It has been awhile since Connell has faced this many meaningful regular-season matchups in a year. But the Eagles (9-4, 6-1) faced two fellow SCAC contenders — Highland (7-1) and La Salle (8-0) — for the regular-season title over the last week.
What’s more, Connell faces another tough foe in Naches Valley (7-1) on Saturday. It’s a big change for the Eagles, which sailed undefeated through the SCAC East last season after sharing the league title with Kiona-Benton in 2006.
But this year, in the unified SCAC, Connell coach Hugo Garcia has found a much rockier path in pursuit of its third straight league title.
“It’s a big difference,” Garcia said. “Now every one of the games you play is crucial. You’ve got to finish first or second for a bye in the playoffs.”
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The Eagles topped Highland 5-0 on Sept. 30 before dropping a 3-0 contest to LaSalle on Saturday. But Garcia was impressed with the way his team approached the Lightning, which won the last five SCACWest regular-season titles and is 58-0 in league play since 2003.
“I think for the first time in the last two years we felt like we had a shot at them,” Garcia said.
There are a few reasons for the Eagles’ confidence. One is senior forward KieOsha Ivory, who is tied with Myra Rizo for the team lead with 10 goals. But Garcia said the team is working well together to create opportunities.
“We’ve started to play a lot more like a team. We’re playing less long ball than we used to,” Garcia said. “If we want to be at the level of LaSalle, then we have to work on passing.”
Garcia has been pleased with the goalkeeping efforts of Maci Whitby, a sophomore who recorded nine shutouts as a freshman and has six more this season. Whitby, a returning first-team all-league performer, has allowed less than a goal a game over the last two years.
“(Maci) reminds me of (former Eagles keeper) Laurin Eppich,” Garcia said. “She’s built the same and just as aggressive as Laurin. She’s not afraid to get hurt. Sometimes I have to watch out for her.”
-- The CBBN goal leaders look more like a reprise of the CBL 3A scoring leaders from 2007. Three of the four top returning scorers — Haley Curtis of West Valley (leads the league with 17 goals), Jori Skorpik of Kamiakin (second, 14 goals) and Kasey McNeill of Southridge (t-5th, 11 goals) — remain among the top 6 scorers in the CBBN this season.
As a matter of fact, all of the top six scorers were from last season’s 3A teams. 4A teams brought four of their top five returning scorers to the CBBN, but only Shawna Anderson of Pasco (t-7th, 10 goals) has cracked the top 10.