By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It was the day before the season. Sun was out. Soccer was being played at West Salem High School.
The Titans Girls soccer team with their four seniors and their solid Junior class behind them were out doing some light scrimmaging before their season opener at Sprague Monday night against the Olympians.
They had some great individual talent leave the program last year. Nine starters of their 6A State Semifinalist squad had graduated. But they return some Varsity experience.
Madison McDougal, Mariana Acosta, Joliee Jones and Reagan Davis are the seniors on this year’s squad. The solid Junior class below them features Alexis East, Jillian Huhn, Rylee Loewen, Veronica Orozco, Maddie Cunnigham will take over for Abbey Knoll in goal and Maddy Endler.
With the returners coming back from last year, mixing in with the new faces from JV and those new to the program, this shortened season will help bridge how great last year was and build some momentum into the Fall with more Varsity experience under their belts.
“(The experience) is going to be huge. The experience, the leadership, the strength. Just the explosiveness. A couple of the girls already have Varsity experience last year with ten or eleven Seniors, nine of them starting. For those girls to experience that, that was a really special group that they to experience it with,” Head Coach Benje Orozco starts
“Now they’re able to bring it into their experience here and it’s a big responsibility because now they have to share what they learned with the group that’s…we got a couple sophomores and freshmen on Varsity, so there’s a big responsibility to bring everybody along and raise the level.”
Orozco admitted that he thought this year was going to be a ‘rebuilding’ year, but then quickly realized that he had this solid Junior class that are experienced soccer players and actually got those valuable Varsity minutes last season.
Now the trick will be piecing it all together. There’s some club soccer familiarity with each other but all on the same field will be like jumping into the deep end of the pool. It’ll be a challenge, but it’s nothing new for them to adapt to as they will kick off the season Monday.
“We don’t have a team retreat this year and all of that, (the season) is so short. Bus rides are really important,” McDougal starts. “I’m just excited that we’re playing and that’s what I’m grateful for.”
Being adaptable has been crucial through the stops-and-starts caused by the Pandemic, the Ice Storm over Valentine’s Day Weekend that took the squad away from the pitch for a week. Orozco and his staff have been preaching being adaptable throughout all of it. Something the new Head Titans Girls Coach is happy to see that adaptability from his team through all the craziness swirling around them.
“It’s cool to see,” Orozco said. “This week during try-outs, they were excited to be out here. They were fighting a little harder. Maybe training a little more than what we have seen in the training sessions prior. They’re super excited to be here and I’m excited for them.
“All the difficult parts will be the protocols with Covid. I think culturally for the girls, it’s going to be different than what they’re used to…it’s just going to be different. We have to be adaptable to whatever we have to deal with and still put out a product that we’re proud of at the end of the day.”
Orozco points towards an unique what he’s heard of no benches on the sidelines. Players up in the stands, six-feet-apart. And he talked to the team about some of those differences on the pitch after practice.
But the biggest thing is that they are playing. Hopefully setting the tone that the sports now can set the tone moving forward as they played their two thirty-minute halves on a rare nice February day.
They were working on the little things and seeing where they can improve and see where they can improve on. Freshman Morgan Duke showcased her Varsity-talent as the lone freshman on the Varsity roster this season for the Titans, only two underclassmen made the Varsity squad this season.
It was a sigh of relief knowing that Monday brings that long awaited first game during that intra-squad scrimmage, two thirty-minute halves, just to see where they are at before their 7:30pm first kick in South Salem at Sprague. Their first of ten games this season.
“We don’t have a long season, so it was a really big deal to scrimmage with our team and not have it be try-outs and actually be in our teams and see our weaknesses and strengths. Stuff like that, so it’s really crucial,” McDougal said.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald