What can Greater Spokane League boys soccer players do for an encore?
Last year there was a virtual five-way tie at the top and two teams qualified for state, where Mead reached the tournament round of eight by blanking Central Valley 2-0.
Plenty of talent returns, including seven of 13 first-team All-GSL players. There’s nothing to suggest that this year won’t reprise last, although opinion is mixed.
“I believe the league will be as close as last year,” said University coach Kevin Houston, whose Titans tied for third a year ago and return 10 lettermen, three of them first-team all-league. “There is not much separating the top five teams from each other.”
Ferris coach Robin Crain concurs. He brings back a team that graduated just four seniors and returns two of the best players in league.
Matt Stueckle, coach of co-champion Mead, isn’t quite so sure.
“I don’t know if there’s that same amount of balance,” Stueckle said. “I think it will still be close at the top, but not as many tied with the same record. There will be definite lineage down the table as far as who goes where.”
Shootouts tended to skew last year, when those three teams and Central Valley had 8-2 records and Lewis and Clark finished 7-3.
Mead and CV tied for first, and the others tied for third with three points separating them.
The difference was the co-champs were involved in just one shootout apiece. Both lost, but the bonus point left them ahead of the others.
Both U-Hi and Ferris wound up losing points despite a pair of shootout wins each.
LC was involved in three shootouts, winning once.
So who will finish atop the soccer pecking order? Again opinion is mixed.
U-Hi has three All-GSL first-team performers returning but is inexperienced in goal. Houston said he hopes to be competitive against teams such as Mead, Ferris and LC.
“(The Titans) are one of the teams the last two years who have been pretty young,” said Stueckle, who favors them. “They start the year slow, but by the time they get to the last couple of weeks are rolling.”
Mead always seems to be in the hunt, reaching the state quarterfinals last year despite having an inordinate number of freshmen on the roster. Last year Mead scored 50 goals. Departed graduates accounted for 38 of them.
“There’s enough talent in the group to contend for another title,” Stueckle said. “But we’re very young with only two seniors having been on varsity before.”
Crain likes the chances of the South Hill schools: “Toss a coin among us, U-Hi and LC. We have to eliminate the ‘luck’ factor, whether good or bad, by just being better.”
LC coach Casey Ames brings back 15 letter winners.
“I expect us to compete for a league title,” Ames said. “But the GSL is notoriously competitive and it will not be easy. The question is can we replace the guys that graduated and figure out how to play together?”
Like other spring sports, soccer has been left to the whim of Mother Nature. Mead had been outside just two times by Tuesday.
“We haven’t gone over our set pieces yet,” Crain said. “It’s like a basketball team that has not put in one half-court play.”
League begins today and already there’s been a change with the Shadle Park-Mt. Spokane match moved to Albi Stadium at 3 p.m. as part of a doubleheader followed by Ferris-CV.