The Baker High School girls varsity soccer team got a pleasant surprise this week.
Expecting only to practice this fall in preparation for a possible regular season with matches in the spring, the Bulldogs started a series of friendly (exhibition) matches with rival La Grande.
Baker played the La Grande varsity on Wednesday, and the Tigers’ JV on Thursday. Both matches were at the Baker Sports Complex.
“We didn’t have a ton of time to prep but it’s still a bonus in terms of it not going into the books or anything,” Baker’s new coach, Eric Layton, said. “It’s all about giving the kids a reason to try a little harder and the result is always something that we can use as a learning experience.”
Stringent COVID-19 precautions were required.
“We had to be pretty strict with no visitors, and as long as I could be strict with kids wearing their masks then I’m all for it,” Layton said.
In Wednesday’s match, Layton said he was focusing more on his players being comfortable competing rather than having a specific game plan.
“They got to feel what it feels like again, we were very purposeful, the three (coaching staff) of us, not trying to impart too much instruction,” Layton said.
The Bulldogs fell behind 5-0 in the first half.
Freshman Jozie Livingston scored Baker’s lone goal in what turned out to be an 8-1 loss.
“It felt good, I think we all did a very good job even though the scoreboard didn’t show it, we worked together very well,” Livingston said.
“They were happy just to play and leave it all out there,” Layton said.
In preparing for Thursday’s match against the La Grande JV, Layton said he emphasized the need for the Bulldogs to stay positive.
And Baker responded with two early goals, one by Livingston and one by sophomore Taylor Gyllenberg.
“I’m super proud of them but I also think in terms of coaching it lets your team relax and they can actually play a little less tight,” Layton said. “It was the best thing that could happen to us.”
He said it was obvious that the Bulldogs were more confident with one match under their belts.
“Jitters were lessened, I think kids were happy to be out, I think they were starting to feel a rhythm,” Layton said.
La Grande scored early in the second half to get within 2-1, but the Bulldogs answered with two more goals,
The Bulldogs continued to maintain their 2-goal lead as the second half began. Although La Grande managed to get their first goal of the game 4 minutes in, the Bulldogs were able to answer back with two more goals, from sophomores Daphne Thomas and Sydnee Pierce, to secure the victory, 4-1.
After 8 months of high school sports being limited mainly to practices and individual workouts, Baker players were happy to return to competition.
“I was very excited. We haven’t played for a while so it was nice to get back on the field,” Livingston said.
Layton was also happy that his players, who are spending so much time in front of a computer screen taking online classes, had a chance to get back on the field.
“I really think kids need to get off the computer and do things, so I am super excited to have games and some semblance of a season,” Layton said.
The Bulldogs will again face the Tigers varsity on Friday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m. at the Sports Complex. Although spectators aren’t allowed, fans can watch the livestream available on the Baker Bulldog Nation Facebook page.
The official season for fall sports, including soccer, is slated to run from Feb. 22 through May 1, 2020.