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Veteran Panthers will be challenged

Mead will have to fend off LC, G-Prep for title

If the Mead Panthers exceeded coach Steve Snider’s expectations with a third-place finish last fall in the State 4A girls soccer tournament, they’ll have to go some to do so again.

It will be no surprise if they reach the postseason given their veteran status. But Snider remains cautious.

“We lost three seniors and have a good group of kids returning,” he said. “We expect to be pretty competitive again, but are still going through the process right now of re-establishing ourselves. Last year’s success doesn’t guarantee the same results.”

Last weekend the Panthers blanked Walla Walla 4-0, peppering away with 27 shots on goal without allowing a shot.

In first-team All-GSL forward Mikayla Anderson, midfielder Jill Pecka (Mead’s two leading scorers last year) and defender Jazmine Redmon, Mead has anchors at nearly every position.

“It will be difficult replacing Lauren Layton, the defensive MVP,” Snider said. “But we don’t believe we have any significant weakness. We’ve got balance across all our lines and expect to have a team that can generate a good attack and score goals.”

Last year the Panthers shared the GSL title with Lewis and Clark, which in turn lost 2-1 in overtime to Gonzaga Prep in the playoffs. The pair then swept Columbia Basin Big Nine teams to qualify for state where Mead made its magical run.

Who will challenge this year?

Don’t count out either the Tigers or Bullpups, although Prep coach Christian Birrer said, “We’ve been gutted. With 13 underclassmen I’ve never coached a team approaching the youth of this team.”

The Bullpups have only one senior, returning all-league defender Mary Condon, who he calls the team’s “Mom. She’s like a second coach.” Junior Ashley Ames, another of four returning starters, was the second-leading scorer last year. The newcomers are talented.

LC coach Casey Curtis has less a feel for things than he typically does, particularly with his Tigers.

“Depth is a question for the first time in a couple of years,” he said. “We lost 12 seniors and a handful were longtime starters.”

As for the league, he figures several teams are “itching” to challenge Mead and predicts typically taut games.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more shootouts in the girls’ league this year, more similar to the boys recently,” Curtis said.

Both Birrer and Curtis see University as a contender and Central Valley improved. While Mt. Spokane lost its two top players, to graduation or injury, the Wildcats have seven regulars coming back. “(We have) lots of speed up front, although we’re still kind of a younger squad,” said coach Ryan Campanella. Snider said that with boundary changes in the district, Mt. Spokane has been benefiting from a talent influx. Four 3A teams have playoff aspirations.

No matter what happens in league play there will be plenty of postseason opportunities outside it. As Shadle Park and East Valley showed last year, it’s not necessarily where you finish, but how you finish. Both had 4-6 league records, sharing seventh place in the GSL and both qualified for 3A state.