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After just one goal in four games, the Bulldogs are changing lineups and challenging each other to rev up quiet offense

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Woodburn junior Elizabeth Valdez Vazquez battles against Wilsonville junior Caroline de la Motte in an interconference clash on Sept. 13.

Woodburn finds itself going through growing pains in the early part of the 2022 season.

Last year's 4A state champions, a team that went unbeaten over the course of 17 games, is winless in its first four games. Most recently, the team suffered a 4-0 defeat the hands of defending 5A state champions Wilsonville on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

The Bulldogs have mustered just one goal through their first handful of games, while conceding 13. Part of it is the graduation of last year's Player of the Year, Myranda Marquez, and finding out who will fill her cleats in the offensive third.

It's a question coach Andrea Whiteman is working on as the team prepares for league play in the shark tank that is the Mid-Willamette Conference. Finding that attacker is made even more difficult as members of her team battle injury and illness.

"We have very talented players, (but) many of our players are very shy so we're trying to bring out the feistiness in them," Whiteman said. "Something that is hard for them is that we are trying them in different positions to see what is working and what's the thing that's going to click, and then also having people out … Brendaly (Anselmo) was out sick this week, we had Suemy (Delgado) come out feeling sick, we have Cassidy (Garibaldo)'s ankle hurt, Chelsea (Alvarado)'s back hurts. That becomes kind of a game of chess like where can they fit."

Drawing out "the feistiness" in Woodburn is something Whiteman and assistant coach Sydney Van Steenberge have been doing since the start of the season. The coaches have been actively participating in the practices, with one on the field and the other on the sideline offering feedback and critiques where needed. Competing with the team is one way the coaches are attempting to bring the more reserved out of their shells.

Another way is relying on the more vocal on the pitch, namely the backline.

"I think it comes a lot from us looking and leaning onto the people who are doing it," Whiteman said. "Litzy, for example, did a great job in the back doing that. Our two center backs do a pretty decent job of that."

It wasn't meant to be against Wilsonville, though.

In a clash of last year's 5A and 4A state champions, it was the Northwest Oregon Conference squad that walked away with the win. The Wildcats were buoyed by the efforts of junior forward Kenley Whittaker, who recorded a brace and an assist on the night. Whittaker got her team on the board with 24:45 to go in the first half.

In the second half it was Wilsonville freshman Ashlyn Ring and senior Natalie Kendig who scored a pair of goals, followed by Whittaker with her second of the night.

While Woodburn competed better in the second half, getting more looks at the goal and putting pressure on the Wildcats goalkeeper, it wasn't enough.

Whiteman knows what she wants her team to improve on technically, but it comes back to drawing out more of the fight in her squad.

"I think our second half was better than our first half," Whiteman said. "A key thing for us has been not clearing our ball well out of the back, and then they have an opportunity right in front of our goal. A lot of goals this season have come from that. A lot of things that would change the game for us, like stepping to the ball, switching the ball sooner, winning 50-50 balls … that all comes from when you're pumped up."

The Bulldogs' early schedule has been strong, but Whiteman relishes the challenge and opportunities to play postseason-caliber opponents while there is still a next time. Woodburn (0-3-1) doesn't get long to rest, facing Sherwood (2-1-1) on Thursday, Sept. 15, before getting a six-day reprieve from competition.

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