Last year’s Greater Spokane League girls soccer race went down to the wire, but this year’s pecking order could be sorted out much sooner.
Defending champion Mead is at perennial power Central Valley on Friday. Five days later, on Wednesday, Lewis and Clark plays under the lights at CV.
Then again, there’s plenty of balance this year, according to most coaches.
“There are six teams that could win this league,” LC coach Mica Lamb said. “There are no down matches.”
It’s always hard to pick against perennial power CV, and this year is no exception. The Bears shared last year’s title with Mead and return four players who were all-GSL picks as sophomores. They play at every position: goalkeeper A.J Crooks, defender Alyssa Molina, midfielder Kaitlyn LaBrosse and forward Maggie Ames. “We knew the talent they had as freshmen, that every year they were going to become better players,” said coach Andres Monrroy, who won state titles in 2013 and 2014. The Bears return 10 starters and 18 letter winners from a team that went 11-4 overall and 8-1 in the GSL last year. “I feel this could be a big year for us,” Monrroy said.
Defending GSL co-champ Mead has some holes to fill, but 2016 Coach of the Year Kevin Houston has nine returning letter winners back on a program that knows how to reload. The Panthers (16-3, 8-1 last year) “are returning a very experienced group – we’re looking to defend out GSL title and get deeper into the playoffs.” The Panthers are coming off a 4-2 win over Lake City last week that saw Olivia DeShazo score twice while Margo Schoesler added a goal and an assist. Junior Ashlynn Eggleston is in goal.
At Gonzaga Prep, fourth-year coach Billy Barmes predicts that “once we establish our identity, it should be a strong year for us.” The Bullpups (13-7, 7-2 last year) return just four starters and 10 letter winners, but they include first-team all-GSL defender Ollie Branson and Olivia Lauffer. That should help freshman keeper Eden Elliott, who’s given up just three goals in her last three matches. Senior Grace Cooper and sophomore Chelsea Le are providing the scoring punch so far.
With seven returning starters and 15 letter winners, University looks to improve on last year’s record (7-5, 5-4). “We have strong leadership and team unity,” said eighth-year coach Megan Perkins, who will be counting on all-GSL midfielder Kelsey Crosby for much of the leadership. Sophomore forward Lauren Chester has made an early impact up front for the Titans.
New Ferris coach Alex Bray said the Saxons have speed and finishing power, but worries about how fast a young lineup will gel. “We can score but may have some defensive issues,” said Bray, who inherits just four starters and six letter winners. Bray predicts a middle-of-the pack finish for a team that went 8-5, 4-5 last year. Key returnees are Madi VanBrethorst, Lexie Caniglia, Katie Uphus, Kylee Flower, Yacine Bitibale, Jill Calkins and Taylor Ward.
Mt. Spokane coach Ryan Campanella always expects to make a deep run in the 3A playoffs. Case in point: Last year’s Wildcats, who were 7-9 overall but finished one win short of a state berth. Going into his 13th year, Campanella has won two GSL titles and a trio of 3A regional championships. With seven returning starters, the Wildcats should be the top 3A team in the GSL. Key returnees include all-GSL center back Emily Hahn and her linemate Emily Williams, plus midfielders Payton Stiles and Amber Hickman.
With a speedier, more experienced lineup, Shadle Park coach Donovan Hodgson expects the Highlanders to “challenge teams and compete well.” Four-year varsity players Meghan Felts and Hannah Johnson lead a squad that has just three freshmen. One of them, Olivia Wicks, is expected to contribute immediately. “We have speed, which we haven’t had in a while,” said Hodgson, whose club went 4-10, 1-8 last year.
At North Central, coach Matt Leonard is counting on nine returning starters to “compete very well with our 3A opponents and look to give the 4A teams a better game.” Key returnees for the Indians (6-11, 3-6 last year) include Kaylee Mellgren, Quincy McDeid, Taylor Cain, Katelynn Tibbetts, Izzy Garcia, Payton Flannery and Haylee Belarde.
Rogers is short on numbers but isn’t lacking for enthusiasm. The Pirates have just 23 players, “but we’re working on that,” first-year coach Heather Davis said. Davis said the players and coaches are “really meshing as a family.” More help is coming from the Rogers Alumni and Friends Foundation, which provided new jerseys. Rogers (0-11 last year) expects to be better up front with freshmen Macy Crawford and Hailey Hooks. Key returnees include Abby Harmison, Tegan Jeffers and Sarah Vensel.
Great Northern League
With six starters and 12 letter winners returning, Cheney is a slight favorite over East Valley to win the GNL and improve on last year’s record of 10-7. “Hopefully, we play to out potential throughout the season,” said coach Nels Radtke, who returns six starters and 12 letter winners. Key returnees are Kailey Estrellado, all-GNL midfielder Lelie Holland and Kaitlin Teeters.
East Valley lost some key players from a team that reached the 2A quarterfinals and went 15-4 overall, but returns six starters and 13 letter winners. First-year coach Todd Slatter, a long-time assistant, will count heavily on all-league picks Chloe Gellhaus and Taryn Baxter. Captain Autumn Stewart leads a solid midfield for the Knights.
West Valley also figures to contend, as coach Shelli Totton brings back 10 starters and 13 letter winners. Totton will rely on Abby McConnell, Alyssa Amann, Chelsea Koker and Kellie Fitzpatrick to improve on last year’s 6-10 record. “We should compete in every game,” Totton said.
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