the offseason to get ready," Rowe said. "It's the last year for a lot of us, and we want to end it on a strong note."

Rowe's expectations aren't exactly modest as South Eugene joins the new Class 6A Southwest Conference.

"The goal is pretty much to get a shutout (for the season)," he said.

He's done it before. Twice, in fact.

Rowe held the Midwestern League scoreless over the past two seasons, earning first-team all-league and second-team all-state honors.

"He's easily the best goalkeeper in the state," South Eugene coach Colin McMillen said. "He'll easily step up and start as a freshman anywhere."

He's allowed only one goal this season - on a penalty kick - as the Axemen (6-0-0) quickly jumped to the top of the Southwest standings with a 9-0 win at Grants Pass and a 5-0 win against North Medford.

"We don't know much about the other teams, but we feel like we have a target on our backs," Rowe said. "Everyone wants to beat South Eugene."

Rowe has also gotten his kicks in a new way this fall, joining the Axemen football team as a placekicker. He's made a 39-yard field goal and is 7-for-8 in extra-point attempts.

Not bad, football coach Chris Miller said, since Rowe practices about 10 minutes a week.

"He's fit right in," Miller said. "He's done a great job, for what little we see of him. It's nice to have that weapon."

The Axemen have several other polished weapons this season.

Division I prospects Farina-Henry, Joe Claycomb and Casey Webber were all first-team all-league selections last year.

The combination of Farina-Henry and brothers Joe and Tom Claycomb has averaged more than five goals per game.

"The three of them have created that offensive attack we've been missing in the past," McMillen said.

Cody Perlmeter and Apolinar Sanchez-Montero have taken on added responsibilities in the midfield. Keegan Albi joins Webber to anchor the defense.

"Our goal is to become the first Southwest Conference champion, and beyond that the first ever 6A champion," McMillen said. "... We're still waiting for that first challenge, and that's the scary part. We don't know if this league is going to create that challenge yet."

The challenge at Sheldon is to turn a young nucleus into a contender under first-year coach Alex Vidal.

"We have a lot of unity ... and very good energy," Vidal said. "These guys are going to get better and better every time out."

Freshmen Guillermo Ulloa and Garret Clay start for the Irish, who are led by goalie Jaron Wilson.

The Irish picked up their first conference win of the season Saturday in a shootout against Roseburg.

The Indians, considered a preseason favorite to challenge South Eugene, fell to 0-3 after a loss to the Axemen on Tuesday night.

"Our backs are against the wall," Roseburg coach Steve Kaser said. "Our confidence has taken a real blow. We hope we can weather the storm ... but it won't be easy."

After starting nine sophomores last season, North Medford figures to have the experience to contend for a playoff spot.

"It's going to be a dogfight," North Medford coach Matt Soper said. "A lot of my guys have played together since they were 10 years old, and they've really stuck together."

South Medford opened with wins in its first two games and should stay in the hunt despite seven new starters, including five sophomores and a freshman.

Grants Pass ousted Sheldon from the playoffs last year, but the Cavemen return just three seniors for first-year coach Neil Sniffen.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
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