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Grizzlies look to avoid another stubbed toe

One of the brightest parts of my first month as sports editor has been covering McMinnville boys soccer matches. The spectacular fall weather has made for some breathtaking sunsets, and there are fewer places in town better than the roof of Wortman Stadium to get a great look at the sun as it sets behind the Coast Range.

Tuesday was no exception. As the final notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” echoed away, the sky to the west was painted a beautiful orange, getting deeper and deeper as the light faded away.

Just like those sunsets, the play inside Wortman Stadium has also been spectacular.

The Grizzlies are 8-1-1 after another dominating win. This time it was 4-0 vs. Tigard, and it was the latest example of what Mac is capable of if players decide to play for a full 80 minutes.

The Grizzlies displayed a controlled-but-quick passing game where — when in sync — players barely touched the ball before it is off to the next. Passes usually didn’t float through the air but instead stay on the turf where they are easier to control. There were moments when Mac players beat the Tigard defense with just a couple well-placed leading passes.

We all know the success of the Grizzlies boys soccer program. A state championship in 2006 and a string of state appearances, including a semifinal loss last year. That team had talent. Dustin Munger is now on scholarship at the University of Portland, and goalie Ryan Aker is playing at Chemeketa. Miguel Angeles is playing junior college soccer in the Midwest.

Contrary to 2011’s team, this year’s Grizzlies don’t have the big personalities or as much college talent. What they do have is a collection of guys who know how to play the game and play smart and together.

“Last year we could make a mistake, and it wouldn’t hurt us,” senior Nick Autencio said. “Our talent would take over and we would get back into it. This year, we make a mistake and other teams capitalize.

“We’re finally figuring each other out. … We’re becoming a family.”

The Grizzlies are learning as they go, and they’ve done it while playing a difficult schedule. The started the season with a 2-1 loss vs. No. 2-ranked Jesuit. They played and beat No. 2-ranked Wilsonville (5A), and Mac also has a 3-1 win vs. No. 1-ranked Grant.

Mac’s one real stumble this season came via a 2-2 tie with 5A Cleveland in the final game of the nonconference schedule. Coach Jeff Autencio said he hoped his players would use the draw as a learning experience. With Pacific Conference opponents upcoming, Mac couldn’t afford to have another match like that.

“Everyone is looking at McMinnville,” Autencio said. “We have to be ready every single night.”

“That’s the one game where we stubbed our toe,” Nick Autencio said. “Our response from that has been positive. Practices have been harder. More of a competition and guys aren’t goofing off. It’s more serious.”

The Grizzlies are 3-0 since the Cleveland match, and Jeff Autencio is using each contest to hammer in the point about preparedness.

He said his kids have to start a match motivated.

“If every coach had an answer for how to keep them motivated the whole time and not stub their toe, we would bottle that,” Autencio said. “Bottom line is kids have to stay hungry. Their goal is to win a league title.

“There is no time left to stub our toe.”

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