The two top teams in the Greater Spokane League, Gonzaga Prep and Mt. Spokane, will attempt to improve their state standing on Thursday.
G-Prep travels to Richland in the District 8 4A title game and Mt. Spokane hosts University in the District 8 3A championship.
No matter the results, both teams have locked in a spot in the state tournament that begins next week. A win improves both teams’ RPI and increases the possibilities for more home matches throughout the state tournament, which starts next week.
Mt. Spokane head coach Shannon Stiles mentioned the parity in the league during the 2021 fall season, but a look at the standings showed more of a true 1-2 punch at the top.
G-Prep had a plus-17 goal differential and Mt. Spokane was plus-19. Central Valley and Mead were the only other schools with plus differentials in league play.
G-Prep and Mt. Spokane were both likely to finish toward the top of the GSL, according to preseason projections, but G-Prep had a couple closer-than expected victories while Mt. Spokane dropped two early results.
“I don’t think anyone in the GSL would say that they played a perfect season so far, us certainly included,” G-Prep head coach Billy Barmes said.
But a perfect postseason – with sprinkles of luck – is necessary if a team wants to head home with a state title. Barmes and the Bullpups believe the persistence they have shown this season gives them the upper hand in matchups.
Persistence will be key on Thursday (6 p.m. kickoff) when G-Prep will attempt to put the first blemish on the Richland Bombers’ schedule since the second game of the last season (27 consecutive wins).
It will be G-Prep’s first trip to the Tri-Cities since a 3-2 loss to Kamiakin in 2017 and first playoff game in the Tri-Cities in at least a decade.
“Looking forward to that, it’ll be a challenge down there,” Barmes said. “They have a grass field, they have a good home crowd, so it should be a real good night for soccer.”
Barmes has seen the Bombers in person a few times and has reviewed tape on them. He said they’re an athletic team with a few college-bound athletes
“They’ve got a lot of the pieces that are similar to a lot of the best GSL teams that we play,” Barmes said. “But we feel like we stack up with them.”
If the Bullpups are to advance, their three senior leaders – one at each level of the formation – will help drive the deep into the playoffs.
Erin Ewers is up top with her team-leading scoring prowess; Sammy Symmes is the playmaker and linchpin; and Emma Van Gemert is the commanding and stabilizing force at outside back.
The league has historically featured competitive matchups that help prepare teams for postseason play.
Matches that appear as blowouts are usually a play or two away from being a reverse result, Stiles said.
“Every game has been a battle and a challenge to sort out what they’re giving us and how we can solve the puzzle and get better with every game,” Stiles said. “Our best asset is that we’ve had a growth mindset throughout the season. And our goal is to get 5% better every day and try to peak at the right time going into the postseason.”
Stiles’ Wildcats have won six straight, outscoring opponents 24-4.
Their game against the Titans kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and will be the second time they have hosted University.
On Sept. 20, Mt. Spokane beat U-Hi 6-0, even though Stiles said the final score didn’t reflect the complete game.
The Wildcats were just clicking and taking advantage of every mistake, she said.
“It’s a tough to project (the game) just because you played really well or converted a bunch of goals in one game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what’s going happen to the next game,” Stiles said.
Two days later, U-Hi pushed G-Prep to the edge, narrowly losing 3-2.
Stiles said she and Titans head coach Kara Sharpe go way back and that she expects a tough and challenging matchup, one that will require her and her team to diagnose and solve formations and tactics.
“Soccer is really simple,” Stiles said. “If you can figure out what the other team is giving you and take advantage of that, and you have players on the field that have a good soccer IQ and they can solve the riddle, then it’s a good result.”
This season, the Wildcats have leaned on Kylie Stiles to score goals and create chances.
On the backline, Abby Morrow and the rest of the defenders have banned together to create a stiff challenge for opposing offenses.
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