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Bulldogs log first postseason victory since 1999 season, play at No. 3 Valley Catholic to open first round

PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior Miriam Nava - pictured on senior night on Oct. 23 - scored a pair of goals in the Bulldogs' 5-0 win over Astoria in the play-in round on Thursday.
The Woodburn girls soccer team is peaking at the right time after the Bulldogs pulled out a 5-0 victory over the Astoria Fishermen in the play-in round on Thursday, winning their first post-season game and qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time since 1999.

It was the fourth consecutive victory for Woodburn (8-5-2, 7-3-2 Oregon West), all of which have come via shut out.

"They were communicating," Woodburn head coach Andrea Whiteman said. "The defense was doing really well swinging it around the back and playing really patiently. Playing those big sweeping balls around the outside and then driving it up the other side, which is something we've been working on the last two years and it's really exciting to see it happening."

Woodburn's defense has come together as a result of its offense, which is finally playing the kind of possession-based style that is designed to limit opposing teams from generating scoring opportunities. Whiteman and her coaching staff have been working together with the team over the past two seasons to get them more comfortable with keeping possession of the ball, then looking for an open teammate rather than kicking it away the moment they get it.

"It's been a lot of boot ball," Whiteman said. "We're trying to teach them to play soccer well. Hold the ball and when you see the open teammate, find them. That's what's going to get the other team off guard and get the team back on their heels. Get the team back on their heels and back tracking."

The results have been impressive. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents by a 15-0 margin since scoring a 2-2 draw against the No. 6 Stayton Eagles on Oct. 10. Thursday's game against Astoria threw a new wrinkle at Woodburn — playing in the rain for the first time after an unusually dry fall season.

"I think it took us about 10 minutes to get used to the slippery ball and get our jitters out," Whiteman said. "The last 30 minutes of the first half was definitely our best."

Woodburn senior Miriam Nava opened the offense 10 minutes into the game, taking a deflection off a corner kick set play, turning and shooting the ball from five yards out to give the Bulldogs their opening lead.

Less than 10 minutes later, freshman Myranda Marquez took a pass from senior Tatiana Garcia and converted on a shot from 20 yards out. From there, the rout was on. Nava scored again in the 24th minute, taking advantage of the slick conditions to get it past the Astoria keeper, who got a hand on the ball but couldn't control it before it found the back of the net.

Senior Betsi Cruz added a fourth goal for the Bulldogs just before the end of the half, lofting a shot from outside the top of the box, hitting the tips of the keeper's fingertips on its way to the net.

Fellow senior Yliana Veliz brought the game to its final margin of victory midway through the second half when she took an arching shot over the defense from 30 yards out that went untouched for the goal.

"The girls were just connecting passes, making runs, the defense was holding it together," Whiteman said. "When we're able to connect passes, we turn into a whole different team."

Woodburn opens its state playoff path against No. 3 Valley Catholic (10-2-2, 8-0 Cowapa) on Wednesday. The Valiants carry their own streak of shutouts into the game — six straight — as part of an eight-game winning streak heading into the playoffs. Whiteman welcomes the challenge, which she believes her team is well-equipped to handle.

"They play to the level of whoever they play," Whiteman said. "When they play a No. 5 team, they play like a No. 4 team. I prefer to see them there and see what they can do."

The winner will advance to the quarterfinals against either No. 6 Stayton or No. 11 Molalla on Saturday.

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