Eastside Preps: Barlow soccer's second chance
Two years ago, Abi Hoffman wasn't sure she'd ever be able to play high school soccer again.
She was leading her Barlow Bruins through the state playoffs, and in a second-round match almost 16 months ago, Hoffman went down with a brutal injury. She tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee.
All signs pointed to the end of her sports career at Barlow.
"The injury took a huge emotional toll on me," Hoffman said. "I love the game too much to give it up, so I worked hard and did everything right to get back out on the field."
To add insult to injury, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to shut everything down and prevent high school sports from returning. But the Bruins stayed positive. Coach Jay Jacobsen checked in weekly with his team, helping coordinate individual workouts and trainings to keep his team ready to return.
"It's been a different year," Jacobsen said. "But we are a very resilient team, and we all play for each other."
That resiliency paid off as high schools were given the green light to return for a shortened season. Now Hoffman is back in the blue and gold to lead her team alongside fellow star Mikayla Topaum.
"It is a blessing to be out here and spend time together again," Hoffman said.
The Bruins are a veteran team, with eight returning starters from 2019 when they won their Mt. Hood Conference division and made a deep run into the state Class 6A playoffs by reaching the quarterfinals. There are no freshman on the squad, and this is the most talented team Jacobsen has coached since he took over the program four years ago.
"This is a special group of seniors, they have been with me my whole time as coach of Barlow," Jacobsen said.
The Bruins play fast, with a focused attack and quick passing. Their experience sings on the field, with players flowing into spaces as they open up with shifts of the opposing defense. That is most evidenced by the creativity from Hoffman and Topaum.
That pair were day-one starters as freshman, and in their first game for the Bruins both notched a goal and assist. And they have continued to get better during their time at Barlow, destined to play collegiate soccer — Topaum is bound for Northern Arizona while Hoffman will play closer to home at Portland State.
"We clicked from the start," Topaum said. "Ever since freshman year we became teammates and friends — Abi is an amazing person."
Hoffman also is able to balance soccer with football, serving as the Bruins' kicker. She practices two to three times a week with the football team, kicks extra points and field goals during games, and lends her experience to a team that graduated 24 seniors.
"For her, soccer comes first, but we are glad for the energy she brings to the team," said Chris Koenig, the Barlow interim coach. "Because of the injury we aren't having her do kickoffs, but she is an important part of our special teams."
On the soccer pitch Jacobsen lets his two stars play in a position-less style — relying on their creativity and savvy to find the gaps in the defense and the back of the net. The best he can do is describe Hoffman and Topaum as "attackers" who operate in the offensive half of the pitch.
"I rely on both to lead the team on the field," Jacobsen said. "I trust them to be in the right place."
Barlow's schedule is filled with 2019 playoff teams, including three-time defending champ Jesuit and runner-up Mountainside.
"I told my athletic director to give us the hardest schedule he could," Jacobsen said. "I want to be challenged and play the top teams in the state."
The Bruins won their opener at Beaverton after a slow start, with Topaum finding the back of the net twice on assists from Hoffman. The second game was a 2-2 tie against Grant, in a match where the Bruins had to battle back from being down two goals at half.
"We took everything from the offseason and turned it positive," Topaum said. "I was proud to get that first win."
The season will end in early April with some form of a championship tournament. The Bruins last reached the semifinals in 1992 and have never contended for a title.
Before the season kicked off, Jacobsen spoke with his players about their goals. At first the conversation centered on wins. That is a mindset Jacobsen once shared — early on he was focused on claiming titles and trophies.
But, for this Bruins team, the season is about more than the standings.
"We want to come together, enjoy each other's company, and not take anything for granted — that is what we learned in 2020, this could all be gone in a second," Jacobsen said. "We are going to prove we are one of the top teams in the state."
They are taking advantage of each day.
"Success is the relationship I can build with my team — wins come along the way," he said.
Last week's scores
Central Catholic 41, Sandy 0
Estacada 48, Madras 6
Corbett 32, Clatskanie 20
Reynolds 35, Parkrose 0
Barlow 26, Jefferson 18
Lincoln 21, Gresham 0
This week's games
Barlow at Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Friday, March 19
Reynolds at Sandy, 7 p.m. Friday, March 19
Corbett at Yamhill-Carlton, 7 p.m. Friday, March 19
Estacada at Molalla, 7 p.m. Friday, March 19
Gresham vs Parkrose, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 20
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