Alumni games pit past against present for St. Paul and Woodburn
Just because a student-athlete has graduated doesn't mean their athletic endeavors end at their alma mater. For some, the journey continues on in alumni matches. That was the case for the St. Paul volleyball team Thursday, Aug. 25, and the Woodburn boys and girls soccer teams Friday, Aug. 26.
St. Paul Volleyball
The Buckaroos hosted their ninth annual alumni game at the high school, battling it out against the players of volleyball squads past. While the game and result don't affect the team's rankings with the OSAA, it is a way the girls can knock off the rust of the summer with active competition.
This year's alumni game had a little extra something to it. Last year the alumni won 3-1, marking the first time the graduated Bucks had defeated the school's active team. Coming into the game on Thursday, there was a sense that the high schoolers were going to get one back on their predecessors, according to St. Paul head coach Lesli Hiller.
"Last year was the first year they beat us, and it was pretty much this same group," Hiller said. "It was important, and it was pretty much the same team I have (now). I only lost a senior and then a junior who left St. Paul. Really, it came down to getting even. It showed them, 'No, you didn't see what we could do last year.'"
The occasion was marked with signs welcoming the alumni adorned with gravestones, showing that while this was a fun moment bringing old teammates back into the fold, there was still something at stake here.
The alumni, women from various graduating classes, got four practices ahead of the clash Thursday. They came out swinging, winning the first set handily. However, the high school squad came back strong and won the game 3-1 (11-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-20).
Hiller attributed the slow start to nerves and playing women that the team looked up to.
"The first set was like, uh-oh," Hiller said. "Then I think we got rid of the butterflies. I think playing all the people they looked up to for all those years was kind of stressful, but then they finally were like, nope, not going to happen today."
Senior captain Anabelle Davidson and her teammates enjoyed the alumni game and view it as the ultimate challenge to start the season.
"I love the alumni game, I think it's really good," Davidson said. "They're really good to play against because they know all of our holes and they know where to tip to, where to hit to. They've done it all before so it's like we both know each other and we're both really aggressive and we both want to win."
Davidson, who is returning from a severe knee injury suffered in last year's volleyball season and exacerbated during the first basketball game of the season, will be leading a team replete with veteran players. Last year's squad went to the state championship game and was defeated by North Douglas 3-1. Winning the 1A state title remains the goal.
"We want to go to state and we want to win state," Davidson said. "If we all play as a team and we play for each other and not ourselves, I think we can definitely get there this year."
Alumna libero Emma Connor believes that the current St. Paul team has what it takes to pull it off. Connor graduated in 2019 and was a part of the team that won the Bucks their first-ever volleyball state title.
According to the 2018 state champion, the gold will come as long as the team stays unified.
"I talked to a few of them very briefly, but I think just saying anything, just keep each other on your toes," Connor said. "Keep each other accountable. I think it always comes back to the team. The team you have around you is going to take you places."
Connor and her fellow alumni came back to the game because there is still a competitive fire inside of them. Finding that in the next generation is alluring.
"I mean I think we all just love playing the game and it's just a nice way to reminisce, I guess," Connor said. "I love seeing what the current team is like as well and being able to play against that is awesome."
Hiller enjoyed seeing the two groups play and was also happy with the looks the alumni gave her 2022 team. The challenge posed by veterans was a good way to highlight where the team was strong and where there is room for growth.
There will be chances for the team to execute against other school opponents in the future; St. Paul faces off against 2A Heppner at Dufur High School on Thursday, Sept. 1. But the two Bucks squads were able to come together and bring a sports community together.
"It gets everybody and gets some of the parents back who haven't been coming for a while," Hiller said. "Maybe they'll keep coming to watch us play even though their daughter is not … but it's always a fun time to get together and the girls always enjoy seeing each other again. The kids that just graduated love coming back. And they talk about it, the seniors this year say, 'Next year, at the alumni game.'"
To her coaches point, Davidson has her eye on future alumni games.
"My sister and I both plan on playing," Davidson said. "She's graduated ahead of me. I plan on playing with her in the alumni game."
Woodburn Boys and Girls Soccer
One day after the St. Paul volleyball game, another pair of alumni contests took place at Woodburn High School. The boys and girls soccer teams played host to the players of years past in a pair of 60-minute contests for the second consecutive year. Each contest served as a fundraiser for the programs, with the returning alumni paying $20 to join a roster.
Each high school squad earned the victory against their predecessors; the girls team won 2-0 and the boys won their contest in PKs after the game was up 3-3 at the end of regulation.
Both Woodburn girls head coach Andrea Whiteman and boys head coach Leroy Sanchez also competed, doing so as members of the alumni squads. While Whiteman is not a Woodburn High School alumna, she played as the alumni team's goalkeeper. Sanchez is a Woodburn alumnus from the class of 2002.
While both coaches were actively competing against their charges, they acknowledged that the games represented something bigger.
"I honestly see tonight as team building," Whiteman said. "They get to have a good time, they get to do concessions, watch the boys. And it's one of the few nights, we never get to watch the boys play, we always play at the same time so we don't get to watch each other. So I think it's fun for them to see the boys play, and the boys get to see us play as well."
Sanchez agreed with his coaching counterpart.
"It made it an awesome community event and as you could see in the stands, they had families out here," Sanchez said. "We had an abundance of players and alumni come. Having the younger guys come and look at the older guys, there's six or seven state champs out here. I told them it wasn't going to be easy, but I think it was awesome for the atmosphere, for the fundraising, for what it does for the community and our program."
Each team got the chance to rub elbows against players from years gone by, with alumni from as far back in 2000 competing in the friendly.
One of those longtime alumni was girls junior varsity coach Mayra Vazquez. Vazquez, who competed for the high school's girls team as a freshman and sophomore, jumped at the chance to compete against the girls she coaches day in and day out. While she was not coaching from the sideline in her normal fashion, she did try to capitalize upon the opportunity she had on the field.
"I was playing to teach them in the position that I was in sometimes," Vazquez said. "I would open wide so they could check the shoulder and sense where I'm at. Then what are they going to do, mark the player or mark the area kind of thing. So when I was out, I gave them some coaching points on that sort of thing."
Current players, like Woodburn boys striker and senior Spencer Karsseboom saw the opportunity to play against the older generations as twofold: continue to increase the team's conditioning ahead of the regular season and mix it up with the teams who have collectively brought nine state soccer titles back to Woodburn.
"Yeah, it was fun, just getting the guys who have played in past years, bringing home a lot of the state championships that have come in the past," Karsseboom said. "They've brought those to this field, so it was just an honor to play with guys like that. We're hoping to bring one back for my senior year, it would be great to do that. But just playing with guys who have brought one home to this pitch, playing under the lights with a lot of guys, older guys, just having a great time, it was an honor."
Both teams begin their seasons the week after the alumni games. The girls soccer program faces off against Jesuit on Tuesday, Aug. 30, while the boys play against Ida B. Wells High School on Thursday, Sept. 1.
The eyes are now on the regular season, but for one night the soccer community of Woodburn reunited. For Vazquez and so many others, it was a reunion they couldn't miss.
"(It was) coming back home," Vazquez said. "This is where I put in my soccer years. I just came to play back here where I played."
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