PERFECT SOCCER GIRLS START PLAYOFF RUN
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
The La Grande soccer girls know they're not supposed to talk about it; that they're supposed to concentrate on the task at hand.
But, it is an elephant in the living room. It can't be ignored. It can't be driven completely out of their minds.
That elephant's name is Catlin Gabel.
The girls begin what they hope is a long playoff run Tuesday with a home match against North Marion.
The girls just completed what could only be termed an amazing regular season. They won the league championship, but that only tells half the story of this remarkable team.
La Grande went 13-0 and outscored their opponents 75-8. They were only remotely threatened in two of their games this year, and basically spent the entire season ranked in the state top 10, finishing No. 7.
The girls came into the season knowing they were the class of the league, and they went out and proved it. They credit teamwork, unselfishness and the fact that many of them have been playing six or seven years together for their success.
"We knew we could go undefeated," said forward and leading scorer Lindsey Carmichael. "This is the best team I've ever played on."
Carmichael credits the fact that the girls get along with one another and work together well for their success. "There's no chemistry problems," she said.
"We've all played together since the fifth or sixth grade," said defender Amanda Schuft. Playing together for so long has brought the kids together, and out on the field, they also know each others' tendencies well.
Center midfielder Leigh Baum said that the team's success last year the Tigers went 12-2-2 gave them the experience to do well. They got some playoff experience, plus those two ties rankled the girls, because those were games they thought they should have won.
"We tied two last year. That helped motivate us" to go undefeated this year, Baum said.
Coach Alex Steenstra agreed that the girls' attitudes toward each other is a big part of their success.
"Good chemistry is an important aspect of a team sport," said Steenstra. "Sometimes you take it for granted, but when it's not there, it really shows."
Baum, who has a cousin, Alexis Baum, as a teammate, also commented that there's more than just teamwork in play with this squad. "We have a lot of talent," she said simply.
Now, the La Grande girls have to parlay that talent and those years of getting to know each other into a deep playoff run.
As far as the playoffs, the kids on the team seem to be of a mixed mind. They know, absolutely know, they cannot look past North Marion.
And yet, they also know that lurking out there is Catlin Gabel, a private school in Portland.
Catlin Gabel is last year's state champion (and a 10-time state champion), and a team that knocked La Grande out of the 2000 playoffs by winning the state semifinal 2-1.
If La Grande beats North Marion Tuesday (and Steenstra commented this will not be an easy match), then Catlin Gabel comes calling to La Grande Nov. 9 for a second-round match.
"Revenge is on our minds," Steenstra said. "These kinds of opportunities don't come along very often."
Carmichael, who tallied 23 goals this season (and remarked that, "hopefully I'll get some more"), said that "you gotta take it one game at a time."
But, she admitted that Catlin Gabel has been the team's focus all year. "The whole year, we visualize that each team we play is Catlin Gabel. That helps us get pumped up," she said.
Schuft conceded that the girls have a bit of a chip on their shoulder, as they go up against these powerful private school teams from Western Oregon. Perhaps that chip gives them some added incentive. She said most of the girls on these teams play club soccer year-round, while the La Grande girls don't have the same opportunities for playing club soccer.
You would think that gives the western teams an advantage, but Schuft said that just motivates the La Grande girls that much more.
"There's a little bit of bitterness," she said.
Schuft wasn't that interested in talking about Catlin Gabel. She stressed that North Marion is La Grande's opponent at this point.
"We can't look past them. We can't hype up (Catlin Gabel) too much," she said.