JOHN DAY - Second-year head coach Ken Purnell has 12 soccer players returning to the lineup from last year's team and with the addition of some promising newcomers, the 2002 season is looking bright for Grant Union.
Last year, the Prospectors finished the season with a 4-5-1 record in 3A Greater Oregon League games and a 5-8-1 overall mark. With the drop in student population, Purnell said Grant Union is now playing in a special district league in District No. 4.
"We had a school record with five wins last season, and that is something we need to build on," Purnell said. "I believe the kids have the mind-set to go to the state playoffs for the first time in school history this year."
Despite moving into a 2A classification, Grant Union is still going to be facing some stiff competition in the new league.
"The team to beat in the league is Horizon Christian," Purnell said. "They are a small school but they are very soccer-oriented. Last year, they went undefeated during the regular season and their only loss was a 2-0 defeat to La Grande in the state playoffs. In non-league games, we are going to be playing some 3A schools like Mac-Hi, Parma and Fruitland, Idaho, and Sisters."
Purnell said he is planning on building the team around several returning players who he is hoping will step up and fill the gaps left by the graduation of Ryan Courtney, Creed Pendleton and Lance Burton.
"Ryan was our leading scorer last year, and I hope that we will be able to have some kids step up and score some goals for us this year," Purnell said. "Lance was our hardest worker, and Creed was also a strong player. We are going to have to find replacements for all three of them."
Purnell said the Prospectors do not have what you could call a "stand-out" performer, but the team does has a good core group of about six or eight players who should be able to get the job done.
"The kids are really excited about this season, and I think we are going to have a very good team," he said.
Returning players include senior Kyle Myers, who named a second-team GOL all-star last season, and senior Jeb Williams who was named an honorable mention player.
"Kyle played great for us last year, and Jeb has been doing an outstanding job for us in practice," Purnell said.
Other returning seniors include midfielders Tim Willey and Tim Wallace, defenders Marshall Schultz, Karmen Unterwegner and Chris Wunz, and goal keeper Ben Tschida.
"Ben has been working exceptionally hard, and I expect him to have a good season in goal for us," said Purnell.
Other returning players include junior forwards Kevin Percy and Lucas Burton and junior midfielder Danny Cosgrove.
"Kevin and Lucas have both shown a lot of leadership skills and Danny has been working very hard in practice," Purnell said.
Another returning player is sophomore forward Kerry Ashmead.