By the time the East Valley/West Valley girls soccer game at West Valley kicked off there was a sizeable crowd gathered. Parents, certainly. Fans of each program were there as well.
But a couple of groups stood out. At midfield, mixed in with parents and fans, was a collection of young women all dressed in black uniforms: all three of West Valley’s volleyball teams – varsity, junior varsity and C squad. And taking a knee next to the Eagles bench was the school’s varsity football team, still wearing cleats and pads, having jogged the three blocks from the high school’s football practice field.
“Kids sometimes complain that no one comes out to support them,” new athletics director Jamie Nilles said. “So this year we’re putting an emphasis on supporting each other. The football team has a team dinner together on Thursday nights in the cafeteria, and they’ll all go support the volleyball team after they eat. (Soccer coach) Shelly (Totten Peterson) will have her team get showered and then they’ll all go to the volleyball game together.”
The assembled teams had something exciting to cheer about at the soccer game.
Eight minutes into the first half, an East Valley midfielder committed a foul just inside her own territory and the Eagles’ Halie Gronenthal stepped up to the ball some 45 yards away from the goal and send a high, arcing shot that tucked neatly under the crossbar for a West Valley goal – setting the tone for a 2-0 Great Northern League win.
The Eagles were a state Class 2A playoff team a year ago, falling to West Valley-Yakima in the first round, 2-0. This year’s team returns five starters from that squad, most of them defenders.
“We have some kids who were with us last year but didn’t get on the field that much,” Totten Peterson said. “We’re playing like a veteran club, but we’re still pretty inexperienced.
Junior forward Morgan Williams, one of the returning veterans, scored the game winner against Pullman in the final minute of play and added an insurance goal against the Knights Thursday.
“It’s tough to open the season against both Pullman and East Valley,” the coach said. “The good news is that we won those games and we found some things we have to work on.”
East Valley graduated a dozen players from a year ago and coach Gabe Escobar must replace five starters – and he’s already dealing with injuries to complicate things further.
Two-time All-GNL forward Hannah Bowerman is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and forward Madison Meade is playing on the exact same injury, wearing a large brace to help protect her knee.
“She played all summer on it,” Escobar said. “The doctor told her she could go ahead and play on it. She already knows she’s going to have to have surgery on it, and if she can still play she doesn’t want to miss the season. It’s going to be a day-to-day thing for her.”
Bowerman, a team captain, and midfielder Alex Rankin are the Knights’ only seniors. Along with a pair of juniors, Escobar’s squad features nine sophomores and six freshmen.
“We’re young, no doubt about it,” he said. “But it’s all about how well you’re playing at the end of the year, and we’re always better at the end of the season.”
If there’s a theme song for Central Valley, it would have to be Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young.”
Coach Andres Monrroy’s squads have been dominated by freshmen and sophomores each of the past three seasons. This year it’s dominated by juniors, with just four seniors.
“I tell people that the Greater Spokane League is really a U-18 league and the last few years we’ve been playing with a U-16 team,” Monrroy said. “That’s especially the case when you get to the post-season. That’s what happened to us in the playoffs every year – we run into older, more physical teams and they just push us off the ball.”
The Bears return seven starters from a team that finished a game away from the Class 4A final four, falling to Issaquah, 2-0.
Central Valley is off to a fast start, playing Southridge to a 0-0 draw in the Tri-Cities last weekend, then knocking off Pasco before beating Coeur d’Alene.
University was a playoff squad a year ago and coach Megan Poulson returns eight starters from that squad, but all-GSL defender Cassidy Walter isn’t one of them.
“She tore her ACL and she’s out for the year,” Poulson said. “That hurts.”
The Titans must find a new goalkeeper this season, but both candidates are strong and capable in the net. Sophomore Ryann Rydeen, in particular, can be a standout.
“We’re figuring out what we need to work on,” Poulson said. “We need to communicate better and we’re working on that. We’ve got a good, solid group of players back and if we compete for every ball and play hard, we’re going to be OK.”