KENNEWICK -- A year after finishing third at the Class 3A girls state soccer tournament, the Southridge Suns have raised the bar yet again.
The Suns won 14 games in the CBBN 3A without a loss, a tremendous accomplishment considering the company they were in. Plus, they did it against the odds, playing much of the CBBN 3A league season without their returning all-league goalkeeper Ingrid Stein.
"I told a few people I didn't think anybody would make it through without losing a game, because our league is so competitive," Southridge coach Greg Sambrano said. "I don't know if being undefeated makes a statement, because league is league and the playoffs are a new season. If I could look into a crystal ball and see that we made the semis and stayed undefeated, I'd say it means a lot."
After clinching its third league title in four years -- and its first outright title -- top-ranked Southridge (16-0) has a full week to recover from a brutally tough league slate before it plays its first postseason game Wednesday, Nov. 5.
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"We get two chances to get into state. The No. 1 team should be rewarded like that," Sambrano said. "Some people say it's tough to be off for seven days, but we get to watch other teams beat up on each other twice and then face us.
"We'll take the seven days."
Sambrano, who changed the Suns' culture of losing into a winning tradition since taking over in 2003, is still looking for his first state coaching victory. In 2010, he stepped away from his post for a year to spend time with his family while Riley Dodson guided Southridge to its only trophy finish.
This year, Sambrano is hoping to go at least that far, and maybe even farther.
"My approach (to the playoffs) is a little different this season. My teams haven't had much success in the playoffs, and maybe because the coach hasn't done enough," Sambrano said. "It's not a tactical thing. Maybe more of a motivational thing. The biggest thing is keeping our momentum and staying hungry."
Today, No. 5 seed Eastmont (7-9) will travel to Richland to face No. 4 seed Hanford at 5 p.m. to open the CBBN 3A playoffs. The two teams traded home wins during the regular season, but the Falcons were the aggregate leader in the two matches, outscoring the Wildcats 5-1.
In today's other match, Pasco (5-11) will play a 3:30 p.m. game at No. 3 West Valley (12-4), which beat the Bulldogs twice during league play.
* As a lifelong member of the Richland girls program, coach Sara Elfering is quite used to winning. She won four Big Nine titles and a 4A state title as a Bombers' player from 1996-1999.
After 12 seasons, things haven't changed that much. Elfering just earned her third consecutive CBBN title as a coach, and she's tickled to do it with this group of players.
"When we're playing, we always expect the most from ourselves. Anything less is disappointing. That's just ingrained in me," she said. "Last year, we lost two key players who did most of our scoring. Now we're a little more well-rounded."
The first half of the season, Elfering struggled to find scoring combinations that worked. But with the return of injured all-CBBN forward Kirsten Calmus and the emergence of Allie Boynton, Elfering isn't as concerned about offense.
"It's very important to have a defense you can rely on (in the playoffs). It also makes it easier for attackers not to have to worry about anything back there," Elfering said. "But if you can't score, it's going to be pretty hard to stay."
Last Saturday at Wenatchee, junior midfielder Anneliese Barnes scored the game-winning goal in overtime as the Bombers clinched the outright league championship.
"Annaliese has been playing as a defensive midfielder for us, but she stepped up and knocked home her first goal of the year. She couldn't have picked a better time," Elfering said.
* Chiawana coach Rich Zoller, for one, is glad the CBBN 4A coaches decided to switch from a four-team district playoff bracket to a six-team bracket in the spring.
A four-team bracket would have left the Riverhawks (5-10) out of the postseason dance. But as the No. 5 seed traveling to No. 4 Wenatchee at 1 p.m. Saturday, they keep their chances of returning to the 4A state playoffs alive.
"That's the matchup I wanted. We'd rather be playing at home, but we're confident and we're playing well right now," Zoller said.
Wenatchee (7-7-1) beat Chiawana twice during the regular season in a pair of tight games. Zoller thinks the third time could be the charm.
"I felt like we dominated both games, but their goalkeeper made some really good saves," he said. "If we can get a couple by her, I like our chances."
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; email@example.com.