Wildcats clinch conference crown with shutout of Milwaukie

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Audrey Chames (right), shown during a preseason game at Portland-Cleveland, scored a goal to help the Wilsonville girls soccer team defeat Milwaukie in its regular-season finale Oct. 29. The Wildcats won their second-straight NWOC title.Those who expected the Wilsonville girls soccer team to experience a decline this season might’ve been surprised to see the final Northwest Oregon Conference standings.

The Wildcats did it again.

Without a graduated senior class that included three college prospects, they clinched a second-straight league title and their third in four years with a 2-0 blanking of Milwaukie on the road Oct. 29.

It was the fifth shutout victory in conference play for Wilsonville (10-3-1, 6-1 in the NWOC), which outscored its seven league opponents by a combined tally of 20-2.

Arguably the team’s highlight of the regular season was its 2-0 shutout of Sherwood at home Oct. 17, when it upended its rival for the second year in a row. The Bowmen (10-2-2, 5-1-1) and Putnam (6-4-4, 5-1-1) tied for second place in the conference standings.

“It just feels good that we beat Sherwood and to know that we’re one of the best teams in the state,” senior goalkeeper Bess Kitzmiller said. “To do it back-to-back, it shows that we’re a consistent team. We’re still good.”

The Wildcats, who finished their league slate with the No. 3 ranking in Class 5A, earned an automatic bid to the state playoffs and were scheduled to host Ashland (9-3-2) at 4 p.m. Nov. 5. The winner of that first-round game will advance to face either Crescent Valley or Pendleton in the quarterfinals Nov. 9.

For Wilsonville, which lost in the quarterfinals last year, the postseason is its chance to make a statement that even back-to-back conference titles can’t make. The program has earned state runner-up honors twice (1998 and 2011) but has never won it all.

“Last year, we were ranked really high, and we kind of thought we were just supposed to make it to the semifinals,” Kitzmiller said. “But we didn’t play as well as we could have.”

This time around, the Wildcats have tried to change their mental approach to the playoffs. They’ve also altered their training routine.

“We’ve been working on having short and intense practices to make sure we’re focused,” Kitzmiller said. “In the past, we’ve gotten burned out and declined. We’re just trying to keep the progress going in practice.”

From her spot in the box, Kitzmiller has anchored a stingy back line for Wilsonville this season. The team had given up just nine goals through 14 games, posting six shutouts during that span.

The success has required attention to detail across the field, Kitzmiller said.

“We’re focusing on playing team defense — starting from the forwards, getting everyone behind the ball,” she said. “We’re just trying to have as few shots on goal as possible.”

The Wildats’ only league loss came at the hands of Putnam, which eked out a 1-0 triumph at home Oct. 22. It was Wilsonville’s first game since defeating Sherwood five days earlier.

“We came out thinking that they weren’t gonna be as good as they were,” Kitzmiller said of the Kingsmen. “They basically played a bunker defense. One of my friends is (Putnam goalkeeper Bella Geist), and she told me afterward, ‘We were basically playing for a tie, and we got lucky.’ So it was frustrating — they weren’t even trying to win. And we definitely didn’t play as well as we could have.”

But the Wildcats finished their league slate with back-to-back wins to clinch the NWOC title. They bounced back from the loss — their first since Sept. 17 — with a 2-0 shutout of Parkrose on the road Oct. 24.

They then topped Milwaukie in their regular-season finale by the same score five days later thanks to goals by senior Savannah Stehman and junior Audrey Chames.

“Going into the season, our first goal was winning league,” Kitzmiller said. “We accomplished our first goal. Now we’re looking forward to the state championships.”

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