ILWACO — Ilwaco’s soccer players are being put through their paces.
Four-year coach Andrew Goodwin is as excited as his team to be back out on the field kicking the black-and-white ball.
He played select soccer through middle and high school as well as all four years for the Toledo High School team. It’s his first experience coaching. “I just like playing soccer, and to be able to come here with all these girls and build their skills is a lot of fun,” he said.
Ilwaco introduced soccer four years ago after a concerted effort by parents and fans wanting to add the sport into a calendar previously dominated by “traditional” sports. Unlike Oregon, where all soccer is in the fall, the WIAA schedules girls soccer at Washington schools in the fall and boys in the spring.
The pandemic booted out the fall 2020 schedule and IHS also went a year where there were too few players turning out.
This season, senior Gabby Bell and a couple of juniors, Ione Sheldon and Sam Grote, will provide returning experience.
Sheldon summed up exactly what’s on the mind of every student-athlete right now. “I am just excited to be with my friends again and come out and have fun,” she said. “I feel like I have been cooped up.”
She said she enjoyed playing as a freshman and is pleased that the team has overcome the recruiting problem a while ago when there were too few players to make a team. “It is kind of cool we have enough girls,” she said. “They have a good attitude — it’s very enjoyable.”
Likely goalkeeper Juliet Perez is an eighth grader, but has been playing soccer since kindergarten.
“It’s good at practices and we have good teammates,” she said.
And as for playing goalie? “I get kind of nervous once you get in the box, but once you start playing you kind of let loose,” she smiled.
Five more juniors, Chloe Stringer, Emily Hernandez-Ortega, Zoey Huntley-Stern, Estrella Medina and Zoey Zuern are on the roster with sophomore Abby Williams and another eighth grader, Abby Kerwin.
The team has a European “import,” Jaël Aebi, an exchange student from Switzerland, spending her junior year hosted by Katie and Jacob Brundage.
Soccer is Europe’s No. 1 sport, and growing up in Riedholz, a tiny town in central Switzerland, it’s no surprise her sporting heroes include French star Kylian Mbappé and German midfielder Kai Havertz, who plays in England.
Aebi is looking forward to her U.S. high school experience; her teammates call her Krissy because they have trouble pronouncing her first name. “It is really fun. I have not tried soccer before,” she said.
The season kicks off across the river at Clatskanie Sept. 7 before home games against White Salmon Sept. 11 and Toledo Sept. 19. The rest of the September games are on the road against Toutle Lake, Kalama, Napavine and a 177-mile trek to Forks.
Goodwin is looking at Kalama and Adna to be league leaders; Ilwaco plays Adna Oct. 6 and 25.
As the coach dreamed up increasingly complex skills to help blend the returning players with the newcomers, Sheldon’s concentration was evident while the players developed foot-to-ball control and one-touch passing at a recent practice.
“We are out here to have fun!” Sheldon said.