There’s a buzz in the air around the East Valley High School soccer pitch.
“I’ve been looking forward to this season since November of last year,” coach Gabe Escobar insists.
Since Nov. 20, 2010, to be exact. That’s the day the Knights earned a fourth-place trophy in the state Class 2A tournament.
“I think the minute we got on the bus to come home, we were all thinking about this season and getting excited about the chance to come back and do even better,” senior forward Amanda Bliesner added.
Dropping down to Class 2A and the Great Northern League after years of success in the Greater Spokane League – reaching the first-round of the state 3A playoffs when Bliesner was a freshman – the Knights were 10-2 in league and posted back-to-back shutouts over East Valley-Yakima and Prosser to reach the state semifinals at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
In the semifinal, the Knights lost 1-0 to White River. In the consolation final, East Valley was blanked by defending state champion Archbishop Murphy.
“I am so proud of the way we went over there and played our hearts out,” Bliesner said. “We left everything we had out on that field. It was a great experience for us, and I think we all started planning to come back and do better next time.”
The excitement centers on the fact that Escobar and the Knights lost just two players from last year’s starting lineup, both outside defenders.
Even the loss of two key players can blunt that abundant enthusiasm.
Midfielder Adriene Turner injured a knee playing club soccer and is lost for the season. Bliesner, last year’s Great Northern League offensive Most Valuable Player, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left leg during a Premier League game in January and had reconstructive surgery.
“My physical therapist says I’ve recovered really well,” Bliesner said. “I’m able to run as much as I want to, I can pass the ball and even take part in a lot of drills with my teammates.”
Once her doctor releases her to play, she’ll be ready to get back on the field, she said.
“I’m expecting her back for the second half of the regular season,” Escobar said. “It was funny. We had our league coaches meeting and everyone asked me, ‘Did Amanda hurt her knee? Is she out?’ I told them that, yes, she did hurt her knee, but she won’t be out as long as they would like.”
Bliesner’s 17-goal season a year ago put bite in the Knights’ offense. But Escobar isn’t overly concerned about a lack of offense with Bliesner on the sideline.
“There is no doubt that it will take some getting used to not having Amanda on the field, but we have some very good players who are more than capable of scoring for us,” he said. “(Senior) McKaylin Hughes is an outstanding playmaker. I’m sure that, if you went back and looked at Amanda’s goals last year, a lot of them came off passes from McKaylin. They have great chemistry between them because they’ve been together since they were, what, 6 or 7 years old? She’s more than capable of scoring herself and there are players around her who can score and they will develop their own chemistry.”
Bliesner has been on the sideline, offering tips and helping to coach her teammates as they prepare for today’s season-opening nonleague game with Mead at East Valley.
“Before I injured my knee I had never been hurt before, and I’d played soccer every day of my life,” Bliesner said. “It was so hard for me to suddenly not have soccer. I’ve been to every practice and every game with my club team. I’ve been to every practice and every game for my high school team.
“I cannot wait to get back out there and play again. I’ll be there (today) with my uniform on, and I will be cheering for my teammates.”
Junior Kendra Morscheck, a first-team All-GNL pick a year ago, already is in her third season anchoring the East Valley defense – a position that’s something of a family tradition. Her sisters, Bryana and Morgan Manchester were standout defenders for the Knights, and Morgan, now a junior, is a starting center back for Gonzaga University.
“It has to be a family thing,” Escobar said. “I’ve known that family a long time and they all play the same tough, physical kind of defense. And they’re all leaders. You don’t see many sophomores being named team captain, but Kendra earned that because her teammates already look up to her.”
Junior Brittany Duggar, also a first-team All-GNL performer, anchors the Knights midfield, but the team must find a midfielder to take Turner’s spot.
“I have 16 players who all deserve to play,” Escobar said. “Most of them are juniors and they all play together in club, so they have natural team chemistry.”