When they were freshmen, Central Valley High School girls soccer coach Andres Monrroy marveled at the potential his young players had and looked forward to three more years of escalating success.
When they were sophomores, he saw them make significant strides, only to have their season broken down by injuries that sidelined as many as six of his starters.
Now, with a roster chock full of juniors with two years of varsity experience under their belts, the Bears coach is ready to see potential unleashed on the Greater Spokane League.
“We’re going to be competitive – we’re going to be in there,” Monrroy said. “I only have two seniors on this year’s team and we have some very talented freshmen coming in to fill out our roster.
“We just need to stay healthy.”
Farther north on Sullivan Road, East Valley has its eye on another run at the GSL Class 3A title the Knights captured a year ago.
“We had a big, talented senior class a year ago so we’re going to be pretty young,” coach Gabe Escobar said. “But I think we have the talent to be right in there by the end of the season.”
Central Valley Bears
The CV roster boasts 11 11th-graders, meaning Monrroy could field an all-junior starting lineup and still have a junior ready to come off the bench. If he wanted.
Players like senior Jackie Morden make such a move impractical.
“Jackie is one of those players who’s had some hard luck with injuries in her career,” Monrroy said. “She’s our captain and our leader. She’s worked extra hard to get herself ready for this season and we’re hoping we can keep her healthy.”
Junior Danae Brooks, a veteran letter winner, starts in goal, but freshman Tiahnna Willms has played well in preseason games and Monrroy calls her “the future of the program.”
Junior Haleigh Miller was the team’s leading scorer a year ago and is in the middle of the team’s early season offense. Junior defenders Alex and Nicole Richardson both have found their way into non-league scoring mix while freshman Paige Gallaway earned her way into the starting lineup and the box score with the Bears first goal against Lakeside.
The Bears finished the season with three wins in 10 games a year ago, but limped to the finish line.
“We had six starters out injured by the end of the season,” Monrroy said. “It’s tough for any team to survive that many starters out.”
This year the Bears have substantial depth. Several returning players from a year ago were unable to crack this year’s varsity and are playing JV to start the season.
“We have a very talented junior varsity and some very good young players with club experience on the C squad,” the coach said. “It’s going to be awfully difficult to make this varsity next year.”
East Valley Knights
It’s one thing to have to replace players lost to graduation. Escobar must replace three seniors who have gone on to play college soccer.
“Morgan Manchester is starting for Gonzaga University this year,” Escobar said, the pride in his voice shining like a neon sign. “Echo Abramson is playing at Spokane Community College and so is Mallory Mott. Last I heard, Lexi Plumb was talking to the coach at Brigham Young about walking on and redshirting this year.
“When you have four players like that, you lose so much. You lose their personality, you lose their intensity.”
In their place, Escobar has a talented group of players in search of a team personality. As many as five freshmen will be on the East Valley varsity when the Knights open GSL play.
Senior Hailey Bell gets the start in goal.
“She’s one of those players who have had a roller coaster ride her first couple of seasons,” Escobar said. “She came in and played really well for us as a freshman and a sophomore, but has had trouble with injuries. She’s healthy and we’re hoping she stays that way.”
Senior Kaitlyn McLaughlin moves into the starting center midfield position and has played well.
Kennah Meyer and Danielle LeGore, both sophomores, saw a great deal of playing time as freshmen and take over on defense.
Sophomores Amanda Bliesner and McKaylin Hughes step in at forward and midfield, respectively.
“You are going to hear a lot about these two,” Escobar said. “They’re both premier-level players with great ball-handling skills. They dribble well, they pass well and they are faster with the ball than without, if you can believe that.”
The coach bought orange nets for the home field this year – an inside joke for the team that, thus far, hasn’t found its punch line.
“Last year we had white nets and I used to joke that we couldn’t tell the difference between the nets and the cross bar,” he laughed. “We hit the uprights and the cross bar so many times I lost count. I told them to shoot at the orange nets.
“(Against West Valley) it didn’t help that much. We hit the cross bar twice and the upright a couple more times. If we just got a couple of those balls to go in we would have won the game.”
Kevin Houston is generally a happy man, but the grin he’s wearing these days is difficult to miss. It’s big. Cat-that-swallowed-the- canary big.
“I know what I’ve got,” he said by way of explanation. “I’m excited. I can’t wait for the (league) season to start.”
Houston’s Titans went through a growing season a year ago. The group was young and needed to find itself as a team. By the end of the season, they were 6-4 and in the hunt for the playoffs.
Most of the team returns intact this year, with last year’s quality back-ups stepping in to fill holes created by graduation.
The team has skills to match its speed, and grit to match its talent.
“I really can’t single any one individual out on this team,” Houston said. “Watch the players on the bench and you see them totally into the game. They’re all about the team and they support one another.”
Thursday, in a 4-2 victory over visiting Sandpoint, U-Hi put on a display of offensive prowess, controlling the ball through the midfield and launching attack after attack with superior passing and ballhandling skills.
Sophomore forward Laura Seymour had a pair of first-half goals scored three minutes apart. Sophomore midfielder Lexi Clark drilled a shot from the top of the penalty area after taking a crisp pass from junior forward Briann Schmedding.
Second-year varsity player Emily Jordan, a junior, kept the attack at a fever pitch with her speed and her aggressiveness at the midfield. Sophomore Shayla Weiler was equally impressive in the midfield – a group that kept the game under tight control.
“Lewis and Clark put together a summer tournament and we got together for a couple weeks and played in it. It was like we just picked up where we left off. It’s been the same. We’ve only been together for a couple weeks and we’re already playing together like we’ve been doing it all along.
“I’ve been wearing this grin for a while now. I show up at practice grinning and my players keep wondering what I’ve got to be grinning about. But I know.”
West Valley Eagles
The Eagles got their preseason out of the way over a 24-hour span this past week.
On Tuesday the team knocked off East Valley 3-1 on the Knights’ home field, then traveled to Rathdrum to blank Lakeland 5-0.
The team jumps right into Great Northern League play this coming week, playing at Deer Park on Tuesday before playing their first home game with league-rival Cheney.
“The league got tougher last year,” coach Shelli Totton said. “Deer Park was better, Riverside was better. Medical Lake was better, I thought. At least they played us tougher.”
The Eagles return five starters from last year’s squad, led by senior forward Dee Dee Garbe, the league’s most potent goal scorer since bursting onto the scene as a freshman.
Garbe tallied five goals in her first two games, scoring twice and assisting on a third against East Valley and punching in three goals at Lakeland.
Senior Karina Carpenter, a four-year starter in goal, recorded the shutout against Lakeland and comes off two all-GNL seasons in a row. Carpenter was a first-team pick after her sophomore season and a second-team pick a year ago.
Freshman Courtney Hossfeld has stepped into the starting lineup and will split playing time between forward and midfield. She already has a pair of goals and an equal number of assists in her first two varsity games.
“We’ve got a strong group and a lot of them have club soccer experience and that is a big plus,” Totton said. “Right now we just need to find our team personality and get used to playing together.”