Woodburn — Talking to Head Coach Andrea Whiteman before their biggest practice of the season, Coach Whiteman seemed to look puzzled and wanting an explanation when I told her that I was surprised Woodburn made it to the state semifinals. She granted me mercy when I explained I hadn’t seen them play since the summer, which seemed to be a good enough explanation for her, but showed something even deeper….the confidence of a head coach and team that knew they could make it to a state semifinal. To an outsider, this seemed like a surprising accomplishment, but to them its what they always knew they could do.
For the Bulldogs, they started 2019 with ten new players on their roster, including nine freshman. “It took us a little bit of time to figure out where we wanted everyone at”, Coach Whitman explained, “but we also struggled at the beginning of the year with a lot of injuries and four of our starters were also out against North Marion so it was tough.” Compile injuries with illness and the Bulldogs had a combination that could’ve went any which way, whether it be a lost season or facing adversity and overcoming the challenges. Woodburn is a city that struggles with poverty, with the school receiving federal Title I funding, so for these girls its sort of secondhand nature for them to face adversity and find ways to overcome it.
Their season opener with North Marion demonstrated how much damage was done, as the Bulldogs were torched on the road 7-0 against their biggest rival. According to Coach Whitman, the hot play that her squad has demonstrated in the playoffs started approximately halfway through league play, “There aren’t going to be a lot of changes for tomorrow, we’re going to come out and play the way that we’ve been playing since about halfway through the conference season. Strong defense and possession has been our focus, along with communicating and setting the tone early.”
These focuses have spearheaded back to back playoff shutouts for Woodburn, including a 2-0 road victory over #1 Gladstone on Saturday. Those back to back clean sheets have been the best performances of the year according to Coach Whiteman, who doesn’t anticipate anything to be adjusted based upon those performances, “We’ve come out and played better than we have all season so far in the playoffs, so there aren’t really any adjustments that have to be made.” However, just like every high school coach, Coach Whiteman can find room for improvement, “We need to focus on communicating better, but I mean they are peaking at the right time and all the skills and things we’ve worked on all season are finally coming together.”
Most teams have that one or two players they can throw the ball to and tell them to make a play, but for Woodburn they don’t really have that and its a testament on the unique, skill diversified team they send out game in and game out, “I don’t know if we really have a go to player on this team. Even if you look at our game against Gladstone, I mean Myranda (Marquez) had a goal but she scores all the time and her assist came from Litzy (Gonzalez), a freshman. Our first goal came from a center back finished by a freshman, so I guess we’re only as strong as our weakest player and I think some of those who don’t have the same skill level as some of our best players bring in the factors of being a good teammate and hustling to every ball.”
As the sunset dimmed over the top of their brand new turf inside their football stadium, the level of optimism and confidence from Woodburn absolutely shined through any darkness that might have settled in the sky. The Bulldogs are ready to rumble with their biggest rival, knowing that its the most important and biggest game in the history of their rivalry….