Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman Soccer teams look to replace key seniors

Credit: Jacobson
Credit: Jacobson

For true competitors, mere respectability is rarely worth striving for. In the hearts and minds of such people, it is an underwhelming result that typically inspires indifference or, worse, a moderate form of disgust. Scott Shields, head coach of the Whitman women’s soccer team, leaned towards the latter reaction as he discussed his team’s fourth-place finish in the Northwest Conference (NWC) last season.

“Last year, finishing fourth was a bit of a disappointment,” Shields candidly and concisely stated.

His expectations were for something greater than ending the season stranded in the middle of the pack. Though some of the faces have changed, Shields’s expectations remain the same. As another season of conference play gets underway and a new script begins to unfold, slowly morphing the uncertainty of hope and pre-season polls into concrete reality, competitive optimism abounds within both the Whitman women’s and men’s teams.

For the women’s team, finding a target for aspiration and anticipation is a simple matter.

“The expectations are to be fighting for that first place in conference,” Shields said.

Amy Hasson '12 leads the charge against a Pacific University defender. Hasson moved up from her position as midfielder once captain and leading scorer Corina Gabbert '10 went down with an ankle injury.
Amy Hasson '12 leads the charge against a Pacific University defender. Hasson moved up from her position as midfielder once captain and leading scorer Corina Gabbert '10 went down with an ankle injury.

Even in the aftermath of the departure of the 2009 senior class that spearheaded last season’s team, the talent at Shields’s disposal is enough to give that goal the appearance of being within the realm of attainability. 2008 All-NWC First Team selections Corina Gabbert, a senior midfielder, and Courtney Porter, a senior goalkeeper, headline a highly skilled contingent of players in which no class is without strong representation.

Gabbert, who finished second in the NWC in goals and third in overall points last season, not only figures prominently into, but also shares Shields’s success-driven vision for the Women’s team.

After echoing Shields’ claim that the team’s ultimate goal is achieving conference supremacy, Gabbert said, “In the few games that we’ve had, we’ve had moments where we played better than I’ve ever seen our team play, so if we’re able to maintain that level of play and that mentality, we’ll be able to do well.”

In expounding upon the team’s strengths and the reasons why it should be able to do well, both Shields and Gabbert pointed not only to talent but also to a burgeoning chemistry and an apparent penchant for working hard. All three qualities will serve Whitman, which was picked to finish third in the NWC Coaches Pre-Season Poll, well on a road that is not likely to be easy.

“Our schedule’s extremely difficult,” said Shields, who is not naïve enough to discount the strength of a conference typically dominated by teams such as Puget Sound, Whitworth and Willamette.

Whitman’s 1-2 record through its first three NWC games is certainly a testament to exactly how difficult ascending to the top of the conference will be, even if Gabbert missed two of those games. Still, while losses and the moral victories that sometimes accompany them never feel as good as actual victories, the time for abandoning hope, belief and ambition is not yet at hand.

Like the women’s team, the men’s team, which finished second in the NWC last season, must contend with the loss of numerous players who were central to the success it had last year. While head coach Mike Washington’s positivity may not have been nearly as unflinching as that of Shields seems to have been during the offseason, its current state is a healthy one.

“I’m kind of more optimistic now that we’ve had some games. I was apprehensive,” said Washington.

Chris Reid '11 and Todd Wallenius '10 celebrate a goal versus George Fox. Wallenius scored Whitman's only goal in Sunday's 1-1 tie against Pacific University. So far this season, Wallenius leads Whitman with three goals, six points and 14 shots on goal. Credit: Jacobson
Chris Reid '11 and Todd Wallenius '10 celebrate a goal versus George Fox. Wallenius scored Whitman's only goal in Sunday's 1-1 tie against Pacific University. So far this season, Wallenius leads Whitman with three goals, six points and 14 shots on goal. Credit: Jacobson

The way in which his team has played so far has caused much of Washington’s apprehension to fade into memory. Key returning players such as Todd Wallenius, a 2008 All-NWC Second Team Selection, and junior defender Chase Cooper have joined forces with transfer students and first-years, including junior forward Chris Reid and first-year midfielder Andrew Clark, respectively, to reignite Washington’s belief. His roster’s promise is now lucidly before him.

“We’ve got to look at our team strength first. We have a lot of speed and we’re hoping we can use that,” said the coach, striving to explain what, beyond individual play, will give his team an advantage.

While Washington said he had no serious concerns regarding his team, he did stress that health will be crucial for a team that it is not as deep as it has been in the past and that there is still some uncertainty at the goalkeeper position. However, junior Nick McDonald started and played for the entirety of both of Whitman’s first two conference games, from which the team emerged with one win and one tie against George Fox and Pacific, respectively, in goal.

If the team is to build on the first two games, it must do so in what Washington describes as “a tough conference,” where “anybody on any day can beat somebody.” The coach cited Whitworth, Pacific, Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound as potentially worrisome conference opponents.

Still, looking at the big, tangible picture that is wins, losses, ties and rankings, Washington pronounced, “There’s absolutely no reason that we can’t finish in the top three,” before proceeding to suggest that no rank is beyond the team’s reach.

With any other attitude, the distance to first place would simply exceed the grasp of both the men’s and women’s teams.

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