Even on the rainiest days last month, it didn’t seem like work to come out to practice on the Cheney High School soccer field.
“It’s just a treat coming here every day,” said Evan Cook, a senior midfielder and co-captain of a team that may be the best not only in the Great Northern League, but the region.
The Blackhawks, 9-0 in the GNL and 12-0 overall, have all the ingredients – strong goalkeeping and defense, veteran midfielders and one of the top goal scorers in the state – and that all-important chemistry.
“We know we can get after each other on the field, but after we take it off the field, we’re still the same friends off the field,” said co-captain Tyler Pratt, a senior defender.
That was only partly instilled by the coaching staff, said coach Mark Kiver, who said that for years, seniors have made sure that underclassmen have felt welcomed, even if they don’t make the varsity squad at first.
Winning the close ones doesn’t hurt, and the Blackhawks have done that already against teams that bedeviled them last year, East Valley and Pullman.
Against Pullman, which eliminated the Blackhawks last year at district, Cheney won 1-0 on a first-half goal by leading scorer C.J. Skillingstad. The Blackhawks won by the same score last week when forward Forester Seipp set up Trevan Estrellado for the winner in the final seconds of the first half.
At preseason favorite East Valley on March 27, it was Cook who scored just before halftime.
“It’s a matter of being focused (near the end of a half or game),” said Kiver, in his second year as head coach. “It’s playing without fear and working through adversity. And if they see a lull in the action, they try to fix that.”
Adversity struck later at East Valley, when the Knights equalized and sent the game to a penalty-kick shootout.
“We kind of knew what we were up against,” Pratt said of the EV game. “But we felt we could pull it together as long as we played well, not just the defense, but the whole team.”
The Blackhawks’ kickers were perfect, while junior keeper Joe Scott stopped three shots.
“Which was so crazy,” Pratt said. “That just never happens.”
The Blackhawks have another strength: goal scorers who are just as happy to set up a teammate.
“We move well away from the ball,” said Skillingstad, who has 12 goals, second most in the league behind Adam Talley of EV.
Seipp, who has nine goals, is one of the top assist men in the league.
Next up? Probably the GNL title, since the Blackhawks are two games ahead of the field with three games left. East Valley visits on Tuesday, but the other games are against Medical Lake (1-8) and Deer Park (3-9).
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Cook said.
“It’s not necessarily about the results, but how we achieve it,” Kiver said. “We have to keep the focus.”
And keep it fun.