Seven Mid-Columbia teams reached the 2010 girls state soccer tournament -- Chiawana (4A), Southridge and Hanford (3A), Othello and Prosser (2A), Kiona-Benton (1A) and Warden (2B).
Many of the same players have taken their place on the pitch in 2011. That could tell you one of two things: 1) The players who went to state want to return, and 2) the players who didn't will be even more eager to go.
Either way, area soccer fans are in for an exciting season.
Here are five things to watch for in 2011:
Parity in the CBBN 4A
Richland ran away with the league title in 2010, but coach Sara Elfering doesn't expect a cakewalk this season. In fact, she welcomes the challenge of several improved teams.
"This year, nobody may make it to the end unscathed," she said. "You can see less disparity in the scorelines. Teams that were struggling the last few years are now getting close and finding opportunities."
Elfering says the Greater Spokane League is more talented than last year, and the tougher CBBN teams can play each other, the better prepared they will be for the postseason.
Chiawana made its first state appearance last year and hopes for a return trip with all-league forward Lexi Miller and four returning starters on the back line. But as far as the league title goes, Riverhawks coach Rich Zoller says that road runs through Bomber Field.
"Richland is the favorite until someone knocks them off," Zoller said. "After that, it's a toss-up."
Look for Davis and Moses Lake to make playoff runs after strong early-season showings.
CBBN 3A at the Final Four
There are four teams that could comfortably hold down a spot in the state rankings. Two are in the top five -- Southridge at No. 1 and Hanford at No. 5. Kamiakin and West Valley also have shown they can play with the best teams in the state.
What's more, the Falcons return eight starters from last year. The Suns and Braves each brought back nine starters. After beating up on one another during the regular season, these teams won't find the state playoffs so daunting.
It's just too bad the east side gets one spot at the Final Four. If there were ever a year that justified two spots for the CBBN/GSL in the 3A semifinals, it's this one.
"I'm excited to see how far this team can go," Southridge coach Greg Sambrano said. "They're a hungry group of hardworking girls that have been there before."
Hanford also seeks a return trip to the Final Four. The Falcons' last trip was in 2002, but coach Mart Oostrom has a strong core of club players with a solid team concept in place.
"If you really want to go far, you need a few special players that can make a difference," he said, recalling graduated senior Kie Johnson. "Players like Kie are impossible to replace. Hopefully, some of the other players can pick up the slack."
But don't count out Eastmont, which went 7-7 against a tough schedule last year, or Pasco, poised for a bounce-back year after going 4-10. Bulldogs coach Justin Carey is counting on players such as Makena Snider and Abby Buckenberger to lift his team back to prominence.
"There's a lot of potential here," Carey said. "We've got a little more speed, but we're still searching for a goal."
The magic of HJ
Watching her rare combination of speed, strength, agility and aggression, Sambrano knew Heather Johnson was special before she played her first varsity game for Southridge. The Gonzaga-bound senior has proven him right with an impeccable career.
In 2010, she set the Suns' single-season mark for goals (31) and assists (18) in leading Southridge to a third-place finish at the 3A state tournament. Johnson also was named the 3A player of the year.
Helen Petersen rocks the CWAC
She led the league in scoring her first three seasons and is a virtual lock to do it again. That is, unless she's called to become a lockdown defender, as she was during the Mustangs' run to the state playoffs last season. Prosser's career scoring leader easily cleared the 100-goal mark by midseason last year.
Kiona-Benton continues to climb
The Bears finished second in the SCAC last season, and even though they graduated a couple of all-leaguers, they're only getting better. Behind forward Bailey Schroeder and defender Daisy Metcalf, and a record 23 players out for girls soccer, look for great things from Ki-Be.
Returning all-league players
District champion: Richland. Regional champion: Lewis & Clark.
Forwards -- Lexi Miller, jr., Chiawana; Yesenia Alvarado, sr., Richland. Midfielders -- Mackenna Morton, jr., Davis; Kirsten Calmus, jr., Richland. Defenders -- Lexi Ellingsen, so., Chiawana. Goalkeeper -- Shelby Long, sr., Richland.
Forwards -- Alison Zander, jr., Walla Walla. Midfielders -- Colby Harper, sr., Moses Lake; Kelsie Grant, sr., Moses Lake; Paige Pontarolo, sr., Walla Walla. Defenders -- Lizzie Blanchard, jr., Eisenhower; Abby Stones, sr., Moses Lake. Goalkeeper -- Megan Wade, sr., Wenatchee.
District champion: Southridge. Regional champion: Southridge.
Forwards -- Heather Johnson, sr., Southridge (MVP). Midfielders -- Cari Exarhos, sr., Hanford; Katherine Tsoukalas, sr., Southridge; Sandy Hanses, jr., West Valley; Jaden Gjestrum, sr., West Valley. Defenders -- Kendall Riddelle, sr., Hanford; Lauren McKinney, so., Kamiakin; Lindsay Burns, jr., West Valley. Goalkeeper -- Ingrid Stein, sr., Southridge.
Forwards -- Olivia Rodgers, sr., Eastmont; Rebekah Downen, so., Hanford; Ellie Heiden, so., Kamiakin; Brooke Benecke, sr., Southridge. Midfielders -- Sydney Shintaffer, so., Hanford; Michelle Foster, so., Southridge; Courtney Buchanan, sr., West Valley. Defenders -- Megan McCart, jr., Eastmont; Heather Baddley, sr., Hanford; Macy Brannan, sr., Kamiakin; Stephanie Wilson, jr., Kennewick; Whitney Stein, sr., West Valley. Goalkeeper -- Emily Busselman, so., Hanford.
District champion: East Valley.
Forwards -- Shallise Rodriguez, sr., East Valley; Helen Petersen, sr., Prosser; Keilin Farrand, jr., Ellensburg. Midfielders -- Yasi Mohsenian, sr., East Valley; Ariana Roberson, sr., Selah; Oryian Matheny, jr., Grandview. Defenders -- Tassia Merkle, sr., East Valley. Goalkeeper -- Allesha Reyes, jr., Othello.
Forwards -- Kala Brindle, jr., Quincy; Madison Moore, sr., Prosser; Kylie Ott, sr., Selah; Karissa Trinidad, jr., Grandview. Midfielders -- Emily Sween, sr., Ephrata; Ashlee Betancourth, sr., East Valley. Defenders -- Tracy Martin, sr., East Valley.
District champion: La Salle.
Forwards -- Alyssa Wickenhagen, jr., Highland (MVP). Midfielders -- Delaney Romero, jr., Naches Valley.
Forwards -- Andrea Keffeler, sr., Goldendale; Bailey Schroeder, jr., Kiona-Benton; Maria Garcia, sr.., Royal. Midfielders -- Kody Easterday, jr., Connell; Allie McGree, jr., La Salle. Defenders -- Cierra Torp, sr., Kiona-Benton; Daisy Metcalf, sr., Kiona-Benton.