It was the beginning of the spring boys soccer season and the Central Valley coach looked out at his team practicing for its first game.
“We’re young,” Andres Monrroy said. “But I think we can compete.”
Monrroy’s squad was young indeed.
With a roster that included 11 sophomores and three freshmen all playing significant minutes, the Bears reached the first-round of the state Class 4A tournament, suffering a heart-breaking loss to Curtis on Tuesday in a shootout.
Despite dominating the flow of play through regulation and two overtime periods, Curtis, shooting first, scored on all five of its penalty shots and goalkeeper Mason Mahoney swallowed up one CV offering to claim the win.
“We only played two shootouts,” the coach said. “We lost both of them. We lost to Ferris in a shootout at home and to Curtis at home.”
Curtis, on the other hand, was coming off a huge upset win over defending champion Jefferson in a shootout behind a keeper who seemed unbeatable.
That CV would still be playing in the first-round of the state tournament was just an unspoken dream when the Bears opened the season.
But then Central Valley went out and handled Mt. Spokane, a truly veteran, senior-dominated squad, in its opener.
“That’s when I knew we could compete,” Monrroy said. “We didn’t just beat them – we handled them. We did that in our first game, a non-league game, and then we did it again in a league game.
“I told my players what I always tell them: Go out and give me everything you’ve got. And they did.”
Few, if any, predicted that the Bears would ultimately claim the Class 4A district and regional championships.
Central Valley finished its season with a 13-3 record, giving up just 11 goals over that span and not allowing a goal during the run of play in the regional championship game with Pasco or the state tournament game at home against Curtis.
Monrroy said he took the loss hard. The Bears dominated play against Curtis. They just weren’t able to score.
“We dominated that game and I knew we were eventually going to score against them,” he said. “We just ran out of time.
“I think what makes me the most sad is that we’re losing three very special seniors who were great competitors – great competitors in the classroom make great competitors on the field and they really were.”
Miguel Naves gave the offense a primary scoring threat while Karl Ellingson and Brock Benzel turned a young group of defenders into a lights-out group that did not allow a goal in the final five games – including a 1-0 win over Ferris to claim the No. 1 seed into the regional tournament that avenged a shootout loss at home to the Saxons.
In the fluid style of play that Monrroy teaches, the pair also were scoring threats – with Benzel heading in the game-winner in overtime to beat Pasco.
“The difference is we have stronger legs at the end of the game,” Ellingson said after beating the Bulldogs – just missing his own header minutes before his teammate found an open space in front of the net to head home the game winner. “We know we can wear down anyone we play.”
“We started out pretty young back there,” he said of his defensive unit. “But we all came together. Our young guys don’t play like it anymore.”
Monrroy made certain his three graduating seniors knew that their contributions this season will be felt over the next several campaigns.
Meanwhile, the future looks bright for the Bears. The defense will continue to be a team strength while the young offense will only get more potent as they gain experience.
“We’re only going to get better,” the coach said. “We already have a season of experience behind us and we’re only going to get better.”