Coach Kevin Houston would like to think his Mead boys soccer team is peaking at just the right time.
But, faced with the 10-day layoff between last Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Ferris in the Greater Spokane League District 8 4A title game and Saturday’s opening round of regional play, he can’t be sure.
“We’re on the rise, for sure,” said Houston, whose Panthers (10-2) used goals from Jordan Etten and Ian Farley to edge the regular-season GSL-champion Saxons. “We still have certain things we need to tweak and get better at, but, overall, we’ve been playing better soccer of late.
“We’ve been attacking and finishing better than we were in the beginning. And against Ferris, we showed a lot of energy, moved the ball well and played, pretty much, 80 full minutes of solid soccer.”
Etten, a senior forward, and senior defender Shane Kuykendall have been especially effective for the Panthers during their regular-season stretch run.
“Jordan has really picked up his pace of play,” Houston said. “He’s tracking down a lot more balls and putting a lot more balls on frame.
“And Shane, who has stepped up his defensive role, had a huge game against Ferris. He was everywhere, and just pretty much dominated the back side in not allowing anything to get through.”
Still, the long layoff has Houston conflicted.
On one hand, he would hate to see it squelch his team’s late-season momentum. But on the other, he embraces the opportunity to get a few of his players healthy again.
“If it weren’t for how injured and sick my team has been, I would have rather played another (seeding) game just to go through it,” said Houston, whose Panthers will face Chiawana, the No. 3 seed out of the Columbia Basin Big Nine Conference, on Saturday at Albi Stadium. “Sometimes, having that week-and-a-half break in there can make it difficult to maintain your focus and things.
“But with my team fighting injuries and sickness lately, the break was really needed for us to get healthy again and go forward.”
Houston is hoping his Panthers will be close to 100 percent physically for Saturday’s first round of regional showdown, but doesn’t expect them to fold if they aren’t.
“When we’ve had players injured, we’ve had players step in and perform solidly in their place,” Houston said. “Because of that, we haven’t been missing a lot, but it’s still always nice to have your whole team available so you have more depth.”
Last Wednesday’s District 8 4A title game loss to Mead took a big toll on the Greater Spokane League champion Ferris Saxons.
The Saxons, who defeated Lewis and Clark in a regional seeding game Tuesday night, lost senior forward and scoring leader Isaac Peter midway through the Mead matchup to a hamstring pull. And senior goalkeeper Parker Stults suffered a ruptured spleen and is out for the season.
Peter’s status remains uncertain, but the two injuries will no doubt hamper Ferris in the regional playoffs that start on Saturday.
“We’ve had a couple of real downers, but we’ll see,” coach Robin Crain said.
Ferris’ Peter, who suffered a hamstring injury last Wednesday on the same day he was featured in a Prep Page story that appeared in The Spokesman-Review, wasn’t the only play to suffer such a fate this spring.
Two weeks earlier, after being the subject of an S-R feature that morning, Gonzaga Prep senior Shane Schmidlkofer went out and tore an anterior cruciate ligament that prematurely ended his high school career.