Fourth-ranked Wildcats begin conference action at Liberty

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Riley Johnson (15) and the Wilsonville girls soccer team enter conference play with a three-game winning streak. Above, Johnson looks to advance the ball in a nonconference victory at Portland-Cleveland.Through its first four games of the season, the Wilsonville girls soccer team had only tallied one win and two goals combined.

But the Wildcats head into Northwest Oregon Conference play with brightened spirits after finishing their preseason slate with three-straight victories.

Entering their league opener on the road against Liberty at 7 p.m. Oct. 3, they sit at No. 4 in the Class 5A rankings and are eager to attempt a defense of their 2012 title.

“We did really well,” senior goalkeeper Bess Kitzmiller said of Wilsonville’s first seven games. “We came out with a few wins that maybe we shouldn’t have gotten, but we’re coming out on a three-game winning streak and hope to keep the momentum going into league.”

After being shut out in a loss to Tigard — the only nonconference game in which they gave up more than one goal — the Wildcats (4-2-1) outscored Wilson, Woodburn and Newberg by a combined margin of 10-3 in back-to-back-to-back wins.

In the 3-1 win over Wilson at home Sept. 19, junior Kendall Tate notched the team’s first hat trick of the season. Four days later, Wilsonville scored a season-high five goals to rout Woodburn 5-1 on the road.

The Wildcats then capped their nonconference schedule with a thrilling 2-1 win over Newberg at home Sept. 26. With less than 2 minutes remaining and the game tied at 1-1, Tate notched the go-ahead goal.

“Kendall has stepped up a lot,” Kitzmiller said. “She’s so athletic, and she’s been able to put those goals away when we need them.”

Tate’s heroics sealed the program’s first triumph against a Class 6A opponent since its 3-0 shutout of Aloha at home last season. Its only two preseason losses this year came against 6A teams (West Linn and Tigard) that currently boast top-15 rankings.

Wilsonville wrapped up its nonconference slate with 12 goals scored. Kitzmiller and the defense are giving up an average of one goal per game, matching last year’s season average.

Kitzmiller said the Wildcats have made improvements across the field since the season started a month ago.

“Offensively, the forwards have figured out where they need to be,” she said. “Defensively, we’ve had a few injuries, so it’s just been about getting our starting lineup back and knowing how people play.

“We’ve worked out most of our kinks — we’ve figured out where people need to be. We’ve worked a lot on combinations and trying to get everything together.”

Those developments will likely be tested in a conference that currently features two other top-10 teams in No. 1 Sherwood and No. 10 St. Helens.

The Wildcats, who last year snapped a nine-game series losing streak with their 4-2 triumph on the road, will host the Bowmen (5-1-1) at 7 p.m. Oct. 17.

“We both lost a lot of really good seniors, so it’ll be a different game, but it’ll be competitive for sure,” Kitzmiller said. “When it comes to league, anything can happen.”

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