By Bill Choy

Triplicate Sports Editor

A recent addition to the schedule has the Del Norte High girls soccer team beginning their season a little bit earlier than originally planned.

On Friday, the Warriors face fellow Big 5 Conference member McKinleyville at the andquot;Eye of the Tigerandquot; tournament in Arcata at 4 p.m. On Saturday, the team faces Rancho Cotate of Rohnert Park.

Originally, Del Norte was set to open the season at home on Sept. 5 against St. Bernard.

The Warriors are coming off a fairly successful season that had them finishing third in the Big 5 Conference.

The team headed into the last game of the 2006 season against Eureka needing a win to qualify for the possibility of being invited to the playoffs.

But, the squad lost the match to finish the year 5-6-1 and 3-4-1 in league play.

Head coach Clar Byers said he expects another solid performance from the team this year, despite losing a number of seniors from last year.

Practices have gone well and the girls have been working hard and showing enthusiasm during the two-a-day practices, he said.

andquot;I've liked what I have seen,andquot; Byers said. andquot;I think we'll be a force.andquot;

Byers said a strength of the squad is that they are solid at all the positions and have good players on both the offensive and defensive slots.

andquot;We have good balance,andquot; he said.

One key player returning is senior Robyn Suzuki, who earned conference White Star honors last year and normally plays forward

andquot;She's an Energizer Bunny,andquot; Byers said. andquot;She just has endless energy and doesn't stop.andquot;

For Suzuki, the chance to go out her senior year on a winning note and hopefully earn a spot in the playoffs is something she and her teammates are striving for.

andquot;We got close last year to earning a playoff berth,andquot; Suzuki said. andquot;This year, hopefully, we'll make it. I think we can do it...I think we're pretty strong this year.andquot;

Lauren Byers, who was tied for the team lead in goals with seven, and was a White Star selection, returns.

Coach Byers calls her andquot;a scoring machine,andquot; and an important piece on the soccer squad.

On defense, Amanda Navarro returns. Byers said she does a strong job helping to slow down the other team's players and is a force on the defensive end of the field.

In the goal will be junior Michelle Stacey, who Byers said gives it her all, is extremely aggressive, and does a good job defending the goal.

Byers has also been pleased that three freshman have come into practices and have shown the potential to contribute to the team this year.

Rachael Lawrence, Courtney Micheletti and Felicia Ratalowski have all played in the Del Norte Youth Soccer League and show good fundamentals and a willingness to learn, Byers said.