Greater Spokane League
Despite returning just four starters and eight lettermen, Lewis and Clark figures to pose the best challenge to Central Valley. “My teams the past couple of seasons have been very close and committed to playing with one another in the off-season,” sixth-year coach Mica Lamb said. LC was the highest-scoring team in the state’s 4A ranks last year, but 90 percent of those 79 goals were scored by players who’ve graduated. The Tigers also break in three new starters on the back line, but will be strong on the midfield with junior Jared Mehaffey, Colby Aitchison and Will Hoefer. Bryan Maxwell and Brennan Murphy will lead the attack. “We’ll be a good side, but we won’t peak until May,” said Lamb, who might want to advance that timetable by a couple of weeks: LC plays at Central Valley on April 12.
Robin Crain is in his third decade as coach at Ferris, which should contend again despite returning just eight lettermen off a 10-6-1 team that missed another state trip by one game. The Saxons also lost the GSL defensive MVP in Eric Hollenbaugh. Crain said he likes his team’s “size and athleticism” and its strength in the midfield. Key returnees include senior all-league defender Max Thompson, linemate Braden Brock; and midfielders Hiroo Furukawa and Brett Freshler. Crain added that the outlook for Ferris is “positive, if we can overcome the lack of training time” because of soggy practice fields.
Steven Acosta is the new coach at Mead after longtime mentor Kevin Houston stepped down to spend more time with family. Acosta, a 2013 Whitworth graduate, inherits a team that finished second in the GSL last year and returns six starters. “We have lots of experienced players and good team chemistry,” said Acosta, who also likes his strength at midfield and on the back line. Senior starters for the Panthers include goalkeeper Andrew Huffman; defenders Justin Richardson and Jack Walker; midfielders Joseph Ammatelli, Cole Johnson and Conaire Shaffer; and forward Peter Weller.
At Gonzaga Prep, coach Billy Barmes is stepping down from the boys position to spend more time with family. However, the Bullpups replaced him with Vernon Croft, a former head coach at Division I Akron and Illinois State. A head coach for 16 years, Croft also works as the technical director for Breakers FC in Spokane. Croft takes over a program that finished fifth in the GSL and went 9-6 overall. Key returnees include junior defender Hunter McKenna, senior midfielder Brendan Doohan, junior midfielder Luke Barbieri and all-GSL forward Dillon Vandiver.
University went 3-6 in GSL play last year, but half of those losses came by a single goal. Second-year coach Mitch Weller expects to move up the standings thanks to eight returning starters and 12 lettermen. “We are a team that has a willingness to learn and work hard during every second of the game,” Weller said. Key returnees are defenders Craig Robertson; midfielders Adam Drassen, Bailey VanSlyke and Skylar Garvin and goalkeeper Hunter Atwood. “We have a solid group of seniors that will lead the way for us,” Weller said.
Mt. Spokane typically fields the top team in the GSL’s 3A ranks, and this year should be no different. Coach Ryan Campanella goes into his 12th year with only four returning starters, but has 15 lettermen back from a state playoff qualifier. “We really feel good about the season and all of the returning talent,” said Campanella, who got the Wildcats to state last year. “Our backline is stronger and we are able to move players forward that had to play defense last year.” Junior Camden Clegg starts in goal, Jaryd Moore and Mikyas Noble providing the punch up front.
At North Central, fourth-year coach Matt Leonard is counting on 10 returning starters and two-time all-GSL midfielder Aidan Chaparro to improve on last year’s record of 2-7 in the GSL (2-13 overall). “We’re a hungry group who’s still young, but wanting to work hard to improve,” said Leonard, whose roster includes eight underclassmen and just one senior. Key returnees for the Indians are defender Derric Deatherage – who is co-captain with Chaparro – defender Justin Barnes, and goalkeeper Josh Ruff.
Rogers is coming off one of the best seasons in school history, coming within one victory of a spot in the state playoffs. “I’m just speechless, happy and very proud,” coach Valentin Dimitrov said last spring, after his team beat Mt. Spokane 2-0 for the district title. The Pirates return four starters from a team that went 7-11 overall, including defender Javier Rosales and midfielder Omar Muse. With 15 upperclassmen, Rogers will be more experienced this year.
It could be a challenging year for Shadle Park, which returns just three starters off a team that went 1-8 in the GSL and 2-12 overall. “We hope to improve quickly and have a great core of young, quick players and experienced club players,” coach Donavon Hodgson said. Junior Parker Krahn is in goal and sophomore Henry Bakana will be making plays from midfield for the Highlanders.
Great Northern League
With all those all-star returnees, it’s no surprise that Cheney and East Valley are leading the chase in the Great Northern League.
“We have quality players around the pitch and are very deep this year … our technical ability is very high for each of our players,” Cheney coach Morgan Hartonov said.
A playoff fixture for years, the Blackhawks are on a three-year drought that could change this year, thanks to 10 returning starters. Among the key returnees are senior forward Kelby Holland and sophomore defender Dillyn Reader; both were all-GNL first-teamers last year.
Three other Blackhawks were second-team picks last year, including defenders Trevor Babcock and Noah Schorzman; and forward Noah Prophet.
At East Valley, third-year coach Gabe Escobar returns nine starters, including two GNL first-teamers in forward Devonte Gorman and defender Joseph Gresch; and second-team defender Zach Bowsky.
Defending champion Pullman is moving on without GNL offensive and defensive MVPs Matt Winchell and Mason Petrino, plus two other first-team honorees.
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