Battle Ground product still going strong

High school coach plays in Women's Premier League

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

Nicole Strong has always scored goals. From her days at Battle Ground High School through the 2011 Women's Premier Soccer League season, the speedy forward has been proficient at putting a soccer ball into a goal.

In 2011, her 15 goals for the Portland Rain led the Women's Premier Soccer League, a national organization of several hundred clubs. Four games into the 2012 season for the Rain, Strong is still seeking goal one.

"I'm not used to not scoring," she said.

Game 5 of this season is at 4 p.m. today at Kiggins Bowl in Vancouver, where the Rain will clash with Emerald City FC, a Seattle club. For the Clark County native — as Nicole Wilcox she scored 29 goals in 1999, her senior season at Battle Ground — breaking through at Kiggins Bowl would be special.

Strong, who in January married Portland Timbers play-by-play announcer John Strong, said the Rain is "a cool blend of players" that ranges from former college players like herself to current college and high school players. Ellie Boon, who will be a senior at Washougal High School in the fall, has two goals this season for the Rain.

The age range is invigorating, Strong said.

"It's awesome to get to play with the younger players and to see them work toward their dreams, she said.

She tries not to think about being almost twice the age as some of her Rain teammates. "I do feel like the old woman out there," the 30-year-old said.

The level of play compares favorably with college soccer, Strong said — except that the Rain practice only twice a week for weekend games.

The Rain are an amateur team — travel and lodging for road trips is covered — so that college and high school players can play for Portland. Head coach Janine Szpara is a volunteer. The Rain recently became part of the Adidas Timbers Alliance, gaining financial help and coaching assistance from the Portland Timbers.

Currently 2-1-1, the Rain are tied for second in the six-team WPSL Northwest Division.

Strong split her college soccer career between Iowa State and Washington State. She led her team in scoring all four college seasons. After college, she spent four years an assistant coach for the University of Oregon women's team.

Now the varsity girls soccer coach at Central Catholic High School in Portland, Strong also coaches with BSC Portland youth soccer club.

In addition to getting to see their coach play the game, having the Rain in Portland gives young players like those at Central Catholic and BSC Portland something to strive toward, Strong said.

"It's extremely important. There's so much talent in women's soccer in the Portland area, and in women's soccer in general. Having (the Rain) gives players something after college to aspire to."

Today Nicole Strong aspires to score her first goal of the 2012 season, and to help the Rain make a push for the playoffs. She finished 2011 playing on a knew with a torn MCL — a decision she doesn't recommend to others. The injury might be part of the explanation for being scoreless through four games in 2012. But she is in no hurry to hang up the soccer shoes.

"It's not my life, but it's been such a huge part of my life," she said about soccer. "I'm going to go as long as my body lets me go."

IF YOU GO

What: Soccer doubleheader at Kiggins Bowl.

Games: Portland Rain vs. Emerald City FC, women’s match, 4 p.m.; Portland Timbers U23s vs. Seattle Sounders FC U23s, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $8 adults, $2 for 12 and younger, for admission to both games.