Calvan Berteau was offered an opportunity he simply had to accept. A chance to improve his game, to showcase his skills on a grander stage, to experience a life he had worked tirelessly to reach.
A Bend High sophomore in 2016, Berteau was invited to play for the Portland Timbers U16 developmental program. He spent five months in the Portland area honing his soccer skills. That life, though, was not quite what he imagined.
Berteau recalls living with a wealthy family in a large house. He was more than 150 miles from home, family and friends. For five months, Berteau felt out of place. He was homesick. So, as difficult as it was to make the decision, Berteau returned to Bend last December, ready to rejoin the Lava Bears.
Is he ever glad he did.
Through seven matches this season, the Lava Bears are ranked No. 2 in Class 5A.
Not traditionally known as an offensive dynamo, Bend has scored 17 goals — the second-most by a Lava Bears team through seven games since 2009 and nine more than at this stage last year. The Bears have defeated several perennial 5A powers, such as Summit last week, and are 4-1-2 while playing one of the more difficult schedules in the state.
“It’s a really comfortable environment,” Berteau, a midfielder, says of playing with the Lava Bears. “The chemistry is a big thing in these victories we’ve been having. I’ve been playing with a lot of these guys since I was 9, 10 years old. It really makes a difference. It’s comfortable, and we’re just kind of basking in the moment.”
Bend graduated a number of players from last year’s team. Only one of its five all-Intermountain Conference players, Parker Hollenbeck, was set to return. Yet Nils Eriksson knew this, his 22nd Lava Bears team, would be strong. Last year, Eriksson remembers, the Lava Bears’ varsity and JV teams would often scrimmage. There was rarely a runaway winner. Eriksson had figured that those young Lava Bears would develop into hypercompetitive players who could lift Bend to the next level. “But,” Eriksson says, “you never know how things play out.”
Still, he concedes, “it’s a strong class for us, no doubt.”
Bend has quickly emerged as a championship contender not only because of its top players, guys like Berteau (who has seven goals and two assists) and Hollenbeck (a senior forward with four goals). The Lava Bears also have depth. Six players have scored at least one goal this season, including four with two or more, and eight have registered an assist (led by senior forward Isaac Kocurek-Orr, with three assists and two goals).
“One of the strengths right now is I think they play hard for each other,” Eriksson says. “They support each other pretty well and sort of learned to accept each other and their differences. They don’t get too upset with each other. They’ve sort of overcome their frustrations in a lot of ways, and are able to get on with it if things don’t go right and keep playing and keep working.”
That cohesiveness is key for the 2017 Lava Bears.
“I feel like we work together a lot better,” says senior goalkeeper Joel Witts, one of Bend’s captains along with E.G. Pierce and Jesse Selman. “This team is just more together. It’s more of a group effort than individuals putting in their best out there; it’s us helping each other.”
Hollenbeck says he is not surprised by the Lava Bears’ start, though he was unfamiliar with many of the JV players who were about to make their varsity debuts. He says he figured those players were rising in the program for a reason. They have obviously “had their fair amount of soccer,” he says, and he put his trust in Eriksson for bringing them to the next level.
“From last year to this year, we have a completely new team,” Hollenbeck says. “We’re definitely showing a lot of the Portland teams what we can do. … After beating Summit (a 1-0 home-field win in the IMC opener last Thursday), I felt something after the game, that we could definitely take this further.”
Bend’s depth this season reminds Eriksson of the 2015 Lava Bears team that advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion Hood River Valley. That squad, Eriksson recalls, was strong but was just “too small” to compete against the likes of the Eagles, consistent state title contenders.
This season’s Bend team likewise does not possess imposing size, Eriksson says, but “they’ve learned to play bigger.” The Lava Bears are fearless, he adds, and are willing to be more physical with larger opponents, like in Bend’s 1-1 draw earlier this month against an Ashland team that is still unbeaten.
Even in the Bears’ only loss, 4-3 at Crescent Valley on Sept. 8, they led by two goals against a Raiders team that is currently unbeaten and untied. All of which has heightened the Bears’ expectations. They already had lofty goals, Berteau says, but they have continued to improve each week, putting them in a position to challenge for what would be a first for Bend High boys soccer: a state championship.
“It’s not something where we’re really thinking about the rankings that much,” Berteau says, “but obviously we’re in a good position right now.
“And that’s all that matters.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org.