The Woodburn girls soccer team's scrimmage last week was all about feeling things out and getting comfortable.
Playing on the new synthetic turf field for the first time as a team on Wednesday, July 24, the Bulldogs were getting comfortable with what will be their home playing surface this fall.
At the same time, the program was welcoming in another new member. The newcomer wasn't an incoming freshman, but a fourth member of the coaching staff, Ariko Kaziboni.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Kaziboni made his way to the United States where he was a three-year starter for Dana College in Nebraska before transferring to Grand View University for his senior season, helping the team go 22-2 and reach the 2010 NAIA soccer quarterfinals.
After graduating with a double major in business administration and sports management, he went on to study for his master's degree in education at the University of Nebraska-Omaha while serving as an assistant soccer coach for four years at the College of Saint Mary. 'He's kind of been all over the place," Woodburn head coach Andrea Whiteman said.
While Kaziboni boasts a wealth of soccer experience as both a player and a coach, it was his background in education that drew Whiteman's interest most. As the Bulldogs continue to build the girls soccer program under Whiteman and her coaching staff, she puts a lot of value in personnel who know how to build positive relationships with the incoming student athletes and make them feel welcome to be a part of the program.
"When you get teachers as coaches, they understand kids," she said. "Even from our first practice with him, he's greeting every girl, saying good morning, thank you for being here. Just being very personable, and you can tell he's already good at establishing relationships."
As Kaziboni was getting familiar with his new players, so too were the student athletes getting used to the new playing surface that will force the Bulldogs to alter their play to take advantage of the faster synthetic turf.
Whiteman's continued goal is to make Woodburn a possession-based program, one that focuses on making the simple pass to the open teammate rather than kicking the ball ahead to the open field.
Without the grass to slow the ball down, the Bulldogs will be forced to become much more careful with their passes or lose possession out of bounds. Already Whiteman is seeing her players make the surface transition in stride, taking advantage of their past playing experience together at the club level to anticipate passes and put the ball in comfortable places.
"Already from what I'm seeing, and I think it's because so many of these girls play together already on the younger club team, is they make the calm passes on the ground," Whiteman said, "which is what I've been really trying to focus on."
The scrimmage also saw a number of incoming freshman make their debut on the pitch, and Whiteman was pleased with the maturity of their game, even if they're a bit on the quiet side.
"They're new and nervous," Whiteman said. "We've got to get them to talk a little bit more, but they're freshman, I can coach them up and get them out of their shell.
"But you can tell they have the knowledge, and they're not acting like a group of freshmen — except for the quiet part."
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