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After an undefeated run to the state title last year, the Wildcats see more adversity in 2022.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville junior Campbell Lawler has drawn early praise from head coach Alex Boehm for how she has performed on the back line alongside senior Cassie Wedin.

Coming off an undefeated run to the state title, it was always likely that the Wilsonville girls soccer team would take a step back.

After all, the Wildcats graduated seven All-NWOC seniors from that 2021 squad. There is surely still plenty of talent in the side, but there are also plenty of new faces in the starting lineup.

As a result, Wilsonville dropped five of its seven nonleague games; however, each deserves a bit of context. The Wildcats opened the season on the road against Caldera, which was originally a 6A team before the most recent round of realignment from the OSAA, and lost 2-0 on Aug. 31. Wilsonville also made three road trips to face squads (Lake Oswego, West Linn and Tualatin) from the 6A Three Rivers League. The only home loss on the ledger thus far is a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Lincoln, another 6A school that won a state playoff match last year.

In the Wildcats' NWOC opener, Wilsonville cruised to an 8-0 win over Parkrose and looked like they were back on track. In the next match, however, a scrappy Putnam team never went away. After junior captain Kenley Whittaker set up sophomore forward Reese Holsey for a goal in the 18th minute, the Wildcats were unable to add another tally to the scoreboard. Instead, the Kingsmen got a late equalizer from Ariana Barney and escaped Wilsonville with a 1-1 tie — snapping an eight-game winning streak for the Wildcats in the series against Putnam.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Putnam junior Ariana Barney (right) and Wilsonville sophomore Reese Holsey (left) provided the scoring in a 1-1 tie between the Kingsmen and Wildcats on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Wilsonville High School.

For Wilsonville head coach Alex Boehm, some growing pains were not unexpected, and she thinks a turnaround may not be far off.

"For us, we have a lot of fresh faces this season. We've seen a lot of people step up into new roles," Boehm said.

"It makes us a little bit young — but hungry."

One player who is not new to the fold is junior midfielder Kenley Whittaker. As a sophomore, Whittaker was a crucial part of the state title run and was rewarded with an All-NWOC First Team selection. Now, the junior captain is stepping into a "super critical" role for the Wildcats, Boehm says.

"(Kenley) is probably a more natural forward, but we play her in the middle of the park and just rely on her to hold our team down in that line and set some tempo in the game for us."

Along with that tempo comes a healthy dose of aggressiveness to drive the ball upfield or to win it back in the middle of the park. Often, Whittaker's intensity sweeps her off her own feet as the junior levies tackles against her opponents — and receives the same treatment back from them.

"She has no lack of energy, grit, physicality," Boehm said. "We really rely on her to set that standard for us."

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Wilsonville junior Kenley Whittaker (12) is a spark plug for the Wildcats, providing a healthy dose of intensity and physicality to go along with her considerable skill and speed in the midfield.

Aside from Whittaker, other early standouts for Wilsonville so far include two more juniors: Campbell Lawler and Caroline de la Motte.

"I'm excited about how junior Campbell Lawler has stepped into the back line role," said the Wildcat coach. "That was a spot where, again, we have some fresh faces. She's come in and really taken ownership of the back line along with our senior captain, Cassie Wedin."

While Lawler is excelling at the back, de la Motte is doing it just about everywhere else.

"Up top, I'm really excited about Caroline de la Motte, who's been the ultimate utility player for us — playing multiple lines and multiple roles, being really versatile and just showing us 100% every day."

While the impressive efforts from players like Whittaker, Lawler and de la Motte have not always translated into wins for the Wildcats, Boehm is trusting the process and working on helping her team improve with each match.

"Our team is really focused on one step at a time," Boehm said. "Super process-oriented this year. We really try to take each game as an opportunity to learn. We've seen our team take those steps every week.

"Couldn't be happier that we're making progress, but we've got some end goals in mind," she added.

"We want to find success just like everyone in the park."

With talented young players up and down the pitch, the Wildcats may not have to wait much longer to find that success.

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