Girls soccer: Gervais put best foot forward
Gervais juniors Regena Vargas and Veronica Esquivel take turns at goalkeeping, stopping shots from head coach Mike Mulkerin a half hour before practice starts at Gervais High School. As it gets closer to the 7 p.m. start time, players start trickling in by twos and threes.
By the time practice begins, more than a dozen girls are lined up and ready to begin, with a few more rushing in from across the athletic fields. Some players are making their return to the team after a year-long layoff. Others, like Vargas and Esquivel, are new to the team. Some are new to the sport entirely, making their soccer debuts this fall.
"It's just kind of the ebb and tide of Small Town, USA," Mulkerin said. "Right now I have two freshmen out. I'd love to have four or five, but it's a small district."
After some quick conditioning, followed by a handful of drills, the team finishes the night spending half the practice scrimmaging against the backdrop of the sun setting behind the goal.
The season begins this week with a road-opener against the Central Linn Cobras on Thursday. The two teams played each other last year, with the Cougars taking a 1-0 victory for the team's lone win of the season. Mulkerin likes seeing the Cobras on the schedule so early in the season; he feels the teams are evenly matched and the game will be a good barometer of where his girls are starting at this season.
"It will be a good test for us because they were even with us last year," Mulkerin said. "So I kind of think of them as a similar style in terms of where their program is at."
While teams like Blanchet Catholic, Dayton and Western Mennonite will be jockeying for playoff positions this season, the Cougars are starting from an entirely different position, learning to trap the ball and which part of the foot to shoot with. Practices are fun with an emphasis on learning and getting better.
"My angle and my focus with the girls is that we are who we are, and we are where we are, let's just plug away and try to get a little bit better," Mulkerin said. "As long as we're having fun doing it and as long as we're still giving our best effort, then that's all I can ask."
Gervais brings back a handful of starters, including four-year varsity midfielder Natali Herinckx, who garnered all-conference recognition for the Cougars last season. Herinckx also doubles as the team's lone senior, at least until Daisy Correa comes back.
Correa is the team's returning goalkeeper, but the senior moved to Salem over the summer and is trying to work out transportation to and from games and practices.
"If she comes back, I'll have a pretty solid returning goalie. If she doesn't and is not able to figure out transporation, then we're trying out new goalies," Mulkerin said.
And that's where Vargas and Esquivel step in, giving Mulkerin a pair of new players who are trying to see if getting balls kicked at their head is something they'd be interested in.
"(Regena) looked very comfortable which is a huge first step toward being a goalie," Mulkerin said.
And it's not just new players the team will be trotting out this season. Gervais also boasts a freshly resurfaced soccer pitch, which the team will debut on against Taft on Sept. 18. The boys team will be the first to break it in when the team hosts Blanchet Catholic on Sept. 7. Both coaches are looking forward to playing on the new field, which was plowed, leveled and reseeded over the summer.
"We are very excited for the new field," Gervais boys coach J.J. Flores said.
The boys team went undefeated at home last year en route to winning the conference championship, doing so on a field that was pock-marked with gopher holes and worn to the dirt from months of use during summer men's leagues. Once the weather turned wet in the fall, that dirt became mud and the Gervais field was practically unplayable.
"There were times when you couldn't even kick the ball," Flores said.
The field was resurfaced courtesy of Herinckx's parents, Tim and Karen, who worked with local Christmas Tree farmer Ron Franke to procure a seed donation from Scotts Company manager Jeff Martin out of Gervais.
Tim plowed and planted the field, conferring with local turf farmers Steve and Marty Miller, who donated equipment and advice to the cause. Gervais School District Head of Maintenance Tony Miller kept people and gophers off the pitch throughout the summer, while watering it regularly to help it survive the hot season.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there," Mulkerin said. "It will be a much nicer experience."
In the meantime, both boys and girls teams will share the practice field just south of the newly reseeded one. Mulkerin is looking forward to the start of the new season with the players he has, especially after they get another week of practice under their belts.
"I like the vibe," Mulkerin said. "The girls are trying hard, but we're beginners and that's where we're at, and I'm good with that."
Gervais Girls Soccer
Coach: Mike Mulkerin
2016: 1-11-1 overall, 1-11-1 Special District 3
Key losses: Yheira Barocio, M (Honorable Mention All-League); Marian Rodriguez, F
Key returners: Natali Herinckx, Sr. (Honorable Mention, M)