Girls. They grow up so, so fast.
It seems just like yesterday that the Central Valley High School girls soccer team was considered too young to challenge for the Greater Spokane League championship. These little sisters needed to bide their time, the league consensus said.
And to think, that was all the way back in August.
Flash forward to November. The Bears are not only the 2011 GSL Champs, they’re headed to the state Class 4A quarterfinals tonight at Tahoma – the first CV girls soccer team to win a league title or advance out of the state playoffs’ first round.
And this with a team that features just two seniors: defender Allison Jordan and midfielder Paige Ellingson.
“I feel giddy,” coach Andres Monrroy admitted. “To have a team this good and still be this young is pretty incredible. We’re only going to get better; we’re going to keep improving.”
The learning curve has been steep the past two seasons.
A year ago, the Bears were picked to finish in the bottom half of the GSL, but surprised everyone by finishing third and claiming the No. 1 district seed into the state playoffs, where they lost a first-round game to Kentwood, 2-1.
“From the beginning of the season, our goal this year has been to win the league and be the first CV team to do that,” junior forward Paige Gallaway said. “And we wanted to be the first CV team to advance past the first round of the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, the Bears earned a great deal of respect from their GSL peers. In addition to a handful of All-GSL honors that will be headed their way, CV also has the league’s offensive and defensive players of the year in juniors Gallaway and defender Laci Rennaker.
It took a full 80 minutes of regulation play, 10 more in overtime and two extra rounds of sudden-death shootout, but the Bears achieved their second goal Wednesday. In the youth movement that is CV girls soccer, it was the team’s sophomore goalkeeper who made it possible.
Jessie Kunz-Pfeiffer, who will be named second-team All-GSL when the full list is released, smothered a low shot by Mead’s Kathryn Imming in the seventh round of penalty kicks.
“I’ve always dreamed of winning a game that way, making a save on a penalty kick – I think every goalkeeper has,” Kunz-Pfeiffer said. “The deeper we got (in the shootout) the calmer and more confident I got. I was so confident on that last shot – I got a good read on her and was able to make the save.”
Gallaway, who set the stage for her keeper by burying her shot to open the seventh round of the shootout, said she and her teammates shared Kunz-Pfeiffer’s confidence.
“We all just knew she was going to make the save,” she insisted. “She’s been like that all season. We have all the confidence in the world in her and it felt like we were destined to win that game.”
CV led 2-1 into the final two minutes of regulation time. Mead sophomore Anna Kessler managed to beat a CV defender to the baseline with the ball – the only time a Panther managed that trick the entire game – and fired a shot at Kunz-Pfeiffer from the edge of the penalty area. The Bears keeper knocked the shot down, but the ball bounced away from her and Kessler pounced on the rebound to even the score and force the shootout.
Saturday, Central Valley faces a team ranked No. 4 in the state by The Seattle Times. The Bears, however, are no strangers to the state poll – climbing as high as No. 5 in that poll, one slot higher than Tahoma, in early October. Back-to-back playoff losses to Gonzaga Prep and Mead, however, dropped CV out of the top 10.
Monrroy is excited about his team’s trip across the mountains, but would rather stay home if it’s all the same.
“I would rather have stayed here and played Gonzaga Prep,” he said. “That’s like playing a home game against a team we already know.”
And, he said, there are challenges to playing teams from the other side of the state.
“Take the turf, for example,” Monrroy said, tapping the artificial surface of Joe Albi Stadium. “We’re used to playing on grass. Turf is something new to us – and I have to say that, if we were playing on grass, Mead doesn’t score on that last shot because the ball doesn’t get away from Jessie.
“Schools on the other side of the mountains, turf is all they play on so they have an advantage.”
That’s not to say that the coach doesn’t like his team’s chances.
“When you get to the playoffs, you have to play on turf, so we just have to get used to it,” he said.
Gallaway, too, likes her team’s chances.
“We play teams from over there in club,” she explained. “Seattle schools, they like to play more of a physical game than we do over here. Not physical the way Mead likes to play physical.
“But we have a lot of speed and I think we can give them trouble trying to keep up. I have a lot of confidence in my teammates and how good we can be.”