Team Spotlight: A Players Insight On West Salem Girls Soccer, As Told By The Seniors

West Salem — The wind howls on the sides of a well designed field at West Salem High School, making it only lightly windy on such a dreary evening of weather inside the Black Hole. The rain had stopped for a bit and the sun was trying to peak out over the wet ground, but the clouds succumbed it and started dropping more water on an already soaked field. All the while, West Salem Girls Soccer is prepping for its training session ahead of their game against Sherwood, less than 24 hours after tying one of America’s best teams 0-0. Head Coach Whitney Pitalo is pulling her players out one by one to chat with me about the team, and over the next hour and a half, the eight Lady Titan seniors talked with enthusiasm, energy, and excitement about the dark horse that has come from the Black Hole in West Salem. Here is the story these eight seniors have told me about the 2019 version of West Salem Girls Soccer…

Embracing First Year Coach Whitney Pitalo

Presenting a wealth of unique experience on her resume, first year Head Coach Whitney Pitalo didn’t take long to win over the hearts of her athletes, undergoing a near perfect coaching transition despite a completely brand new coaching staff and system. Here are is what some players had to say about the transition to Coach Pitalo…

Aria Dyson: “It was a great transition, most of these coaches grew up coaching us in club soccer so we’ve already had a connection with them in that. Having a female coaching staff just makes the connection just more there, they understand things better, and I just feel there is a better overall connection between the players and coaches this year.”

Amani Noor: “We’re all excited having this new coach with all this experience playing soccer, who is bringing in this full staff of athletes that we have never heard of before, but they all have something different to bring to the table. I honestly believe we did a great job respecting them and showing them that we care about them as our coaches, that we see them as people we can learn from, people that we can trust, people we can respect.”

Sarah Rice: “The new philosophy was very clear at the beginning of the season, and all the girls understood what we needed to do and how to do it.”

Katie Harms: “We took everything we have learned in past years and just incorporated it into more things this year, because every coach has new ideas and its worked out really well.”

Olivia Orozco: “We are definitely with our new coaches, all the ladies that are coaching us, and they’re just really good at coaching us, getting to know us, and preseason has helped quite a bit with that with the team activities that we’ve been doing. Just getting to know each other, the coaches, and their new coaching style has really made a smooth transition.”

Being A Team Captain For First Year Head Coach Whitney Pitalo

A coaching change is never an easy one, and for West Salem, they certainly aren’t an exception. After unanimous agreement about having a very smooth transition, Coach Pitalo named her team captains as seniors Paige Alexander and Abby Knoll. Being named captains by the new coaching staff, Alexander and Knoll took to their perspectives on being given the honor and privilege by their new head coach…

Paige Alexander: “I take it as an honor, I absolutely love it! She obviously saw me as someone who take on the role as a captain, and I’m really proud that she did and I have a lot of respect in that, I take it very seriously. The fact she came in and saw me as a captain, well I take a lot of pride in it.”

Abby Knoll: “It was really great knowing that I have the support of our new coaches. We have a lot of seniors this year and a lot of leadership to go through, so it was really reassuring to know that they saw me as a leader and I’m glad I was able to fulfill those expectations.”

Community Is More Than An Expectation, Its A Team Value

Community means many things to many people, it could mean the city you live in, the region of a city you live in, or perhaps a group of people you associate with. For the Lady Titans, community is a way of life and a value they have as a program, and it shows in every aspect of their team. Their chemistry, team get togethers, and everything far and between revolve around their sense of community and belonging. Here is what a few players had to say about the Lady Titans community…

Sarah Rice: “Here at West, a lot of our girls play club soccer together so they’ve grown up and played together, and so we have a lot of great relationships within the team. Everybody stays positive and gets along. We just work really well together and the chemistry shows on the field.”

Aria Dyson: “We’ve almost all grown up together playing club soccer, at school we’re all super friendly and sit together, and we introduce people to each other. We’re just like a big, happy family.”

Katie Harms: “We all have a really strong bond with each other. On the field if we need to correct something then we correct it, if we need to say something it doesn’t come out harsh, we’re all best friends and we can work it out.”

Amani Noor: “I’ve noticed through it all that we’re all there to help each other, its not an individual sport its a team sport, and I’ve played with some of these girls for the first time over the last few years and its like we all have the ability to play off one another. The coaching staff is getting us into the habit of complimenting each other, making all of us look good. When we come to practice we are one team, we are one unit, and we aren’t letting anything off the field stop us from being who we are on the field.”

Fatima Jimenez: “All of us are friends and we build each other up instead of tearing each other down, when we make mistakes we come back from them and recover quickly, and we’ve worked hard on seeing each other as teammates and as people instead of just players.”

Competing With Oregon’s Best Teams, Even One Of America’s Best Teams

The Lady Titans have had a great awakening under first year head coach Whitney Pitalo, quickly emerging as legitimate state championship contenders over the course of the first couple weeks of the season. West Salem opened with back to back shutouts of Central Catholic and Wilsonville, followed by wins over Sheldon and Canby, and finally a pair of ties against 6A contender Sherwood and a top team in America in the Jesuit Crusaders. Sitting at 4-0-2, West Salem is currently ranked #5 in the state by OSAA calculations and they wrap up non-conference against 6A power Mountainside on September 24th. Here are what some of the Lady Titans had to say about the keys to the hot start…

Paige Alexander: “Its been a really positive energy both on and off the field, and we’re just really close. I think our main source of success has been our closeness. Talent comes with the game, but team chemistry is really hard to find and we have such a strong bond on the field that you can tell when we play.”

Olivia Orozco: “Getting our feet wet with the new players coming in, we’ve been working on bonding a lot together and we’re really united. We’re working together as a team, not as individuals. We have a lot of individual talent, but the biggest thing has been the ability to play together and that’s what has really helped us so far.”

Amani Noor: “Its been great having a coach with fresh perspective, keeping us unpredictable. I think we’re all here for the same goals and we all want to achieve them. Its been awesome to have a new look on the game and a new style of play, and we’re all 100% bought into it and trying to perfect that style.”

Fatima Jimenez: “The coaching staff has really boosted our confidence, they have a lot of faith in us. We work on things in practice, and then we have things before the game that we talk about wanting to work on from the get go of the game, and it helps a lot.”

Sarah Rice: “We’re undefeated which is always good and we feel really confident going into league play.”

The Lady Titans Strong Message For The Rest Of Oregon

With as much confidence, chemistry, and motivation that West Salem has, its only natural for them to express it strongly. In the two hours I spent with the team, I had an overwhelming sense of hunger, optimism, and confidence from these young women, prompting me to ask them to send their own message to the rest of Oregon about what they want the state to know about the Lady Titans and they responded with force…

Abby Knoll: “We’re coming for a state title, that’s all I gotta say about it!”

Fatima Jimenez: “We’re going to work hard for the rest of the season and we’re going to do the best that we can.”

Amani Noor: “Don’t take us lightly, we’re a team that’s there when we step on the field to make a great game happen, a win happen, to show you who we are. We don’t show up because we have to, we show up because we want to show you that we can be there and we can compete. We’re playing at the highest degree of soccer, every game is like a state final to us.”

Katie Harms: “We’re out here to play our game. We’re out here to win, out here to do the best that we can, and do what we have to do.”

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