The release of the preseason OSAAtoday 6A soccer coaches polls this week revealed that it could be a highly eventful season for one northeast Portland high school.
Not only is Grant's reigning state champion girls team ranked No. 1, but its boys team also holds the top spot.
State-contending soccer teams have become a staple at Grant. Manolis Tjuanakis went 140-44-32 in 15 seasons as the boys coach, including a 6A title in 2008, before taking over as the perennially strong girls team in 2016. His former assistant, Erik Miller, succeeded him as boys coach and has gone 66-14-15 in six seasons.
“We're lucky. We've got a great community of soccer in the Grant district,” Miller said. “There's a great culture that everybody's helped build. When I was coaching with Manolis, we started it, and we tried to build off that. It's really cool to see him take that and bring it over to the girls side. It's translated over there, too.”
Since winning the 2008 title, Grant's boys have had some hard luck in the playoffs. The Generals were runners-up in 2011 and 2014 and have fallen in the semifinals twice and the quarterfinals three times in the last five postseasons. Five of their last six playoffs losses were by one goal.
“It's been hard,” said Miller, whose team lost to eventual champion Summit 3-0 in the semifinals last year, finishing 14-3-2. “We've kind of been on the losing stick of it the last five years or so.”
Miller likes the makeup of his roster this season, but knows the team must find its own identity after graduating two 6A first-team picks in defender Sebastian Rangel and goalkeeper Spencer Brown as well as its offensive leaders in center midfielder Mitchell Munzing and forward Sawyer Lasof.
“We just lost some big-time players, big difference-makers,” Miller said. “Those guys are tough to replace. We've got some returners filling those spots. Creativity-wise we might be lacking in some of those areas, but I think we'll make up for it in different ways.”
The Generals have two strong goalkeepers in senior Ben McDonald and junior Will Peterson, who waited their turn behind Brown, a Timbers Academy player. The defense looks solid with seniors Ethan Thompson, Luca Brennan and Mikey Sullivan and junior Cameron Lorie.
“I think we'll have a strength in a similar area as last year, defensively,” Miller said.
The offense needs to develop. Senior center midfielder Danny Evans, who helped Portland City United reach the national semifinals this summer, is a key piece. The Generals also are counting on midfield production from seniors Romeo Raimando and Quinn Wonderlick and junior Diego Zamudio.
“It'll be a team approach,” Miller said. “We've got guys that are fully capable.”
Repeating as champion in the Portland Interscholastic League – which includes No. 3 Lincoln – won't be easy.
“It's a grind. There's no easy game,” Miller said. “So many more players are playing club soccer these days, and good coaches have come in and elevated programs.”
Girls defend title
Coming off a 17-1-1 record and their first state championship, Grant's girls need to replace five starters, including the twin-sister combination of Elle and Liv Frazier, who now play for Portland State.
Elle, a forward, was voted the 6A player of the year last season, when she scored 33 of the team's 64 goals. Liv, a center midfielder, was a 6A first-team selection.
“When you lose the likes of Elle and Liv, our style of play is going to have to change because the dynamics of the team are a little bit different,” Tjuanakis said. “We'll have to figure those things out.”
Two other Generals moved on to college programs in goalkeeper Abby Winkler (Pacific Lutheran) and midfielder Caprial Loescher (Western Oregon).
The graduation losses leave a leadership void, but Tjuanakis is confident that the senior captains – midfielder KT Roesinger, goalkeeper Michaela McCollum and forward Olivia Lukrofka – are ready to step up. McCollum and Lukrofka have committed to Gonzaga and San Francisco, respectively.
Junior Maggie McGair, a third-year starter at center defender, is a force.
“She does a tremendous job in the back,” Tjuanakis said. “She holds the defensive line together and interrupts a lot of the play of the other team, and also starts the play for us.”
The Generals' front line will get a lift with the return of two players who missed last season with injuries in senior McKenna Siel (foot) and junior forward Abby Day (ACL). Siel has committed to Oregon.
“Hopefully she will stay healthy. That will be a huge thing for us,” Tjuanakis said of Siel.
Grant has a brutal nonleague schedule that features games against No. 2 Jesuit, No. 3 Lake Oswego, No. 5 Beaverton and No. 6 Sherwood, the only team to beat the Generals last season. Grant also faces Summit, the co-No. 3 team in 5A.
Tjuanakis likes his team's chances.
“They're excited to compete and defend their title,” he said. “I think this group can be as good or better than last year. I would emphasize that we need to stay healthy.”