For Woodburn, Canby girls soccer, 5A represents a fresh start
The girls soccer programs of Woodburn and Canby jump into the 5A classification at the start of the fall season, but do so from different backgrounds. Woodburn, who spent the last four years competing at the 4A level, return to the Mid-Willamette Conference. Meanwhile formerly 6A Canby will debut in the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference.
Both teams see their new homes as a fresh opportunity but come to the 2022 season from uniquely different positions.
WOODBURN SEEKS CONTINUED DEFIANCE OF EXPECTATIONS
When Andrea Whiteman took over the head coach position in 2017, she found a program struggling to make sense of itself. From 2013-2016 Woodburn's girls' soccer program went 16-33-7, with just two play-in appearances to its name and a cumulative Mid-Willamette Conference record of 7-17-4.
2017 was still a rough go for the program; the team went 6-8-1 overall and was ousted from the postseason 3-0 in a play-in game against Marist Catholic. But Whiteman was encouraged by the latent talent she saw in game and in practice. What the program needed was to have those skills encouraged and grown.
"The talent has always been there, that was the first thing I noticed when I came to Woodburn," Whiteman said. "The talent is there; it was more learning to play together as a team. I think it helps having a lot of us on campus. I'm on campus with the girls, I see them. My thing has been trying to have high expectations for them because they will easily rise to that."
In 2018 the Bulldogs dropped to the 4A classification to set up shop in the Oregon West Conference, home of perennial top-10 teams Stayton and Philomath. In Woodburn's first season as a 4A squad, the team went 8-6-2 and made the state playoffs. It was the teams best finish in more than five years.
But the best was yet to come.
In 2019 Woodburn won the 4A state championship by defeating Marist Catholic, the same team who ousted the Bulldogs during Whiteman's first year at the helm. On that team were several freshmen who head into the 2022 season as seniors and leaders of their squad.
Those same incoming seniors were also a part of the most recent highwater mark, the 13-0-4 championship season that saw Woodburn capture its second title in three seasons.
Midfielder Thalia Monroy believes that the team's work ethic is what helps it to consistently defy the expectations of others, as well as the high expectations of the coaching staff.
"At practice, everybody puts in their all and gives 100 percent," Monroy said. "We go full out and listen to the coaches."
The team listens to the coaches, but it also listens to the senior leadership. Whiteman pointed to several veteran players who were involved in both of the team's championship runs as players who the team looks up to: Monroy, goalkeeper Litzy Gonzalez, center backs Alyssa Rios and Caitlynn Spencer, and Cassidy Garibaldo and Crystal Garcia.
For Monroy, the championship in 2019 was just the first. The durable midfielder wants to continue seeing the growth of the Woodburn squad even after her class' high school careers end.
"I think everybody has been improving and stepping their game up, just giving it their all," Monroy said. "We want to keep winning championships, and once we're out we want other girls to win championships as well."
Litzy Gonzalez feels the same way. The veteran goalkeeper also believes that the bond of winning championships will extend to the younger classes as they grow into leadership positions of their own.
"When I was a freshman, I've gotten a better connection with everybody else and we looked up to the seniors that have gone," Gonzalez said. "I'm hoping the freshman here look up to us."
The veteran goalkeeper, along with Spencer and Valdez Vazquez, returned from a two-week trip in Spain where they played with their club team. For Gonzalez, the trip helped her to grow her field vision and better herself as a field general. It also prepared the girls to embrace the grind and have to re-earn their spot on the team against hungry up and comers once again.
The turnout for the tryouts this season was higher than Whiteman had seen. According to the Woodburn head coach 46 girls showed up to tryout this year, outpacing last year's tryout numbers by at least 10 players. It followed up on a summer of girls showing up to stay in shape and hone their skills during the offseason.
"We met as a coaching staff in April to decide what we wanted summer to look like," Whiteman said. "We decided the two focuses were going to be fitness and ball handling. Lots of running this summer because if you can outrun a team you're going to be doing really well. And then the second thing we noticed about last year overall in our program is that our first touch was not where it needed to be. We gave away a lot of balls and then had to work that much harder to get them back. So that was kind of our focus: ball handling and fitness."
There are no easy tests for the Bulldogs in their return to 5A. The team opens with a contest against 6A juggernaut Jesuit and then faces defending 5A champions Wilsonville on September 13. The second half of the season will then see Woodburn face off against some of the toughest teams in the state in league play.
According to Monroy and Gonzalez, the teams are bigger than Woodburn but by no means is that intimidating. After all, in 2020 the team played various 5A schools.
"(5A teams) are a lot bigger, a lot stronger, more built than us," Gonzalez said. "But we're tiny, we can get around them. Speed as an advantage. Height probably isn't great, but we managed to do that with some of our tall girls."
"It was a little challenging playing against (the Mid-Willamette Conference), but we got the hang of it," Monroy said.
Whiteman and her coaching staff are excited for the challenge as well.
"A lot of our club players play with a lot of 5A and 6A players during club time," Whiteman said. "They're excited for that, we're excited for the competition, we never want to be settling where we're at. We always want to be playing people who are at our level or better than that. Hopefully that's what we will see … when we were moving back to 5A, for our program we were all like, 'Perfect, that's what we should be doing.'"
Gonzalez relishes the opportunity to surprise the longtime 5A and 6A schools.
"I know it's going to be harder playing Wilsonville and all of those other bigger schools, but I expect to be a challenge for them," Gonzalez said. "I think we're the underdogs in that, so being able to just hold them up, not get as many scored on us. Or at least get some scored on them. Shock. We expect to get over what people expect of us."
CANBY BREAKS NEW GROUND IN 5A NWOC
A little more than 10 miles to the northeast at Canby High School, the girls soccer team was going through the last day of tryouts before the final roster was settled upon. Newly minted Canby head coach Dallas Hill was going through a passing drill with her team, working on connecting the team's passes under pressure.
Building that kinship amongst the Cougars will be crucial. The players are largely new to the varsity scene, but it's not devoid of veteran players. Hill pointed out key senior leadership in goalkeeper McKenna Kraft and forward-turned-center back Ally Mead, encouraged by their abilities to lead across sports.
"McKenna is a killer softball player, and I think Ally's main sport is basketball," Hill said. "So, without soccer being their main sport, they're able to just have those leadership qualities. It shines through them. You can just tell when they step out on the field, the kids look up to them. I'm excited to see them grow and lead this team as we go forward."
Kraft and Mead will be the guiding presence on the field, inspired by the players that came ahead of them. For Kraft, the example of a good leader was the now-graduated Katie Anderson; for Mead, it was Kathryn Frentress.
"Katie Anderson she was my center back, so she was the leader of the defense," Kraft said. "She kind of taught me how to be a leader as a goalie and taught me how to have more confidence in myself. She would build me up when I would be down."
"Mine was Kathryn, she always had a positive attitude every practice," Mead said. "She was really cheery and made it fun, and always spoke up at the end of practices."
Learning to lead will be important as Canby makes its 5A debut this fall season. As long as there was a 6A classification, Canby had been there battling the powerhouses of the Three Rivers League. It hadn't always been easy for the girls soccer team; since 2013, the team put together a 40-73-18 overall record. Last season the team went 1-10-3. The lone season in that time where the team finished above .500 was 2018, when the Cougars posted a 10-6 record.
Now the school moves down to the Northwest Oregon Conference (NWOC). Kraft sees the move to a new conference as a chance to start fresh.
"I feel like it's a fresh start because it's a whole new team," Kraft said. "We lost 11 seniors, so it's a whole new team, a whole new fresh start, a whole new league. We don't know much about our league either. All we know is Wilsonville and La Salle are the top in the state, but we'll overcome that and battle. We're definitely going to compete this year."
Hill, who was a co-head coach with Wilsonville's championship team last year, knows that there will be a stylistic difference in the way teams compete at 5A as opposed to 6A. The new Canby coach expects a more direct style of play from the NWOC competition as opposed to possession-based play at 6A.
While the change in play will be different, Hill wants her team to embody a certain competitive spirit in the 2022 season.
"It's gritty that I've always wanted to associate with," Hill said. "These girls I think have grit in them, and they just need to know how to hone it basically, and bring it to the field, bring that gamesmanship. Bring the qualities that they have and be confident enough to show it. They have it. I think they're just not super confident right now, so we just need to get that out of them and they'll be fine."
The grittiness is something Hill has worked to draw out of her team over the course of the summer. With an excellent turnout during the offseason as well as the numbers in camp to field three full teams and then some, the Cougars will have the numbers to compete with the best in the conference.
And the conference will be stacked.
The NWOC is home to defending state champions Wilsonville and 5A runner-ups La Salle Prep. Also slated to face Canby in league contests are last year's state quarterfinalists Putnam and playoff quality team Hillsboro. Fellow 5A debutants Centennial will also be in the NWOC. Other tough potential matchups across the state include 4A state champions Woodburn making the return to 5A, and Summit and Caldera making the move down to 5A's Intermountain Conference.
Hill and her players aren't daunted by the new challenges and surroundings.
"I think Canby is the underdog of the NWOC," Hill said. "I think a lot of people look at the record they had last year and they're probably not going to think much. But I think a lot of teams are going to be surprised at what they see. That's my favorite. I love being the underdog. That's what I enjoy. I think that underdog mentality describes this group perfectly."
Canby will open its season against Southridge on Tuesday, August 30. Woodburn's first game of the season will be against Jesuit the same day.
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