After Conquering OES, Catlin Gabel Goes For Back To Back Championships in 2020

Last season was a breaking chains moment and overcoming a massive hurdle that has dogged Catlin Gabel for years…..beating Oregon Episcopal School in the state championship game. For four years, OES had Catlin Gabel’s number in the state title game, always finding ways to keep the Eagles from breaking through and taking home the gold trophy back to Portland. After sweeping OES in the regular season, the Eagles didn’t allow the title game to be a “thirds time charm” for the Aardvarks, breaking through and taking gold. With seven returning seniors, the Eagles look to repeat and keep the momentum they ended last season with. Catlin Gabel senior captains Thea Traw and Sophie Wand, senior Sophie Kruse, and junior Kendrick Dahlin talked with Elite Oregon Girls about last season and the preparation for a repeat in 2020.

Building A Blueprint

Every success has a blueprint, just like building a house or designing a bridge. For the Eagles, that blueprint would be the one that ultimately helped them overcome the hurdle of beating OES. For Kendrick Dahlin, it was all mental and keeping a strong mindset to keep from repeating the mistakes of the previous four years….

Kendrick Dahlin: “The key to winning last year was all on the mental side. The year before, we beat OES twice, so it should have been our game to win. But in the last few weeks of the season, we began to get lazy, and some of the leaders on the team slacked. So last year, every single time we weren’t putting in full effort in practice or easier games someone always stepped up and reminded us we wouldn’t stand a chance against OES with that work ethic. There were certainly a lot of tactical adjustments we had to make as well. From the beginning, we began working on one or two new systems of play, which we actually ended up using in the final. OES lost a lot of their roster last year so they had weak spots on the sides and in goal, which we worked to take advantage of. But as I said earlier the biggest aspect was all mental. In the very first practices, the captains kept on reiterating that if they beat us last year, they could do it again, no matter how much better we were.”

Photo: Catlin Gabel Soccer

Senior Captain Thea Traw expressed similar sentiments: “We knew that we already had everything we needed—the personnel, the determination, the motive—except for the mental game. Our focus was on building a team that could withstand adversity together. The fortitude to last through the final was the piece missing, and the key to that was to use the team concept to its fullest potential to carry us through to victory.”

Senior Sophie Kruse followed along similar lines of her teammates: “I don’t know that we had a blueprint, exactly, but I think our strategy came down to two words: outwork and outlast. For the past few years, we had beaten OES early on in the season, and then lost in the finals. The message was drummed into us at the start: this year, we would not be losing the finals, and that the two times we played OES before then would be trial rounds for the real event. Even when we beat them during the two times our teams met before the finals, we never got complacent or allowed ourselves to believe that just because we had beaten them before meant that we could easily beat them again.” Senior Captain Sophie Wand gave credit to the personnel aspects of the Eagles, “There wasn’t a specific blueprint going into the season, but I think our collective mindset at the beginning of the year was one that helped us get the championship. We had a strong core group returning and an awesome group of freshman that worked hard to achieve our goals!”

Call For The Generals

Leaders build a team up and carry them through thick and thin, never giving up on their teammates. Catlin Gabel had a team full of leaders, but I asked the girls to tell me who really carried team leadership and were critical to breaking the chains last season. Thea Traw gave a detailed breakdown of the team leaders, describing each of their qualities in detail: “Our captains last year were Anousha (Greiveldinger), Annika (Holliday), Ann Louise (Naito), and Sophie (Kruse). Their different styles of leadership—Anousha’s mental strength, Annika’s steady presence, A-Lo’s intensity, Sophie’s drive—complemented each other very well. For every situation or challenge, we were able to find a solution. We also consistently found leadership from everywhere on the field, with players stepping up in big and small moments, which was essential for our success.”

Photo: Catlin Gabel Soccer

Sophie Wand gave a shout out to an impact freshman in Grace Mueller, “Grace Mueller, our freshman center back was an excellent leader on the field and immediately stepped into her role. She wasn’t afraid to boss people around (nicely of course) and provided a calm presence on the field game in and game out.” Sophie Kruse talked about the unexpected team leaders, “I mean, obviously our captains pushed us to be our best, but I think there were also leaders in unexpected places. All of our seniors were hungry this year, and weren’t willing to let us go easy for their last year, but  we also had incredible unsung workhorses in (now captains) Thea Traw, Sophia Spry. Kendrick Dahlin, despite being an underclassman, was always leading by example and working her butt off. The freshmen were always trying to prove themselves and showed up in the times when it mattered. I can honestly say that this was a team effort, and we had to work together to make our victories happen.”

Kendrick Dahlin came full circle in her description of the leading players, “When you talk about leaders, obviously the first thought is captains. Ann Louise Naito definitely took that head spot. It was her last year, and I think she wanted the title more than anybody else. She was constantly motivating her teammates and being vocal, but I think her biggest contribution was in bringing parts of the team together. She recognized how important the younger players would be, and went out of her way to integrate them. Caroline Cook was also a pretty crucial leader on the team. Although not named captain, she brought so much spirit and energy to every practice or game. I also want to shout out Grace Mueller. Starting at center back as a freshman with the other CB Thea Traw dealing with an injury, she took on a big role. Off the field, she was a bit quiet, but on the field was completely different. She did not hesitate to fully direct her team, or put some of the older players in their place.”

Overcoming Hurdles Within The Hurdles

Catlin Gabel had their eyes on the ultimate hurdle: Beating OES. However, everyone knows that things throughout the season can cause the goal to be derailed. Digging deeper into their story, I wanted to know about the hurdles the Eagles faced en route to conquering the ultimate one. Sophie Kruse talked about a huge blow at a critical time for the team, “I can’t say we had too many significant hurdles, but when Sophie Wand got injured a few days before the final, things started looking pretty bleak. We all relied on her a lot, as a vocal captain, and as a central player, so our morale took a definitive hit. I think we gave ourselves about 7 minutes of despair before turning around and accepting that Sophie’s condition wasn’t one we could change, and our team had to survive without her. I have to credit everyone around me, especially some key freshmen, who stepped up to fill her role.”

Photo: Catlin Gabel Soccer

Kendrick Dahlin touched on the hurdles throughout the season as a whole, “The biggest hurdles we had to overcome were injuries. We began the season with our senior outside back, Anousha Grieveldinger out with a torn ACL. Thea was also not at full strength. Ann Louise injured her ankle midway through the season, and Grace a concussion during the playoffs. And a few weeks before the final, Sophie Wand injured her ankle as well. Everyone but Sophie recovered by the final, at varying degrees of strength. At the beginning of the season, it was in a way beneficial to have some starters out to give other players a chance to improve. So early on, the team naturally adjusted really well to these injuries. The most difficult one was with Sophie. While she is a very important part of our team, we had the leg up against OES and could beat them without her. Like I said earlier, the struggle was mental. Losing one of your best players, especially in the middle of the field put a lot of unnecessary doubt in some of the players. So we made some tactical adjustments and over the next few weeks, the captains and other leaders on the team kept on strongly reinforcing the idea that we were the better team, and not letting a single negative word be spoken.”

Sophie Wand discussed facing failure and being determined not to repeat, “One challenge we faced this season was playing a strong St. Mary’s Academy (Portland) team. We had never played a 6A team before and competed with them the whole game. We ended up losing, but I think that fueled our desire to work harder and not lose again the rest of the season.” Thea Traw touch on the mental hurdles for the Eagles, “One of our main challenges was—in a sense—the mental fatigue from losing last time (especially as we had been so close) and the years before. Overcoming that inertia was going to be our biggest issue. Our mental resilience and strength was something we built as a team during the season which helped us finally conquer our past. We also were somewhat struck with injuries; handling the recalibration of the team required everyone to be on the same page and willing to adapt for the good of the team.”

Training For The Repeat

With the virus that shall not be named still running rampant, trainings, practices, and try outs have become complex puzzles. Nevertheless, the Eagles are still training individually and getting ready for the 2020 season to defend their title. Sophie Wand has found a strong silver lining in the current scenario, “The one thing that I have actually enjoyed about quarantine is that now I can train more! I’ve been working on all aspects of my game, speed/agility, strength, and fitness.” Thea Traw hasn’t changed much of her preparation routine, “I’m preparing with the same mindset that I always have. There is no point to fielding doubts or worries about what might happen—I can only focus on what I control, which is training hard (by myself or in a small group) to be as ready as I possibly can. I have had more time to watch and study the game, however, with the Bundesliga and EPL back on!”

Photo: Catlin Gabel Soccer

Kendrick Dahlin is utilizing all of her resources and opportunities to be ready, “When club season got canceled in the middle of March I immediately saw it as an opportunity to spend more time individually training. My mom is a coach, so I am very lucky to have her help. In the past month or two, I have been focusing more on getting back in soccer shape. I started training with a graduated senior who will be playing in college next year, to play with someone better than I am. I can’t say I’m doing much else specifically for the season than just working on myself as a player.” Sophie Kruse discussed her routines and some team Zoom bonding, “I’m working out a lot on my own, although it’s hard to get touches in on the ball by yourself. I’m mostly alternating mile training and sprints to stay in both long range and sprinting shape. We’ve had a few group Zoom workouts, which I have emphatically DJ’ed, much to the dismay of my team (I’m somewhat renowned for my terrible music taste).”

Reliving It One Last Time

With 2020 continuing to progress, the countdown to first kick is on. However, I wanted the girls to relive their moment as champions once again, so I asked them to express their feelings and emotions for that moment they conquered the OES hurdle. Sophie Kruse didn’t have the same strong feelings as the others, but with good reason, “I think for me it was a little less profound, as I only joined the team last year, and hadn’t suffered through the defeats in previous finals. What really made it special was seeing how much it mattered to the seniors. Those girls had been fighting for four years, only to get beaten at the last minute every time. For us to be able to give them that final victory was everything I could have asked for in that final game.”

Photo: Catlin Gabel Soccer

For Thea Traw, it was a surreal moment for her, overcoming the dogging issue, “It’s hard to put into words. I was so proud of my team, and to win with some of my best friends—that was just incredible. Maybe just purely happy. I wanted that victory so badly for my team, and myself, and to finally see it realized was amazing. I’m not sure when exactly I processed that we actually did it—but it definitely took a few hours (maybe even a day or two!). It was quite the weekend.” Kendrick Dahlin had her emotional moment before the win ever became official, “The most adrenalizing moment was when that second goal went in. That was the moment we really won, not when the clock hit zero. I knew we could hold them off, so as soon as I saw the keeper take the wrong step, my heart dropped. When the final whistle blew, it was obviously very exciting, but the last 5 minutes or so leading up until then dragged on slowly. I was still amped up while watching the boys game, but after I just wanted to go home. Surprisingly, the next day or two after I felt pretty down. The feeling of winning had passed, and I began to realize the season was over. I can’t describe how much I love high school soccer, and there were a lot of seniors that I was going to miss playing with. And we had been working for 2 seasons to get the title, and after winning, it was like there was nothing more to achieve.”

Sophie Wand was injured for the championship, but it was a moment of realization from the position she did find herself in, “I think for me, the feeling of winning the championship was slightly different. I unfortunately was injured, but it was interesting to experience the same adrenaline from the sideline. I figured out I could never be a coach! It was more stressful not playing in the game, but it was still an amazing feeling at the end of it. I after we won it, I talked about it probably an annoying amount for the next week or so. It was so amazing to experience it with the team. We had a very special group of girls who got the job done!”

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