Girls soccer: Woodburn's numbers game gives the team ample depth
On the grand scale of problems that a high school coach can have, fielding too many players ranks somewhere between receiving more program funding than anticipated and players consistently showing up to practice early.
Player attendance is a healthy indicator of interest in a program, and the more athletes that come out for fall tryouts, the bigger the pool of talent that is available for coaches to work with. With the start of the fall season beginning this week, it's an issue that Woodburn girls soccer head coach Andrea Whiteman and her coaching staff have been blessed with.
"It's definitely new to me," said Whiteman, who is entering her first season with the Bulldogs after previously coaching at 4A Philomath High School. "At Philomath, most times we had around 32 girls, and I think this year we have 46, so that's been awesome."
Woodburn graduated just three seniors from last year's team and is flush with a talented incoming freshman class and new players drawn to the field out of curiosity over the new coaching staff. The result has put Whiteman and assistant coaches Caitlin Brennan and Meghan Ellis in a predicament of how to put together the best possible varsity team while still providing adequate mentoring for those who don't make cut.
"I've had to adjust my coaching style a little bit and end up bringing in a lot of teaching strategies, which works well, because it's hard with 46 kids out there," Whiteman said.
It's a wonderful problem to have, but it is still technically a problem. Whiteman can only play 11 players at a time, and a varsity team typically caps out at 18 players. The coaching staff must choose between returning players with varsity experience versus incoming players who have the skill to make an impact on the team. They must consider whether it would be more to have a talented reserve players sit on the varsity bench when they could be getting valuable playing experience at the JV level.
"The hardest part for us has been trying to narrow it down to 18 girls, because there are 25 that deserve to be on varsity and are working really, really hard," Whiteman said.
They also must consider team unity. The team will split between coaches Whiteman, Brennan and Ellis, but they're still all part of the same program. Mid-season injuries and eligibility issues will likely mean some players who start the season at the JV level will finish the season with Whiteman's varsity squad.
Over the weekend, the Bulldogs took a trip down to Corvallis to watch the Oregon State University women's team play. The object was twofold — allow the girls to bond across varsity and JV lines while showing them what a higher-level game looks like. After all, Whiteman is not just playing for this season. She wants this to be the new norm, not just a one-year influx of players.
"What I'm looking for at the end of the season: The girls want to return the following year," Whiteman said. "They feel proud of themselves and they feel successful as a team. I don't think I can really say what that means for them. It's going to have to come from within them."
Team unity is one way to make sure the team feels compelled to compete from one year to the next. But winning is always the ultimate panacea that draws players out from year to year. Woodburn is coming off a down year in which the team finished at the bottom of the conference standings in 2016, tied with the Central Panthers for 7th in the Mid-Willamette Conference with a record of 0-6-1. That means there's nowhere to go but up for the Bulldogs.
Whiteman thinks her team is capable of making big strides this year and has the player personnel to do so. Woodburn has a wealth of returning players with varsity experience — athletes such as junior forward Nathalie Rios and senior defender McKenzie Oliver — and Whiteman's goal this season is to teach them patience and ball control.
"Right now we're trying to get them to play possession ball," Whiteman said. "They're used to trying to shoot it anytime there's any opening or anytime somebody is coming at them. They get nervous and they want to shoot it.
"The whole coaching staff is working on building the girls' confidence, and they don't feel like they have to just kick the ball out of bounds or shoot it when they don't have a good look. They can always find a pass to a teammate, and we can be patient and find the shots when they come."
Whiteman also wants to work on conditioning, making fitness a part of every practice and every game. It's easy for teams to come out of the gates with high energy and play strong for the first half of play, but games are won and lost in the second half and Whiteman wants her team to be catching their second wind when their opponents are ailing in the 60th, 70th and 80th minute of play.
"When I won a state championship at Philomath, one of the main reasons we won state is because we could outrun every single team," Whiteman said. "We weren't necessarily more skilled, but we were extremely cohesive as a team and we could run for days."
With Woodburn opening the season this week with a road game that was scheduled for Tuesday against McNary and the team's home opener versus The Dalles on Thursday, the team will have its first look at what it can do against live competition under and how the girls are fitting into new roles and a new system under a new coaching staff.
"What we're working on right now is trying to figure out where people will fit into our formation and what formation we want them to play," Whiteman said. "Now that we've seen what they can do, we have to try to make them a team, which is the hard part."
Woodburn Girls Soccer
Coach: Andrea Whiteman
2016: 3-9-2 overall, 0-6-1 Mid-Willamette Conference (7th)
Key losses: Sonia Rodriguez, M (Honorable Mention All-League); Majerle Mathis, GK;Key returners: Ylianna Veliz, Jr. (Honorable Mention All-League); Andrea Aguirre, Sr.; Anahi Avila, Sr.; McKenzie Oliver, Sr.; Nathalie Rios, Jr.