It was supposed to be the opening day of girls soccer practice Monday at East Valley. But it looked more like a family reunion.
“I’ve been looking forward to this season,” coach Gabe Escobar said. “But I was surprised by how happy the girls were to be back together. We did a lot of conditioning and I thought that giddiness would kind of wear off, but it didn’t. They were tired, but they were still laughing and catching up.”
That, in a nutshell, is the reason why Escobar sees no need to spend time on team bonding events. The team already is bonded.
“Most of these girls played against each other on different club teams growing up,” Escobar said. “Once they got to East Valley, they knew each other and they enjoy playing together.”
Throw in a good measure of success and the team bond is complete.
“I think this group of seniors and juniors has been the most successful group in school history,” Escobar said. “They’ve been to the final four, they’ve won league titles. And I think they’re all excited to see if they can go farther this year.”
The Knights return a pair of first-team All-Great Northern League honorees in forward Brittany Dugger and defender Kendra Morscheck, who was named the league’s defensive player of the year and was second-team All-State. Midfielder Sammy Hilfiker was second team all-league.
The only major piece from last year that must be replaced is goalkeeper.
“We have two girls who are competing for that job,” Escobar said. “I have confidence in both of them and whoever wins that job is going to be just fine.”
If nothing else, the Knights under Escobar have become known for their defense. They’ve been difficult to shoot against, let alone score on.
“That’s always been my philosophy: Offense will win games, but defense wins championships,” Escobar said. “We have players who are willing to sacrifice their body to make a play. We play tough defense and we play an aggressive game. But I tell them they can play mean and still play clean. That’s what we try to do.
“My philosophy is this: If we don’t let the opposing team score, we can’t possibly lose. My teams have bought into that philosophy and that’s our goal. I don’t know exactly what our goals against average is, or how many shots on goal we allow and that’s not important. But we don’t give up very many of either.”
Last year the Knights held opponents scoreless 10 times.
After losing in their first GNL meetings with Pullman and Cheney, East Valley rolled to nine straight victories, including three straight wins over Cheney in league and in the district tournament, and scored a pair of wins over Pullman to reach the state semifinals.
The Knights lost both games at Seattle’s Shoreline Stadium, to Cedarcrest in the semifinal and to Archbishop Murphy in the consolation round to bring home a second-straight fourth place trophy.
The major cog in that defense has been a long string of outstanding center fullbacks who take charge of the defense. Several of those center backs have come from the same family.
Morscheck’s older sister is Morgan Manchester, a defender and team captain on the women’s team at Gonzaga University.
Morscheck started immediately upon arrival at East Valley, but was injured early in the season.
“We were playing at CV and we were leading, 2-1, with about eight minutes left,” Escobar recalled. “That’s when Kendra went down with an injury and CV came back to win, 3-2. We weren’t the same the rest of the way because we were without Kendra.”
The coach named Morscheck the team captain at the start of her sophomore year – a move that did not go down well with some.
“There were some people who were upset by that, I know,” Escobar said. “But I knew it was the right thing to do. Kendra is just a natural leader on the field and she already had the respect from her teammates. You don’t see very many sophomore team captains – I can’t think of any. But it worked here.
“She’s a great communicator on the field and she helps keep things organized and directs traffic.”
It helps to have a sibling on that defensive unit, too.
Now a sophomore, Taylor Morscheck was called off the bench in the first game of last season when a teammate was injured. She played every minute of every game after that.
“I don’t know for sure, but I think Kendra and Taylor played tougher matches in the family backyard than they have for me. That whole family knows how to play tough defense. And I think if they were to give up a goal to someone, they wouldn’t hear the end of it from the family.”