By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– When the season kicks off here in about two weeks, a familiar Salem face will be taking over the West Salem Girls Soccer program in 2012 South Salem-grad Whitney Pitalo at the helm.
With Audrey Kagey, Bianca Andrade, Aubri Morales and Meli Cortez joining the former Saxon and University of Southern California athlete on staff entering the second day of try-outs Tuesday evening at West Salem High School.
Interestingly, Cortez and Pitalo were teammates at South Salem before Pitalo went on to be a four-year Varsity player for the Trojans through 2015 while Cortez went to the University of Idaho and finished up at Western Oregon University in 2017 before coming to the other side of the Marion Bridge now as coaches and not as players.
“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think I ever expected to be, or ever assume, that I will be a Head Coach at one of the High Schools in this city but I’m really excited about it,” starts Pitalo of being a coach. “I’m excited for what we’ve started and we’ve got a whole plan for this year, we have a lot of expectations and goals so we’re excited to get started.
And though she’s been an assistant at Willamette University for their Women’s Soccer team, where she worked on her MBA as well,
“I’ve always felt like it was important to have subtle confidence. I feel like I have some nerves about this season, I have some expectations that I hope aren’t too high, but I have goals for us. I hope that we finish strong and be top in the State,” “But I feel good with the girls that we have and my staff. I feel like when you have a good group of girls and a good coaching staff, you just have this kid of confidence.”
West Salem reached the Quarterfinals before falling to eventual 6A State Champions in Jesuit in 2018 that capped a 11-5-1 season and an 6-1 Mountain Valley Conference record. That lone loss came way of MVC Champion Summit who the Titans defeated 2-0 in the second round of the playoffs last season.
Now featuring a Senior-heavy class that has girls like Abby Knoll, Amani Noor and Paige Alexander coming out following her time with the Portland Thorns organization the past few years, the expectations are high for the team to come out and excel that has already started in house after all the summer training up to this point of the off-season.
“I think that this Senior Class is going to be huge. I’ve never doubt their talent. I never doubt that they’ll perform on the field, but one of the things that’s important to us is to build a good team culture that those underneath them…that they’re empowered, that they have a voice, that they can contribute and have value,” said Pitalo.
“I feel like I’ve already seen this senior class really invest in the younger players and I feel like that’s really important. It’s not going to be the Senior Class that’s going to take us to the State Championship, it’s going to be every single year.”
The Titans will be at South Salem for the Jamboree August 30 before kicking off the season September 4 at 7pm before going on the road to play at Wilsonville on September 6.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald