Only a week ago, the Kennewick boys soccer team made the two-hour journey up Highway 395 and beat Mount Spokane, the top 3A seed from the Greater Spokane League, 4-1 in the CBBN/GSL regional semifinals.
The Lions (15-4) swamped the Wildcats, outshooting them 20-2 while overwhelming them with superior team speed.
The two teams will face off again at 7 p.m. today at Lampson Stadium in the first round of the 3A state tournament.
Don’t be surprised if you see a much different game this time around.
“Hubris can be a dangerous thing, especially in high school athletics,” Lions coach Brian Gochoel said. “The real key is trying to establish ourselves like we did at their place. In the playoffs, it’s a one-and-done situation, so the concern is about the boys playing up to their potential.
“It’s a game of decisions. At the end of the match, if we’ve made better decisions collectively, we’re going to get the result.”
Gochoel is a veteran of state tournaments, but this is his first with the Lions. He guided Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Ga., to three consecutive state appearances from 2008-2010 before taking over at Kennewick.
Today will be the Lions’ third state appearance — the first since 1993 — but a state win would be the first in program history.
“It’s certainly a special occasion, and hopefully we can seize the opportunity,” Gochoel said. “This will be our last home game of the season, and we certainly want to send our seniors out with a win at home.”
Mt. Spokane (11-5) is looking for its first state win as well. The Wildcats have been to state just once before, in 2005, and are hoping to make some of their own history.
“It’s nice that we do have a little bit of experience with them. Now we have a general idea of their game plan and what they’re going to do,” said Wildcats coach Ryan Campanella. “Our guys are mentally prepared for this game. We know we can play with them.”
Jack Gularte leads Mt. Spokane with nine goals, while David Covarrubias (9 goals, 7 assists) and Geo Vazquez (7g, 14a) are Kennewick’s top playmakers. Both teams have sophomore goalkeepers — Henry Hernandez for the Lions and Robert Powles for the Wildcats — who have stepped up impressively in starting roles.
“At this point, we’re going to play our 20th match of the season. We’re fairly confident with the things we can do well,” Gochoel said . “If we win, we move on to the quarterfinals. If Mt. Spokane can put together 80 minutes — possibly 90 — to beat us, they’ll deserve a victory.”
Kennewick surprised Mt. Spokane at regionals, scoring three goals in the first 22 minutes while the Wildcats struggled to keep up on defense. Mt. Spokane seemed to adjust in the second half, holding the Lions to just one goal.
Kennewick has given up a few goals on set pieces to bigger opponents but speed has been the Lions’ biggest weapon so far.
“(Mt. Spokane) does have some size on us, but it’s hard to tackle what you can’t catch. If we move the ball well and try to support one another on the field, we can mitigate their size advantage,” Gochoel said. “We’re very much a dynamic team. We have the ability to attack the flanks and middle. We depend on our midfield and back line to recognize what space is available.”
Campanella was impressed with Kennewick’s personnel, but he’s confident his team will be more prepared to handle the Lions this time.
“It’s a matter of playing team defense and making sure we don’t get caught in too many 1-on-1s,” he said. “They definitely have some individual talent. If you mark one guy, somebody else is going to take advantage.
“At the end of the day, (the east side) is going to send a very good team to the final eight.”