Girls soccer team uses tough season to build bright future
After playing to a 0-1 loss in Redmond against the Ridgeview Ravens on Oct. 27, the Wilsonville girls soccer teams season drew to a close. After starting out the season missing three early preseason games, the team struggled to find their rhythm early, and later due to injuries and penalties.
"We had two games that we didn't replace, but we missed one preseason game that was put later in the schedule," Wilsonville head coach Dwight Sheppick said. "That was hard because we use the preseason to get used to each other and figure out how everybody fits into the big puzzle. That hurt. It might not have been such a big issue for an old returning coach. But incoming, not knowing most of the kids, it was tough. It was a big hit."
Wilsonville did not finish near the top of their division, but they managed to avoid the bottom three. The girls team finished fifth place overall in the Northwest Oregon Conference, with a league record of 2-3-2, and an overall record of 3-8-3. Despite the sub .500 record Sheppick knows there is more to the story than the W's and L's show.
"If people look at our record and define us by our record, they're making a big mistake," Sheppick said. "Anybody that has seen us play has seen the effort these kids make. Nobody can watch us and play and say, 'We didn't perform to expectations.' The girls the other day didn't know their record. When they saw it, they said, 'Wow, we didn't realize we haven't won that many games.' They'd leave the field feeling good because they've left everything on the field. The record can be thrown out the window as far as I'm concerned."
Despite the struggles on the field and the end results, Sheppick saw promise in his team that gave him hope for the future.
"Everybody improved," Sheppick said emphatically. "I think (sophomore) Courtney Ellis really stepped up. She improved a lot; her work ethic is very strong. Nobody works as hard as (junior) Teagan (McNamee), but she was right up there so they were a good match. The whole back line was amazing. (Junior) Jillian (Greene) playing in pain most of the year, she was amazing. I can't say enough about (junior) Lauren Dean and (junior) Sydni Ricketts, they were truly the backbone of our back line. Keira McNamee stepping in as a freshman was amazing. (Sophomore) Camryn Pettenger-Willey's been very solid and adaptable which is a key to this whole team. Honestly I think all of them improved. The improvements have been across the board."
With the improved cast of athletes, Sheppick turns his eyes to the future with a few things in mind. Namely, he wants the Wildcats to score more goals when the opportunities present themselves.
"I would love to play 4-3-3, I'm an attacking coach," Sheppick said. "Now that I know the kids more, I can set up our June and July training sessions a bit different and focus on the attack. We've got some great freshmen coming in. Developing strikers so we don't have to put so much pressure on the backline will be our number one goal. All our starters are coming back, so we're set up pretty good. Now it's up to me to make sure that we make those adjustments in the offseason to improve our attack."
In Sheppick's first season as head coach of Wilsonville, there is one game that he'll remember about this season. It was Wilsonville's 3-0 win over last years state finalists, the Silverton Foxes.
"The kids were a bit nervous about going there and playing on the grass against a team that was returning most of their starters, if not all of their starters," Sheppick said. "Frankly they probably had the better of the play in the first half. At half time I told the kids, 'You've worked them so hard they're going to fall apart in the second half.' We tend to wear people down with our work ethic. We scored three goals in that second half, and I thought that was a turning point in our season. But the unfortunate part was right after that we came down with the injuries. But that was a big key in our year."
One of the crucial injuries was suffered by junior Alexis Leon-Guerrero, Wilsonville's big striking threat. Leon-Guerrero suffered a broken collarbone. Despite injuries, and the result at seasons end, Sheppick was proud of his girls, and expects big things in the future.
"This was a very special year for me, and talking to the girls, they felt it was a special year," Sheppick said. "The thing we talked about was we started a fight this year, and next year we expect to finish the fight."