The Final Match
They have done it again. Our boys and girls varsity soccer teams will play in the State Championships tomorrow at Liberty HS. The girls kick-off at 10:30am and the boys follow at 1:00PM. I went back to see what the last 10 years have looked like. Our boys have made it to the final game 5 times during that span. Seven different Oregon programs have made it to the championship since 2010 with five different champions. The OES girls soccer team have played in the final game 9 years in a row. That is a staggering accomplishment. They have the opportunity to win their 8th state championship in a row!
At the same time I never plan to take it for granted. Their success comes from hard work, commitment, and sacrifice. As soon as our student-athletes assume they are entitled to make it to this day is when it all falls apart. It is going to be great weather for soccer. Be sure to join us to cheer on the Aardvarks as both teams face Catlin Gabel. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students/seniors.
Tuesday Road Trip!
Sometimes being a teacher, a coach, and definitely an athletic director can make you feel like you are doing the same thing over and over again. Missy and I talk about the Groundhog Day feeling. If you do not know what I am referring to then you need to watch the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day. It was filmed in my wife’s hometown of Woodstock, Illinois and it is about a weather broadcaster who wakes up every morning doomed to live the same day over again. The same people say the same thing. The same events happen at the same time. At first Bill Murray spends the first half of the film feeling trapped and bored. But as the movie progresses, he starts to see the amazing opportunities that present themselves, and each time he wakes up to the same Sonny and Cher song on his clock radio he does his best to embrace the day with a renewed positivity. It sounds hokey, but when I woke up to my alarm, “Doctor My Eyes” covered by the Jackson 5, I told myself I needed that same positivity as Bill Murray. The road trip to Medford and back can seem long, but there is no guarantee that I am going to have another one. I also know that this is the only one I get with this team. So I figured I would keep my laptop open and I would try to write down the magical moments. Driving south on I-5 I experienced a Groundhog Day moment. One year ago to the day I was in the same seat on a Charter Bus heading south to Medford with the girls varsity soccer team. He tries to see all of the beautiful things that happen and connect with each person. He strives to make the day better for everyone else which makes his experience better.
Below are my notes:
We are four hours from Medford. The girls are relaxing as best as they can and their laughter is infectious. It is the kind of laughter that I don’t hear at OES when I eat with colleagues or talk with parents. It is pure joy. No one is telling jokes. They are jut sharing daily stories and retelling past adventures. It is just teammates, friends excited to be with each other, finding joy in their shared experiences. I don’t think I paid attention to this part of the trip last season. I was focused on answering emails and prepping basketball practice schedules. I was so focused on the logistics of the event I didn’t realize the power of the journey.
Oregon is a big state. The girls continue to laugh and tell stories. Some move seats to retell or share something specific, but mostly the stories are for everyone. No one is wearing headphones now. We are still a ways away, but the music is started to play a little louder. Does any parent like their child’s music?
I just got a text from a ’19 OES parent. “One year ago today! Go ‘varks!” She let me know how much she misses being on the sideline cheering with other families, team dinners, watching her daughter compete. I remember how much my own dad and mom were a little lost after I was done playing. I had moved to California to teach and they didn’t have something on the calendar for every Saturday of the spring season. When I returned to NJ to coach football and lacrosse, my dad was always in the stands. Upon surveying the bus I notice the only ones with their laptops open are the seniors. They are working on the essays and applications that will help them find their next adventure.
Head Coach Justan Wolvert has the game film on in the seat behind me. Every once in a while he will call one of the girls up to his seat. He will show them 5 seconds of a St Mary’s film. Those five seconds are magic. He uses the film to affirm what our OES athlete does well, or he points out an opportunity to try something new. He never belittles the opponent. He always makes it about the OES player and why they are going to be successful. He quietly builds the confidence of each player one at a time. It is masterful how he does it.
This team has experienced adversity. There are several girls who won’t be able to dress today. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you which ones by how they are acting. They are all in. That is obvious. When I first got to OES in 2004 I had a student-athlete tell me that he wasn’t going to come to practice because it was his second sport. He had club soccer and that was his top sport. I told him to quit. If he wasn’t going to commit to his teammates, he didn’t deserve a spot on the roster. It upset a lot of my colleagues. They told me we had a no-cut program. I told them that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have responsibilities to his team. Our girls soccer program doesn’t have any issues about girls understanding that they are accountable to each other. For the last 17 years I have watched leaders like Molly Nakayama'90, Alyssa Gregg'95 Ashley Berman'96, Amy Green'96, Annie Warner'98, Jessica Tsao'05, Carling Leon'09 Hannah Dugoni'12, Hannah Huston'13, Catherine Leon’15 Carolyn Ruoff’15 Mikaleah McKinney-Griggs”16, Ruby Aaron'18, Annika Lovestrand'18, Megan Ruoff'18, Stephanie Finley'19, Joanna Cloutier'19 and countless others ensure that the team holds itself accountable on and off the field. Our captains this year, Sophie and Harper, have continued this commitment to accountability, hard work, and selflessness.
Lunch time! There are blue skies at the rest stop. It is time to fuel. The girls gather at two picnic tables and eat everything from bacon to salad rolls. For the fast eaters, boredom leads to dance sessions. We are two hours from game time and the texts from last year’s seniors start to roll in. Joanna, Maya, Olivia, etc. The class of 2019 lets the current squad know that they are with them both figuratively and digitally. The NFHS network will be streaming in New Hampshire, Maine, California, and Oregon and our college Aardvarks will be watching this year’s rematch with St Mary’s in the semifinals. Our college freshmen have already learned that there is nothing like high school sports. Maybe it is due to the distance from home, or the added independence, or some other reason, but college athletics are not the same. One more hour until we arrive. Back to the bus.
At exit 66 I realize that we are still in Oregon, but this doesn’t look at all like Portland. There is no time for a side trip to Hugo or the Pottsville Museum. Four hours in a bus where I grew up meant you were either in Vermont or Virginia.
Our three freshmen mix up with all of the classes and they separate and return to each other more because they enjoy each other rather than security. They aren’t really freshmen anymore. They are playing in the semifinals of a state tournament. They are critical to the team’s success and they are treated accordingly. It is unique to OES and their experience will shape how they treat next year’s freshmen.
I turn on Todd Mansfield’s broadcast of the boy’s game and the entire bus hangs on his play by play call. Olivia finds the live stream on FACEBOOK, but we decide to rely on Todd’s commentary. We pull in to the field complex and as the girls change and set up their bench area they listen intently on their phones. It is great to see the girls and the boys support each other. Both programs support each other and make the effort to attend each other's games.
With only minutes until the National Anthem and introductions, a group of parents arrive. They let me know they went to the school instead of the game location. I remind them the game location is on the website. Another set of parents arrive and say the same thing. 5 minutes into the game another two parents arrive. Same story. I realize that our website may suck.
The girls begin the game with amazing energy. They line up passes and senior Zoe S fires a rocket to make it OES 1 St Mary’s 0! The dozen Aardvark fans erupt. At the 15 minute mark it hits. All of a sudden we look like we drove 5 hours before the game. The girls continue to make plays, but they look tired. St Mary’s doesn’t adjust and they continue to keep 9 back with the goalie and hope they can create something in transition. The first half ends and the parents shift uncomfortably. OES has dominated possession, and St Mary’s seems content to sit back on defense. But will we have enough in the tank to win this match?
In the second half OES continues to dominate possession, but St Mary’s doesn’t allow the girls to create easy opportunities. Our girls remain poised, but then it happens. The counter attack! St Mary’s transitions to offense. They have the uneven match-up. OES goalie Izzy comes out to confront the attacker who deftly lobs it over her head. The St Mary’s fans begin to scream and the OES fans bellow, “No!” when Grace A'21 sprints in from the backside wing and makes a sliding kick at the goal line to clear the ball away.
OES earns the 1-0 victory. They are going back to the State Championship for the 9th year in a row. It is In and Out time. Burgers and milkshakes, music, and retelling of Grace’s play, Zoe’s goal and countless other moments in the game.
Finally we get on the bus and head north on I-5. Ice packs are handed out. When you play for this long, the body takes a beating. Lights go on and off, but the conversations and the laughter continue steadily for the final 5 hours. It is the final road trip of the season and it seems the girls don’t want to waste a minute of their time together. I am so grateful that I was able to watch the day unfold.
Our two soccer teams will not be the only OES competitors tomorrow. Good luck to 8th graders Mia G and Jackson R as they compete at the USATF-Oregon Junior Olympic Meet at Western Oregon University.
High school basketball and ski racing season begins Monday. Girls basketball will be in the gym and the boys will start in SPARC. Dryland training will meet in the weight room. The best part of playing in the final game is not having to wait around before the next season begins.