REDMOND —

On the soccer field, everyone is equal. Individual players might have different skills or athletic abilities, but they are all part of a collective unit. For Central Christian boys soccer, that unit happens to include two girls.

Freshman forward Kathryne Biever and junior defender Brianna Sheneman are not the first girls to play for the Tigers’ boys team. They are joined by many other girls at small schools around the state who compete alongside male counterparts, mostly due to a lack of available players for a girls team, according to Central Christian coach Mark Hughes. However, Biever and Sheneman’s experiences show the power of sports as a teacher and unifier.

Biever played on girls teams up through eighth grade and has been playing on boys teams — both recreational and competitive — since sixth grade. Standing alongside Sheneman before a recent practice at the Umatilla Sports Complex in Redmond, she said it is easier to connect with girls, but it is more fun to compete against boys. Sheneman, in her second year with the Tigers, nodded in agreement.

“We grew up in the same class, so we’d just go play at recess or PE,” Biever said, referencing some of her male teammates. “It’s a really great experience because it does toughen you up. You have to get out of your comfort zone and be willing to muscle up.”

When she was younger, Sheneman said, she watched her older brother play for a Central Christian team that included several girls. His passion for the game inspired her to start playing, she said.

Now, Sheneman and Biever are regulars in Central Christian’s playing rotation, and they hope to serve as an inspiration to the next generation of girls. Many of the youngsters, they said, come to watch their games.

“It’s awesome to be the ones that are getting looked up to,” Sheneman said. “It’s crazy to think that they’re in the position that we were in.”

Positioning — “both mental and physical,” Sheneman noted — is an important part of playing against bigger, faster and often more athletic male players. Biever said she has to play with a greater determination and focus.

Those qualities are evident in both players, according to Hughes. He said Sheneman and Biever are both “very coachable” and provide consistent maturity and poise.

Biever is part of a freshman class that Hughes said is an integral part of Central Christian’s improvement as a team. The Tigers are 4-6 this season after winning just one game in the three previous seasons combined.

“If anything, it builds the team,” Hughes said of having girls on the roster. “The guys work a little bit harder, to be honest with you, because they don’t want to be shown up by a girl.”

Sometimes, Sheneman and Biever show up their opponents, and sometimes — they admit — they get shown up. But that is the nature of soccer regardless of gender. The lessons of the sport are the same — the defining moments of defeat and elation no different. Thankfully, at least in their case, Sheneman and Biever said opposing players are always welcoming, and so are their teammates.

That does not mean everyone goes easy on them, according to Biever. Although she said the girls sometimes get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to foul calls, the level of competition does not change when they are on the field, as should be expected.

“Sometimes we’re not as great as (the boys) in the physical aspect, but they’re so cool about it,” Biever explained. “They don’t hold back advice, either. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean you can’t coach me.”

When the starting whistle sounds and the rest of the world falls away, Biever and Sheneman are soccer players. That’s it. Their aspirations, roles and competitive instincts are virtually identical to those of their teammates and opponents. They both recall instances when they joked around at practice with teammates or lamented about having homework with opposing players during breaks in the action.

That is the beauty of high school sports. It unites young people of different backgrounds through a common experience.

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, rclarke@bendbulletin.com

21319979