In this case, familiarity breeds respect.
The Mead and Central Valley girls’ soccer teams will meet Friday night for the third time this season, with the stakes higher than ever: the winner will play the next day for the State 4A title.
It isn’t luck of the draw. Skill has trumped luck all year for the two top programs in the Greater Spokane League. Picked 1-2 in the preseason, they finished that way, although in reverse order, with CV two points better.
The next week, the Bears edged Mead via penalty-kick shootout in the district title match, which kept CV at home the rest of the playoffs while Mead took the long route.
While CV routed visiting Camas 7-0 in one quarterfinal match last weekend, the Panthers journeyed to Union of Vancouver and came away with a 1-0 win.
The Panthers also came away with the knowledge that they can win anywhere. That’s the virtue of thinking ahead: Mead coach Kevin Houston had his team playing on the west side even before the regular season began, “so we could get used to the idea,” Houston said.
And getting used to playing each other again? No problem, and no introductions are needed. Between the two teams, 20 players are SSC Shadow club teammates. “We’re good friends and it’s a good rivalry,” said CV coach Andres Monrroy, who’s known Houston almost a decade, when the latter was coaching at University High School.
“I think we both love the game, love to coach and like to compete. And we expect that of our teams,” Monrroy said.
Houston feels the same way. “As far as coaching and what we want from our girls, and our playing style is similar,” said Houston, who took over the girls’ program last year.
Houston said he’s more vocal than Monrroy during matches. “He’s not as vocal, but he still gets his point across,” Houston said.
The Bears (16-1) are in top form, outscoring three playoff opponents 13-2. A rebuilt back line has conceded just five goals in the last five matches, while Monrroy’s attacking brand of soccer has paid big dividends in the playoffs.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Monrroy said. “Our defense has been getting better as a unit, and they also can go on the attack.”
The biggest addition has been freshman forward Kelsey Turnbow, a USA U-14 Girls National Team member.
“Her skills are amazing,” said Monrroy, adding that Turnbow and senior forwards Savannah Hoekstra and Sara Grozdanich complemented each other.
“That makes such a big difference,” said Monrroy, who has the Bears in their first state semifinal.
Mead (17-3) counters with a veteran lineup sparked by defender Martha Heaps, midfielder Kylie Drynan and forwards Kara Marbury, Anna Kessler and Chae Brown.
In last week’s 1-0 quarterfinal win at Union of Vancouver, it was sophomore midfielder Alea Acosta who pounced on a loose ball for the match winner.
“We’ve also has some freshmen that have come up in different moments, and we’ve had everybody on our roster fill in different roles,” said Houston, whose team has won five straight one-goal matches.