Rose Pflug was finished with soccer.
It was a mid-August Sunday evening in 2015, just before the start of her junior year, as all fall sports teams at Sunset High School started ramping up training with the season right around the corner. Normally at this juncture, Pflug would have traded in her basketball shoes for soccer cleats in preparation for another all-Metro League campaign as a standout forward on the girls soccer team.
But, Pflug, months prior to the start of preseason, had, in a sense, retired from what's known as the "beautiful game." As a Division One prospect with big-time basketball dreams, the rising junior was at a crossroads in her athletic endeavors.
Many elite high school athletes narrow their focus on one single sport, in order to enhance their chances at a full-ride scholarship. Nobody would've batted an eyelash at Pflug's decision. As Division 1 schools started coming around and investing interest in Pflug's basketball ability, following her sophomore season, the natural inclination was shut down her soccer career and spend the fall in the gym, polishing her ball handling, hoisting jumpers, playing endless pickup games with an eye toward an all-important junior campaign.
But on that Sunday night, as her teammates scattered across the Cedar Mill area and readied themselves for the start of the season, Pflug's passion for soccer still blazed. Also, the pressure of playing in front of omnipresent scouts didn't exist on the pitch as it did on the hardwood, too. Instead of constantly having to show-and-prove every day, Pflug could escape to the soccer field from August to November. Pflug's parents, Roggy and Janelle, reminded their youngest of four children that you only get to go through high school once. At some point, of course, with college athletics on the horizon, Pflug would have to downsize to one activity, but that time didn't need to be now.
The team returning to Sunset was stacked with talent and coming off a Class 6A semifinal appearance. And the pipeline of young players poised to return in 2016 was equally as loaded.
It wasn't just the wins that stoked Pflug's flame, though the bountiful amount of those helped. It was the bus rides filled with gleeful sing-a-longs. It was the riotous team dinners. The side-splitting text chains. The kinships, the unbreakable bonds between herself and her teammates, the jokes in the back of the bus, the belly laughs in between wind sprints.
So, on that Sunday, less than a day before the beginning of tryouts, Pflug phoned Sunset girls soccer coach Ben Durano and asked for another shot at playing.
What transpired over the next two seasons helped define who Pflug is as an athlete. As a dual-sport star, Pflug had few peers. As a soccer standout, she played in two state championship games, one as a freshman in 2013 and the other as a senior in 2016, and reached the 6A state semifinals every season, all the while garnering first-team all-Metro League honors in three of her four campaigns.
Pflug also was first-team all-state as a junior and a senior. On the court, Pflug helped guide Sunset to the 6A state tournament this season while earning first-team all-Metro honors as a junior and senior as well as second-team all state-honors.
All of these athletic achievements coincided with a sparkling 4.12 grade-point average.
Better yet, playing both sports didn't hurt her chances at becoming a D1 basketball player. This past fall, Pflug signed with Pepperdine University, where she'll play point guard for the next four years beginning in 2017-18.
"I think high school sports are great," Pflug said. "I think playing in front of your school and playing for your school is great. I think going to practice with people you go to class with is super fun. I wanted to play as much as I could. It's something I wanted to be a part of. Playing both basketball and soccer is one of the best decisions I've ever made sports-wise."
For all those reasons and more, Pflug has been named the Beaverton Valley Times Female Athlete of the Year for 2017.
The award is given annually to the top graduated senior from the Valley Times coverage area.
Coming into her senior soccer season Pflug was focused on having fun and as always, making a deep run into the 6A playoffs, as had become customary during her Apollo tenure.
Sunset started somewhat slowly early in the season, at least compared to their lofty standards. The Apollos finished third in Metro behind Southridge and Jesuit, but Pflug and her fellow senior crew of Savannah Niebergall, Riley Prillwitz, Nia McFerrin and Sydney McRae had been down this road before. And as the season wore on, the Apollos' play picked up steam. Two blowout wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs set up a rematch with Sheldon that Sunset took 2-1 on the road to reach the 6A semis.
"We never lost the hope that we could make it to the state championship," Pflug said. "Even when we had a couple of blips in Metro, our team was good at looking at the big picture. We wanted to win every game we played, of course, but we didn't dwell on those games here and there that we probably shouldn't have lost. We bagged those and looked ahead because we still had that run in the playoffs. That was the goal."
Pflug is a refreshingly honest, self-deprecating, fun-loving, we-before-me type of player, who's affable leadership skills and democratic captaincy on both the soccer and basketball teams broke the mold. Pflug is the proverbial ring leader, not in a corny, fake way, but an inclusive, respected, empowering manner — a friend to all, who never saw herself as a star, but rather a cog moving the machine toward success.
"Players really looked up to her," Durano said. "More often than not, a player will listen to one of their own peers who can show them how it's going to be done at Sunset. Rose is one of the best leaders I've ever had in our locker room. She's done it off and on the field really well. She's a fierce competitor who brings that out to other players and she expected everyone to go hard in practice. She set the tone for the rest of the team."
She was a captain, along with Savannah Niebergall, who never cracked the whip and barked out instructions on how they wanted the Apollos to play the game.
"We put the trust in our teammates," Pflug said. "We weren't going to yell at them to make this run or move into this position. Half the time I don't even know what runs I'm making. We just wanted to have a good environment where people felt like they were needed and their skill was valued. I think that helped us in the long run because when someone needed to make a big play, they could make a big play because we put the trust in them. The whole vibe was 'do your thing.' Everyone trusted each other."
The Jesuit juggernaut
That team-wide credence never resonated more than in the 6A semifinals against perennial arch-rival Jesuit. The two enemies needed 100 minutes of action and the maximum amount of penalty kicks before junior goalie Bridgette Skiba stopped two shots and put home a goal of her own to send Sunset on to the state championship. Pflug didn't score or make her penalty kick. Prillwitz, one of Sunset's best scoring threats, didn't attempt a penalty kick. But that didn't matter at all in the aftermath as the two seniors were Sunset's biggest cheerleaders as Niebergall, freshman Hannah Smith and junior Kendsy Carmichael came through with incredibly clutch PK shots, just as Pflug predicted they would.
Down 4-1, all three Apollos scored before Skiba booted home the game-winner. Once the result went final, Pflug was one of the first Apollos to dog pile on their heroic keeper.
"She really showed her leadership there in front of all of the players," Durano said. "That's Rose, she can always pull something positive out of anything that can be considered negative. She finds a way to turn it around. That really kept everyone focused on the game and gave us a great boost. She has a great positive attitude and really gave our a team a 'never give up, never say die' type of mentality."
Prior to this season, Pflug and her senior teammates had never beaten Jesuit, though the pair of powers tied previously in past years. To topple the Metro's powerhouse and D1-player-producing factory on their home field in a win-or-go-home scenario was extra sweet.
"I still talk to girls on the team and the highlight of their high school career was that game," Pflug said with a smile. "I was really proud of the way we stayed composed. Jesuit is one of those teams where, if they put a goal on you, they get two and the next thing you know it's 5-0. It's easy for teams to be deflated against them. It's hard to stay that calm for that long. That was one of the most fun games I've ever been a part of. We even joke that was the state championship game."
Pflug was arguably the state's most feared forward and finisher in the final third of the field — a powerfully built, captivatingly fast player who could fly past an opponent's last line of defense, but still possessed the skill set to plant the ball in the back of the net. Her scoring prowess and playmaking propensity were Sunset's offensive gravitational pull. Where Pflug ventured, two or even three defenders were sure to follow, which opened up the field for the rest of the talented Apollos to dissect and destroy.
Because of her dedication to basketball, Pflug quit playing club soccer before high school. And her summers, for the most part, were taken up by playing basketball on the AAU circuit. In a sense, Pflug was a four-month rental at the forward position, one who came in off the court and instantly added an element of danger to the Apollo offense.
Poise away from the pitch
Off the field, Pflug was equally as important to team chemistry. The Apollos didn't pull rank on each other when it came to stature or experience. Surrounded by talented players who complemented her skills and speed, Pflug said the focus was enjoying the process of performing at a high level and taking satisfaction in one another's success as a team.
"They just made it so fun," Pflug said. "It was all about the group. We all made an effort to talk to each other. It wasn't cliquey at all. Everyone could hang out and talk to each other and that showed out on the field. There was no preference of 'I'm going to pass to her because I'm better friends with her.' That's not how it was and that's not how it should be. We had a good time together."
Pflug never got caught up in the final results though there few competitors as determined or resolute on success. The multiple-time all-state selection in both soccer and hoops has a becoming perspective on sports in general. For instance, on the bus ride back from Eugene, following a gut-check, edge-of-your-seat triumph over Sheldon in the quarterfinals, Pflug doesn't remember all the details of the clash, other than the win. But she can recollect the rocking concert that broke out on the bus ride back and has the videos on her iPhone to prove it.
"That chemistry off the field made it easier and I think it made it more fun," Pflug said. "When I saw Savannah (Niebergall) go up and score a goal, I just thought that was so cool. We would all just get super excited for each other. It wasn't all about one person. We all just wanted to win. It wasn't about stats, who had the most goals or the most assists. We all wanted to get to that state championship.
Pflug exits the Sunset soccer program as one of the school's all-time winningest players with 50 career victories including 14 in the postseason and raised the bar for the Apollos moving forward.
Making the 6A state tournament wasn't so much a crowning achievement as it was a career culmination: Three years of pure toil and constructing that Pflug, Carpenter, senior guard Maddie Muhlheim and head coach Sarah Griffin put in collectively to take Sunset back to prominence.
As freshmen, Pflug, Carpenter and Muhlheim went 0-10 in Metro with Griffin as a first-year head coach. There were plenty of tough times, moments where the mountain top couldn't have looked further away. But none of the four uber-competitors ever gave thought to bailing. Rather than split, they stayed solidified.
"What stands out to me about that group is their commitment to Sunset basketball," Griffin said. "They know that hard work really pays off. That second, third and fourth years came and Rose continually stayed committed to us. She wanted to make this one of the top programs in the state and get us to the Chiles Center. I'm just really proud of them because it wasn't easy. They earned it."
The Apollo trio went through three years of trials and tribulations, but after battling alongside each other since the sixth grade were sold on seeing Sunset all the way through to the state tournament.
"This was our time," Pflug said. "That was probably one of the biggest transformations you're ever going to see. We all grew together and that's what helped us the most, to have that connection. Going 0-10 was discouraging, but it was almost like fuel. We just had to wait on it because we were coming. Taking those steps every year and getting better every year until we did make it to the tournament was very gratifying. It's crazy to see the progress we made."
In an era when elite players leave their hometown school at the slightest sign of decline or turmoil and bolt for greener pastures, Pflug and company put on the blinders and went to work.
"I love being a part of Sunset," Pflug said. "I loved the mindset of the program. I knew Maddie, Amanda and Sara weren't going to leave. I knew we could earn our way to the tournament and that was the biggest thing, being able to say, 'Yeah I made it there, but I started here at the same place where we were 0-10.' That's just super cool to say for all of us. We were never going to hang it up. We just kept working and working. We knew senior year was going to be our year."
Carpenter rounded out her game and became better all-around, not just as a sharpshooter. Muhlheim morphed into a vicious offensive threat. And Pflug continued to mature into a player capable of shouldering the burden on both ends of the floor.
Carmichael came along the past two seasons and lent her talents to the hardwood as well. Freshman Mary Kay Naro was a big addition to the starting lineup, as was junior Delaney Ragan. The road to the tournament certainly didn't come easy this season. But Sunset weathered wars with Lake Oswego and Tigard in the first two rounds, thanks to balanced efforts from their senior stars and young role players to make it from the cellar of Metro three years earlier to the Chiles Center.
"I love being underestimated," Pflug said. "I love being overlooked. No one's ever known about Sunset girls basketball. We've never really been on the map. We had nothing to lose."
Hard work on the hardwood
As a 5-foot-10 point guard with crazy foot speed, lateral agility and the smarts that come from playing varsity for four seasons, Pflug was assigned all sorts of athletic specimens while on the defensive end of the court. From the 6-foot-4 Cameron Brink — who, for being tall and lanky, also was intensely physical with a Division One skill set in the post — to South Salem superstar shooting guard Evina Westbrook in the 6A quarterfinals, Pflug drew the opposing team's best player night-in and night-out, regardless of her opponent's position or prowess.
"She's a competitor at heart," Griffin said. "She's a fun person to be around and I know her teammates love being around her. But as soon as you flip the switch and it's game on, she's very focused and she wants to win. She loves the thrill of competing and she accepted those assignments. She wanted to test herself against the best players in the state."
Pflug was Sunset's primary defender who also was tasked with scoring at a high clip, rebounding the basketball on the boards and making plays for her teammates. The task, while undoubtedly tall, fell right in line with Pflug's hearty appetite for self-assessment and facing challenges head-on for the good of the team.
"I knew I was going to have to do some things I'm not comfortable with," Pflug said. "But, it happened naturally, and we all had to make adjustments. We all had to make sacrifices for this team to be the best it could be and (Griffin) put us in places where she knew we could be successful. She knew where we could be at our best and where the team needed us. She did a really good job of balancing that. And we won, so it was like 'Ok, let's keep this moving and go get the next one.'"
Covering Westbrook when you're fully healthy is a backbreaking chore as it is, but the day before Sunset's quarterfinal clash with the two-time defending state champion Saxons, Pflug came down with nasty flu bug.
Westbrook ended up living up to the billing and then some in the quarterfinals, stuffing the stat sheet with 25 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. The Apollos, who trailed by double digits most of the way, made a game out of it in the fourth with a plucky comeback that fell just short, primarily because of Westbrook's power on both ends of the floor. Sunset lost the game, 55-48, but came back the next morning and clipped Clackamas in the consolation bracket.
St. Mary's beat Sunset in the consolation final, but the Apollos' sixth place finish was almost a badge of honor for the tried-and-true veterans who three years earlier had to win a "play-in" game just to clinch a berth in the postseason.
"Playing in the Chiles Center, finally having that chance and making it was amazing," Pflug said.
Griffin said that, while Pflug's fire for winning often helped inspire her teammates to follow her toward success, it was her ability to not take herself too seriously away from the court that set her apart as a leader.
"She's a lot of fun," Griffin said with a smile. "She's kind, she's goofy and I think a lot of people gravitate toward her because of that. I've told her that's one her greatest leadership qualities, just being herself because I think that allows people to see who she is. On the floor, it can be intense at times. After games, even if we just had a tough loss and we're on the bus, you'll look back and Rose would have the whole bus singing. She could pull people in in different ways. She helped us get closer as a team and I think that's what leaders need to do."
Looking back on a career that spanned two sports and saw a multitude of teammates and personalities from throughout the Apollo pipeline, that's how Pflug wants to be remembered: As a leader who guided her respective teams with open arms, not an iron fist. And as she prepares and packs for Pepperdine, where she'll be next week for summer classes and training with the team, as well as shifting back to point guard, it's that leadership legacy that she leaves behind.
"I hope the way me and (Niebergall, Muhlheim and Carpenter) composed ourselves as captains will carry on to the juniors, sophomores and freshmen," Pflug said. "Hopefully the juniors who have played both sports have seen what works and what's more fun for everyone. The way we were leaders gets more out of people because they want to be led by you, they want to listen to you because you're on the same page as them, you're on the same level as them. You're not trying to lord over them, or tell them what to do. They want to respect you because you've earned that. I think that leads to a lot of success. And of course I hope the basketball team gets buckets and the soccer team makes it to another state championship, but that's the main thing. It's hard to be a leader and try to make everybody happy because you can't, really. But as long as you're trying your best to respect everyone and get the point across that they want to hear it and listen to you, that's big."