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Bulldog girls open state playoffs on road against Valley Catholic for second straight year

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn freshman midfielder Luz Rojas (right) races to beat Philomath's Braedyn McNeely in the Bulldogs' 2-2 draw against the Warriors on Tuesday, Oct. 29.Needing nothing short of a victory in the final regular-season game to secure the team's first league title in 20 years, the No. 6 Woodburn girls soccer team's 2-2 draw against the No. 7 Philomath Warriors felt much more like a loss than the final result indicated.

Such is the steadily rising expectations of the Bulldogs, who have gone from going winless in league play three years ago to competing for the Oregon West Conference championship on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

"I try to remind the girls of the growth that we've had," said head coach Andrea Whiteman, who took over the program the year after the team went 0-6-1 in the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference. Over the past four years, seniors on this season's team — Carla Zamora, Bailey Castro, Lily Duran and Jessenia Villanueva — have seen the program's win total steadily improve each season to become a top-10 team for the first time in a generation.

"The freshmen aren't used to it," Whiteman said of the program's past struggles. "But the group before, it's obvious to them. They're like, 'Ladies we're doing a lot.'"

As a result, last week's game against the Warriors was unknown territory for each member of the Bulldogs — a playoff-caliber game on the eve of the postseason.

"Having a league where we don't always have those consistently throughout the season, it's nice to feel the pressure of what we will feel in the playoffs," Whiteman said. "Just to have that intensity that comes with a league championship game. Having the girls feel that intensity and how hard it is to play for 80 minutes with that intensity is good to see as well."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn defender Lily Duran is one of four seniors who have been on the varsity team for all four years, helping the Bulldogs go from a winless league record in 2016 to battling for a league title this year.The result was a bit of a mixed bag for the Bulldogs, who rallied from a 1-0 deficit to go up 2-1 early in the second half before succumbing to an aggressive Philomath offense that kept the pressure on throughout the final 20 minutes.

The first two goals of the game came on back-to-back plays at the 33-minute mark of the first half. Philomath junior Chloe Jurva rocketed a clean shot to the upper left corner of the net past Woodburn keeper Zamora to put the Warriors up 1-0. The Bulldogs answered a minute later when Luz Rojas passed to Yahaira Rodriguez, who took advantage of Philomath's keeper being out of position for a point-blank shot to tie the game.

The two teams remained knotted at 1-1 going into the second half until Myranda Marquez connected on a frozen rope from more than 30 yards out to give Woodburn the advantage.

"It was a beautiful shot," Whiteman said. "I was joking around with her because I have to beg her to take right-footed shots, and she makes that with her right foot."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Forward-midfielder Cassidy Garibaldo is among nine freshmen on this years' varsity soccer team, which has won 10 games for the team's best season in two decades.Six minutes later, the Warriors returned the favor, taking advantage of miscommunication among Woodburn's back line to score on a shot from five yards out by Alivia Pittman. Philomath continued to push in the second half, keeping the ball mostly in Woodburn territory. Though the Bulldogs defended each attack, it kept the team from mounting the counter offense needed to pull out the win.

Compounding the difficulties was the loss of starting defenders Caitlynn Spencer and Alyssa Rios, who left the game earlier due to ankle sprains.

"When two starting defenders are taken out of your back line, it starts to mess with sub rotations," Whiteman said. "Girls who are normally getting a rest aren't getting a rest. It has a little bit of a different toll."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior keeper Carla Zamora has recorded six shutouts this season, as the Bulldogs have given up just 12 goals total following the first game of the season.With the draw, Woodburn (10-2-2, 9-1-2 Oregon West) finished second in the conference standings and was scheduled to travel to Valley Catholic (7-5-2, 6-0-2 Cowapa League) on Tuesday, Nov. 5 in a rematch of last year's state playoff game that the Bulldogs lost 3-1.

"I think the girls are excited about the rematch," Whiteman said. "I think now that we have learned how to use the turf to our advantage with our extremely fast forwards, we will see a lot more success than we did last year."

The two teams kick off at 6:30 p.m. The winner advances to face either No. 16 Mazama or No. 1 Gladstone.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Junior defender Jessica Baron and the Bulldogs will face the Valley Catholic Valiants in the first round of the state playoffs, a rematch of last year's 3-1 playoff loss.

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