Talking about last season is a bit of a taboo for the Trailblazers women’s soccer team, and for good reason. The team’s former coach resigned at the end of the season and a battalion of experienced players followed him out the door. On top of that there was simply a dearth of victories, or even goals, to provide points for positive reflection.
All told, the 2018 campaign is something that most Trailblazers would rather be left to collect dust in the annals of history. With preseason work well underway this summer, the focus in Blazer camp is all about looking forward.
“Oh gosh, I don’t know if I even want to say it. It was pretty bad,” said first-year coach Clarence Gunderson, when asked about last year’s record. “I think there were only like two wins out of twenty games. It wasn’t pretty.”
Gunderson takes over the program from a well-known and respected coach, Horst Malunat, who retired from coaching at both the collegiate and high school level after last season. However, this is by no means Gunderson’s first foray into coaching. The 28-year old grew up in Liberia before moving stateside around the age or 14. He had offers to play college soccer but chronic knee problems cut that dream short. That’s when he began working on his coaching resume.
“One of the reasons I decided to be a soccer coach is that soccer is something that I’ve done my whole life so to have it taken away as a young player was difficult. But I decided to stay in soccer so I could stay with the younger players,” explained Gunderson.
Gunderson has managed to ingratiate himself to the local soccer community on multiple fronts over the years. He conducts an array of private lessons for prep players around the area while also coaching with the Twin City Union FC women’s team and the Centralia High School boys team. Now he’s excited to see what sort of difference he can make with players who are making their first few strides beyond the prep pitch.
“I think the big thing that we can do is to limit the amount of goals that we conceded last year,” said Gunderson, who noted the team was outscored 96-20 last season. “We also want our friends and family and fans when they come to the game to know that the girls are working hard out there.”
The 2019 roster features just four players who return from last season but Gunderson expects those returners to provide pivotal leadership on a team flush with fresh faces.
No returner is likely to be more important to the mix than Gabbi Nowodworski of Damascus, Oregon, who will serve as the team captain. She will be flanked by sophomores Ellie Nieland, of Banks, Oregon, Lucy Sevilla of Napavine and Amanda Jamison of Yelm.
“We brought in some good players this year. We are a little shorthanded. We don’t have a lot of depth but when we took over, we knew this wasn’t going to be a quick fix,” explained Gunderson. “So far the only local talent is from Tumwater and North Thurston High School. The rest is from out of state or the Seattle area.”
This season, Gunderson will be assisted on the sideline by coaches Emily Sorensen and Salesha Harrah, with Steve Ward also assisting the program in various ways. He says that his assistants have been helpful in the early going as the team attempts to build camaraderie with the urgency of a team trailing by one during stoppage time.
“I think the biggest thing for me was bringing in new coaches. In order to build the program, we had to bring in strong coaches who will help to make this one of the strongest programs in the league,” Gunderson said. “I think from training camp, from day one, so far the girls who have showed up have had good spirit in camp. A lot of girls have been doing things off the field just to improve team chemistry.”
Gunderson says he will be keeping an eye on high school pitches this fall in order to scout prospects for next year’s squad.
“For our 2020 recruits, we will be going after some local talent. When it comes to soccer we are looking for players who understand the game. Who are willing to learn and willing to work hard,” Gunderson emphasized. “One of the things that we look for is I’m huge on education first of all. I know that being a college athlete is not easy. It’s completely different than being a high school athlete. One of the biggest things I would tell them is we cannot achieve athletic success without academic success.”
Centralia College will head to Oregon this weekend for a set of scrimmages at Corban University. The Trailblazers first regular season game is slated for Aug. 31 against Shoreline at Centralia’s Tiger Stadium.