Justan Wolvert finds himself directing a dynasty
Oregon Episcopal School girls soccer coach Justan Wolvert had a simple celebration after hearing the final whistle on the Aardvarks small-school state championship win last season. It did not involve a Gatorade bucket or a victory lap. Instead, it was a simple sigh of relief.
He watched his team take a treacherous path to the top of the mountain — the school's fifth consecutive state title.
"Each new senior class comes in, and they don't want to be the one that drops the baton," Wolvert said. "We had to face some adversity, and we came through on the positive side of it."
The Aardvarks dealt with a mix of injuries throughout the season, including a pair of early-season setbacks to rival Catlin Gabel.
"We hit some injuries and kinda limped through the regular season," Wolvert said. "After our second loss to them, our whole focus was to meet them again and to beat them."
To reach that rematch, OES would first need to survive a road trip to Medford for a semifinal game against St. Mary's. The Aardvarks put up three goals in the game's first 20 minutes and appeared on its way to an easy win.
Then St. Mary's struck four times before halftime, and the much anticipated chance for revenge was put at risk. Oregon Episcopal responded over the final hour of play to claim the hard-fought 6-5 overtime win.
The finale against Catlin Gabel was set.
Oregon Episcopal took the match that mattered most 1-0 to claim the state title.
"It's not about schematics, it was all about mentality. The girls showed up in the final and earned that result," Wolvert said.
Wolvert is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Aardvarks dynasty. But it didn't come without some kicking and screaming.
Wolvert, previously a head coach at Barlow High, had settled comfortably into an assistant's role upon moving to OES. When the Aardvarks coach Scot Thompson chose to step away, Wolvert was the obvious choice to take over.
"No. Absolutely not. I don't want to do it — it took some convincing," Wolvert said. "Coming into a program that had won consecutive state titles there was nowhere to go but down. There's a little more pressure that goes with it, but we've been able to maintain the status quo so far."
Wolvert gives a lot of credit to his predecessor for setting the standard for the program. Oregon Episcopal has played in the last eight 3A/2A/1A title games, winning seven of them.
"Scott had the program dialed in with some good leadership, so my job was pretty easy," Wolvert said. "I get a lot of support here, and I can just be a piece of the puzzle."
Perhaps that desire to fill in the gaps is what drove Wolvert to quickly volunteer in the late 1990s when the Reynolds High football coach crashed a soccer practice in search of a kicker for Friday nights.
"All I knew about football was what I had played in video games," Wolvert said. "I remember being at soccer practice and the football coach comes over and says he's looking for a kicker. I walked across the field, kicked a couple PATs, and he said 'Okay, you've got the job' — that was a blast."
His booming leg delivered 50-yard field goals during his prep career, while he continued to shine on the soccer field earning a scholarship to play at Concordia University where he still holds the school record for assists in a season with 19.
Soccer remains his passion.
In addition to his coaching duties at OES, he also serves as the Junior and Senior Academy Director for the United PDX soccer club. He also works as a substitute teacher in the Oregon City school district.
"Long term we want to have the players with the high skills and ability. We want to be the best club in the state and prove ourselves at a national level," Wolvert said. "How lucky am I to get to work with kids everyday and help them grow. I get to wake up and go in every day and it never feels like work."
Wolvert lives in West Linn with his 5-year-old daughter Gracen and will be building a blended family with his fiance Katie when the couple marries in October.
This 'Where Are They Now?' story is slated for our Friday, Aug. 9, print edition.
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