By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Benje Orozco has returned to the school on the hill. This time, on the girl’s side of the soccer ball.
Orozco’s first stint at West Salem High School was between 2011 and 2013, coaching the boys’ soccer program and reaching the postseason in each of the three seasons he coached. Reaching the second round of the 6A postseason in 2012.
He’s seen how the girl’s soccer program developed under Jaime Rodriguez and reached the 6A Semi-Final round in 2019 under Whitney Pitalo in her lone-year at the helm. Orozco’s two daughters, Olivia and Veronica, were on that Final Four team under Pitalo before Orozco came in to lead the program starting with this upcoming Spring.
As bummed as Orozco is to see Pitalo leave, he’s fortunate enough to have her staff sticking around for some familiarity within the program.
“I was bummed to see Whitney leave but wish her all the best in her pursuit of her career goals. I’m excited that her coaching staff agreed to work with me this year and so the girls will see familiar faces on the sidelines as we train and compete. Continuity is important to me,” Orozco said. “I was the boy’s coach when Jaime started working with the girls and so I know the pedigree of athletes that have played and play at West (Salem) H(igh) S(chool) well.
“The program is fortunate to have student athletes that pursue the sport at the highest level possible and lace up the boots to play for their HS and community.”
Seven of the nine Seniors in 2019 were starters on last year’s squad. Helping to lead the 2019 West Salem squad that went 14-1-3 overall record squad, finished first in the Mountain Valley Conference and recorded 12 shutouts.
Orozco admits that though the team will look different with how many holes left by those Seniors, but knows too that the bar was set high. Returning a core group of Juniors with a lot of soccer experience under their belts to carry into the next time they are able to hit the pitch. Mixing in with the new faces that they have coming into the program.
“If I do my job and get them all to gel, I’m confident we’ll have success,” Orozco said. “My expectation of the girls will be to work hard, work for each other and to create a team culture of unity that extends outside of soccer. If we’re able to create that I’m convinced we can compete with the best teams in the State and have the girls write their own history.”
2020 has been difficult for Orozco to navigate with his team. Pointing towards nothing is normal about the approach to planning or even attempting to schedule anything out at the moment.
“The rhythm is off and so for me it has been extra difficult to put my “stamp” on the program. We were able to train in November before the “freeze” and it was good to get on the pitch with the girls and see their training habits,” he starts. “Building rapport and trust with the group is imperative for me and to say I was disappointed with the “freeze” would be an understatement! The group is excited to compete and will do so when the time comes.”
Orozco is erring on the side of caution, keeping communication to the ‘old school’ approach of communication through communicating through his school district email address awaiting the day in which they’re about to reunite and hopefully prepare for another deep run in 6A.
“I’m very excited to be working with the program and hope we’re able to compete in March,” Orozco said.