Taking the next step forward
At this time last year, the summer participants for the Woodburn girls soccer program were jetting back and forth for contests up and down the Willamette Valley.
For the first two years of Andrea Whiteman's tenure as head coach of the Bulldogs, her team had played some sort of summer schedule. This year, she's mixing things up, keeping the girls close to home, and conducting a series of practices and scrimmages to Woodburn ready for the coming fall season.
"A lot of times, if you want to play teams, you have to travel an hour to get there, and that can be really hard for our girls," Whiteman said. "We were trying to think of a way we could still get the practice in and get those game-like situations, be successful, but do it at home."
Many of the athletes, particularly the older ones, have summer work commitments that clash with game schedules. And for those incoming freshmen — of which there are nearly two dozen who have shown interest for next season — it's much easier to build a sense of cohesive team and parent unity when the Bulldogs are playing locally at the high school at night instead of in Salem, Portland or Corvallis.
"It allows us to get their parents there, their friends there, and get more support from the community," Whiteman said. "So by doing things at home, we can get more people at home and get people excited about the program."
The fall 2019 season will be one of transition for Woodburn. The team is coming off a historic season in which the Bulldogs earned their first post season win and state playoff appearance since 1999. However, 11 of the players from last year's team have gone the route of graduation, putting a lot of emphasis on the upcoming JV players to fill those roles seamlessly to keep Woodburn at the same competitive level this year.
"We have a lot of girls who have been on JV for two years, so they should be ready to step it up and play on varsity this year," Whiteman said.
With assistant coach Mayra Vasquez in charge of the JV team, Whiteman has every confidence that the upcoming players will be more than ready for the speed and physicality of the varsity game.
While Whiteman and varsity assistant Caitlin Brennan run a slightly more relaxed ship at the varsity level, Vasquez gets the incoming players ready for the rigors of high school soccer.
"She sets the expectations of this is what you're supposed to do, and the girls rise up to that," Whiteman said. "It's good for them to initially get Mayra where she sets the standards for them. That way, when they get to us, they know." The coaching trio run a partnership of sorts with the Woodburn High School girls soccer program. Although Whiteman is the head coach, she frequently defers to the experience of Brennan and Vasquez, taking advantage of their different backgrounds of the game to help give a variety of perspectives to the student athletes they teach.
"I think that is one of the huge things for me. I don't want them to ever feel like they're working underneath me," Whiteman said. "We're all players at the table, and they have just as much expertise as I do."
The coaching relationship also helps build unity between the varsity and the JV programs. Whiteman has seen a lot of programs that value its varsity program over its JV players, which doesn't serve the health of a program as a whole. When the players see there's little difference between the varsity and JV coaches, they make that same connection with their peers on the two teams.
"We want them to learn how to work hard and collaborate on a team. That can happen on JV or varsity," Whiteman said. "I think we try to set those skills first and then work from there."
Another wrinkle for the upcoming season is that of the new artificial turf field that the varsity team will play on this season. Although the Bulldogs are used to playing on their grass field on the north side of campus, something that Whiteman prefers on a pure soccer standpoint, she admits that an artificial field will help the team prepare for the future. High school playoff soccer is largely played on synthetic surfaces, and the fast pace that turf fields encourage will help the Bulldogs focus on playing the short, quick possession-style of game that she wants to see.
"I think there's the tendency, especially when we have really fast forwards, is to send it long and ask them to run," Whiteman said. "I think there's the tendency, especially when we have really fast forwards, is to send it long and ask them to run."
Between the new crop of varsity players and the new playing surface, the coming season will be one of transition for the Bulldogs. But coming into their third year in the program, Whiteman is confident the she, Brennan and Vasquez have set the culture for the new players to immediately step in and thrive.
"The expectations for practices, games, sportsmanship — that's all there," Whiteman said. "We were really working on that our first two years, and we won't have to work on that as much."