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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Top-seeded West Valley girls soccer puts unbeaten record on the line in State 2A semifinals

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

West Valley’s girls soccer team has been racking up milestone after milestone under head coach CC Collins.

The Eagles have won the league title five of the six years Collins has been in charge.

There have been thresholds West Valley has attempted to reach each season, and this year was winning every regular-season game.

In 2022, the Eagles finished undefeated in league, but one tie blemished their record and led to a No. 3 seed in the State 2A playoffs. That led to a defeat in the quarterfinals.

This year, the Eagles will put their No. 1 seed on the line in a semifinal against East Valley (Yakima) at 3 p.m. Friday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma.

Columbia River and Ridgefield await on the other side of the bracket


On top of winning all 20 games, the Eagles set out to minimize the number of goals scored against them. The Eagles have outscored opponents 115-3.

Sophomore Jenna Howe has 28 of those goals and fellow sophomore Claire Busse has 23. They have 16 and 12 assists, respectively.

Howe was the Greater Spokane League 2A offensive MVP.

“She just has a great knack for finding the net,” Collins said. “She’s great at assisting her teammates. She’s just a really humble, quiet girl, but she just knows what she’s doing out on the field. I’m really excited that we have her and she’s only a sophomore, so we get her for two more years.”

WV senior centerback and captain Genesis Willis has spent all season going against the talented sophomore forwards and knows their abilities, even if they don’t stand out physically among the other players.

“Some teams might go in and be like, ‘Oh, they’ll be easier to push off,’ ” Willis said. “But even our smallest player, she wins. Our smallest player on the field, she’ll beat someone who’s twice her size. All of our forwards, even though they’re sophomores and might not have the most experiences on the field, they’re really shifty on the ball and they pretty much make perfect decisions when they need to.”

The Eagles have topped the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s RPI standings for 90% of the season, so every time Collins and the team met, they made sure to check their RPI.

“We talked about our RPI and where we were, and we wanted to keep that spot and put West Valley at the No. 1 seed for the tournament,” Collins said.

They earned the No. 1 seed and RPI ranking – both program firsts – and continued their success in the state playoffs. They defeated Port Angeles 8-0 before Lynden tried its hand at slowing down the Eagles.

To the Lions’ credit, they held the Eagles to four goals, tied for second fewest on the season, but Lynden didn’t score.

“It was really exciting when we earned that spot and now we’re using our No. 1 seed and just driving forward and working our way to the top,” Collins said.

Willis, the 2A GSL MVP, has been on the team since she was a freshman, so this opportunity means a lot to her.

“She is one of the most vocal players on the field, whether it be directing other players or just inspiring other players and helping them keep their heads up,” Collins said of Willis, an Eastern Washington commit. “She’s trying to just make the best of her senior year before she moves on and kind of create that legacy.”

Right in front of Willis is the other captain, Ashlyn Chase, who plays a defensive midfielder. The junior is headed to the University of Idaho after next year.

“She is just one of the most phenomenal players, she is just the one that’s always in the air with every single ball probably the best headers in the league,” Collins said of Chase.

Expect East Valley (Yakima) to present a unique challenge for West Valley.

Willis said the Red Devils’ defensive structure will be tough to penetrate.

“I can tell they’re really connected defensively,” Willis said. “They are comfortable with passing around and just letting the ball do the work. But I don’t think it’s anything our team can’t deal with.”

She thinks her offense will be able to break down their lines and exploit the weaknesses that will arise during the game.

But it will be all about keeping their mental focus, which after winning every game this season pretty handily, has been put to the test for months.

The Eagles have won all but three games by four-plus goals. In those blowouts, the Eagles used the extra time to work on their weaknesses and attempt to prepare for the next opponent.

Willis said she continues to make sure the rest of the team understands what has been on the line all season.

“Especially being in the No. 1 seed, making sure that me and my team don’t get too cocky,” she said. “We want to go in confident, of course, and know that we can do it, because we’ve proved it with our last games, but just being able to keep that composure and poise on the field.”

State 4A

A year after getting knocked out in the tournament by Woodinville in the quarterfinals, Gonzaga Prep has a chance to avenge that postseason loss at 1 p.m. Friday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.

“A little bit of redemption,” G-Prep head coach Johnny Bartich said. “But this team is primed and ready to go. We have quite a few returners from last year that know my system and kind of know what it takes to get it done in those high-leverage situations.”

The Bullpups will lean on their experienced players, specifically senior defender Tess Keyes, a four-year varsity player.

Keyes said the Bullpups, under 2022 coach of the year Bartich, keep their composure and will play their style of game.

“You can tend to stoop down to other teams’ levels or just feel very frantic when you’re playing super-high teams,” Keyes said.

The Bullpups will look to own the possession game and move the ball with purpose while trusting each other to make the right decision.

“That’s our big thing, trust,” Keyes said. “We have our saying this year: ‘All in,’ so every single player contributes on their part and because every player makes a difference whether they’re on the bench or playing.”

The Bullpups (16-3) also have a defense that causes opposing teams to work to find goals.

They’ve given up 19 goals but only two in their last nine games, including just one in their postseason.

Senior Keagan Austin earned defensive MVP in the GSL.

“She is just so calm on the ball,” Bartich said. “It’s so important nowadays that centerback can defend first off, but secondly, be calm on the ball, make the right choices in possession, finding those passes. Her presence is huge. Her soccer intelligence is massive.”

Keyes and Bartich said the defensive success is due to the 10 outfield players attacking the opposing team relentlessly in a press-style approach.

The stamina needed to do that for 90 minutes takes players willing to continue to push even when the energy levels begin to drop.

“It’s just your motivation, Keyes said. “You grind to be able to put everything you have onto the field. I feel like our team has not had problems with everybody giving the best effort. And when we do, we are clearly getting results we need.”

In 2019, the Bullpups finished third at state, the best result in school history. They will be looking to top that mark this year as they set their sights on the Falcons.

Woodinville plays in a diamond shape that helps the ball move quickly and confidently.

Keyes said they are aware of the Falcons’ playmakers, but they believe it doesn’t matter who lines up across from them: If they play their game, they win.

“We can play any opponent we want,” Keyes said. “I have two more games left to give it my all and play with my best friends.”

Bartich is confident the result will be in their favor if the Bullpups score at least twice.

“We haven’t been held to a shutout all season,” Bartich said. “Now it’s going to be – can we make sure they can’t score. too?”