Philomath High School finished up a banner year in athletics over the past nine months with state titles in boys soccer, girls basketball and girls track and field.
On a Saturday when coach Joe Fulton’s track girls were winning the top trophy at Hayward Field, the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association was holding its annual awards banquet down the road at Autzen Stadium. Soccer coach Dave Ellis and girls hoops coach Ben Silva were among those honored as recipients of OACA coach of the year awards.
Philomath High also picked up an award at the May 21 event as the “2021-2022 4A All-Sports Winner.” Many different honors were announced with the coaches’ awards including those with fall and winter programs.
The boys soccer team had a memorable run to the 4A title with a 17-1 overall record, which included wins in the playoffs over Estacada (5-0), McLoughlin (1-0), North Marion (2-1 in overtime) and Hidden Valley (2-1 after penalty kicks).
Ellis said he loves coaching soccer because in his mind, he sees it as the pinnacle of team sport.
“I concede other sports’ coaches feel the same about their sports and I don’t begrudge them that,” Ellis said. “For me at its best, it is 11 players working together reading situations and reacting in unison making dynamic decisions in real time based on time on the training field and also understanding that player and knowing what he wants to do and how they can help them succeed.”
Added Ellis, “No stoppages, no timeouts. Just play and get on with it.”
Working with the high schoolers also keeps the coach feeling young.
“I have been accused by several of my friends of being an overgrown 13-year-old,” Ellis said. “I guess on one level, I love coaching because it keeps me with young people and I can ignore my advancing years for a few precious moments.”
Silva’s girls basketball team had quite a season over the winter months with a 22-4 record that included a playoff run of victories over Henley (69-52), Mazama (58-30), Hidden Valley (44-28) and Corbett (46-35). Senior Sage Kramer was named 4A player of the year.
“I see coaching as an extension of my career as an educator, a teacher with an opportunity to work with youth in a different way,” Silva said when asked why he enjoys coaching. “You get to know the kids better. … You spend two hours a day with them every day for five months of the basketball season, which is a lot of time.”
Silva said that those days, weeks and months provide mentorship opportunities that he hopes teaches the players skills that will translate to their lives beyond high school.
“Most of our athletes aren’t going to play collegiately and I feel like we can teach them things that will help them be successful in college or in their careers or whatever their next steps in life are,” he said.
Reflecting on the boys soccer team’s success last fall, Ellis said the players realized that they needed to put the team ahead of any individual accomplishments.
“I think we settled pretty early on a style of play and formation and the boys understood their roles in that system,” Ellis said. “At the same time when game dynamics required a change of style or formation, the boys were able to adapt to the ideas we had as a coaching staff. In general, while the boys in the team definitely had their egos to man, they put that aside and prioritized getting a win for the team each time out.’
The Warriors had just the one loss and came through under pressure with their backs to the wall to win three straight close playoff games.
“We never had a moment where we fell to pieces,” Ellis said. “We wobbled at Newport and fell at home to Stayton but both games taught us about adversity and how to deal with it. If you look at playoffs, you see those lessons learned in fighting to the end to get a late winner vs. McLoughlin and the come-from-behind wins vs. North Marion and Hidden Valley.”
Silva points to his players adopting the same strong defensive mentality that he believes in as a pivotal ingredient in the winning formula.
“I think we had a full team of girls that really bought into our system,” Silva said, adding how seniors on the roster took on a significant leadership role. “They were pretty dedicated to getting the job done this year.”
Philomath held 19 of its 26 opponents under 40 points, including 30, 28 and 35 at the state tournament in Coos Bay.
“On the defensive end, we averaged only allowing 31 points per game through the tournament and close to that through the whole season,” Silva said. “If the other team is scoring only 30 points … it made it hard to lose, especially since offensively, we had Sage and some other contributors.”
Both Ellis and Silva were asked to describe their own coaching styles.
“This question gets asked a lot of coaches — it’s hard to answer without sounding like a tagline for a movie or a motivational seminar,” Ellis said. “I think coaching is about earning the respect of your team and using that status to get them on the same page in pursuit of a single goal. Every player is unique and I try to find how to best communicate and motivate them.
“To oversimplify it, some need an arm around the shoulder and some need a boot up the backside — not that those are the only ways to motivate,” he added. “The rub is to know who needs what and when.”
Silva said there’s a time and place for different approaches to how you get through to players. He often takes a cue from the players themselves.
“The kids, they know when they’re doing something wrong and they’re the hardest ones on themselves,” Silva said. “Some players respond better to criticism and you can provide some of that. It’s about getting to know your players and seeing what works best for each individual rather than as a team.”
On a side note, the girls soccer 4A coach of the year was Andrea Whiteman, a Philomath High graduate and former co-coach of the Warriors’ program. Whiteman coached Woodburn to the state title.