Improvement the focus for NHS girls soccer team
Just two years ago, Newberg girls soccer was winless. Coach Anthony Trejo entered his first year on the job with the obvious goal of improving on that mark, but it took more than just technical work in practice to win two games last season: it required on overhauled mindset on behalf of the players.
"Last year, we preached a lot about just being competitive," Trejo said. "It wasn't really about winning games as much as just competing. When I came in, we came into every game defeated, but last year we were either winning or tied at every half and were in a better spot mentally."
A 2-12 season inspired optimism in Trejo, largely because of the approach his team brought to every game despite lacking in the talent and experience departments. The Tigers started a slew of young players with the idea that it would plant the seeds for the program's growth.
So far in the preseason, Trejo said he can see that growth. The question remains if that sprouts a few more wins this season in a challenging Pacific Conference.
"I'm actually more excited for this year's team," Trejo said. "Last year, we intentionally went really young on the roster and started eight or nine underclassmen. It was to focus on the future and development in the program and I think we're going to see those results this and next year."
If the team maintains its positive attitude and level-headed approach, it will find unprecedented success this season, Trejo said. The roster features nine seniors but many of the primary contributors are juniors or younger.
Senior Audrey Palmer is a versatile center back that will be one of the team's captains this season. Trejo said she will potentially move around to other positions, but it will be her and junior Maggie Whitehead anchoring the back line for Newberg this season – one that returns all four players in front of goal.
"Our whole defensive back line is returning from last year, which is a huge plus," Trejo said. "Plus our senior goalkeeper Ashleigh Rickert will be back this year as well. We almost lost her to the Portland Thorns academy, but I'm selfishly glad she's back."
When Rickert told Trejo she was considering going to the Thorns' academy, he supported her decision either way, but admitted he was secretly hoping she would play for Newberg this year. She will be a key component of the team's defensive approach, one they hope limits scoring opportunities and stifles the ball when it's put on goal.
While last year's focus was primarily on defense, this year the team is aiming to improve its offensive output and pace on the field. Senior Lezlie Guadarrama is the undisputed striker for Newberg and scored five goals last season, showcasing a deft touch in the box and unmatched footwork.
"She scored those goals pretty much by herself," Trejo said of Guadarrama. "We have a better supporting cast for her this season, but we still expect her to be in the double digit range in terms of goals scored."
Ava White, a junior, will transition from the midfield to an attacking position alongside Guadarrama, bringing more versatility to the Tigers' lineup.
Two freshmen will compete with upperclassmen for playing time in the midfield: Selina Gallardo and Lua Maffia. Trejo said he has been impressed with the poise and maturity of the two freshmen and he is looking forward to them giving the sophomores, juniors and seniors a run for their money.
"Both of these freshmen are incredibly calm and poised for their age," Trejo said. "They will be huge contributors to what we're trying to do as a program, and I'm excited to see what they can do."
If the team can follow the youngsters' lead in terms of a calm mindset, it has a chance to improve its win total given the experience and depth it possesses, Trejo said. The Tigers have to take it one game at a time, he added, and not get ahead of themselves if things start to turn in their favor.
Confidence on offense will be key, too.
"We need purpose in our offense but we also need aggression," Trejo said. "I feel like if we initiate contact instead of taking it, we will be better for it. That can change the complete dynamic with our team if we stop being hesitant."
Newberg opens the season at home on Sept. 3 against Sprague. After that, it has a road game at Reynolds, a pair of home games against Madison and Southridge, and a road game at Westview. Some of the top teams in the state are on that schedule, which should undoubtedly test this group.
The Tigers hope to pull a few upset wins or draws, Trejo said.
"We need to get off to a good start this year," he said. "Sprague is the team I've been talking about since day one of the offseason, and I tell the girls we need to take it one day at a time. We have eight home games and six road games, so that will help."
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