Getting to a state championship game isn’t easy, especially for a team from the east side of the mountains.
Only nine times in the last 33 seasons has a current Mid-Columbia Conference team been represented in the state girls Class 3A or Class 4A soccer final.
So it says something that the MCC has had a dog in that fight in each of the last two years.
With 23 players — including nine first-team selections — returning from last year’s all-MCC performers and a robust crop of new talent, the east side might have more to say before the year is done.
“What we have seen from this year’s incoming freshmen should make for some exciting young talent,” Richland coach Sara Elfering said. “I do not foresee any ‘give me’ games. Everyone will need to show up to play.”
With the league season at its halfway point, the Southridge Suns have emerged as the front-runner, winning each of its seven league games after a season-opening nonleague loss to Mercer Island. The Suns, who were beaten 2-1 by Edmonds-Woodway in last year’s Class 3A state championship, are showing no signs of slowing despite losing their top scorer — junior forward McKaley Goffard — to a knee injury over the summer.
The Suns (7-1 overall, 7-0 MCC) return nine starters amid a backbone of 14 underclassmen to the field, and have made a few adjustments to account for Goffard’s loss. Second-team all-MCC defender Haley Thomas moved to midfield and has begun paying immediate dividends, including her first career hat trick in a win over Walla Walla. Captain Bri Hunting and Savannah Brown — both all-MCC first-teamers — are back to help defend their MCC co-championship.
Not far behind is Kamiakin (6-2, 5-2), with whom Southridge shared the MCC title in 2014. The Braves lost seven starters but are getting significant contributions from all-MCC returnees Heather Donais, Rilee Castilla and Rachel Ensign plus a strong freshman class. Kamiakin reached the 2013 Class 3A state championship game, losing 2-1 to Liberty of Renton.
Hanford (6-3, 5-2) has started the season on a tear, picking up big wins over Pasco, Richland and Chiawana to put itself in position as an MCC title contender. The Falcons, led by all-MCC juniors Taylor Matheny and Sadie Newsom, are tied for second with Kamiakin and could make it an interesting race.
Chiawana (5-3, 4-3) has the most dynamic attacking tandem in the league in all-MCC forwards Braydey Hodgins and Summer Yates, a member of the U-16 U.S. Girls National team. The Riverhawks also return Cydni Cottrell, a three-year starter at goalkeeper.
Richland (3-4, 3-4) brings back MCC player of the year Samantha Heilman and MCC assists leader Tate Kautzky, both all-MCC picks, as well as rising star Karsyn Suhadolnik. Pasco (4-5, 2-5) has two of the top defenders in the league in Dani Gibson and Eden Snider. The Bulldogs will be looking to boost their scoring with Alexis Eubanks.
Kennewick (3-5, 2-5) is perhaps the league’s most improved team, having already eclipsed last season’s victory total of two. They’ll get lots of leadership from senior Hannah Templeton and junior Klarissa Barajas. Walla Walla (0-7, 0-7) is looking for its first win since the 2013 season after going winless last year. A new coach, former East Valley standout Dana Smith, might be able to help. The Blue Devils will be led by captains Krystal Roberts and Sam West.
2014 in review
MCC champion: (tie) Kamiakin, Southridge. District champion: Southridge.
Returning all-MCC selections
First team (10): D Rachel Ensign, sr., Kamiakin; D Bri Hunting, sr., Southridge; D Taylor Matheny, jr., Hanford; MF Summer Yates, soph., Chiawana; MF Rilee Castilla, jr., Kamiakin; MF Tate Kautzky, sr., Richland; MF Heather Donais, sr., Kamiakin; MF Savannah Brown, jr., Southridge; F Samantha Heilman (MVP), sr., Richland; F Braydey Hodgins, sr., Chiawana. Second team (9): GK Cydni Cottrell, sr., Chiawana; D Emily Russell, jr., Southridge; D Sunny Hemenway, sr., Richland; D Haley Thomas, jr., Southridge; MF Sadie Newsom, jr., Hanford; MF Hannah Templeton, sr., Kennewick; MF Parker Lee, sr., Kamiakin; MF Daniela Mendoza, soph., Hanford; F Klarissa Barajas, soph., Kennewick. Honorable mention (5): D Eden Snider, jr., Pasco; D Dani Gibson, jr., Pasco; D Kailee Hipke, sr., Richland; MF Miranda Nelson, jr., Southridge; MF Tatum Nielsen, jr., Hanford.
CWAC champion: Ellensburg. District 5 champion: Ephrata.
Returning all-CWAC selections
First team (5): D Tamzen Shissler, jr., Ellensburg; D Taylor Manrique, sr., East Valley; MF Rachel Jeffries, sr., Ellensburg; F Jamie Fassler, jr., Prosser; F Reyna Schedler, jr., Ellensburg. Second team (8): D Kaila Hansen, sr., Ellensburg; D Jordyn Albertson, sr., Ephrata; MF MaryKate Henning, sr., Selah; Jordyn Arlt, sr., Ellensburg; Maya Swan, sr., Ellensburg; F Taylor Plata, soph., East Valley; F Shelby Lange, jr., East Valley; F Biviana Rivera, sr., Grandview. Honorable mention (10): GK Kenna Leach, jr., East Valley D Kylee Brulotte, sr., East Valley; D Jayda Hamilton, jr., Ephrata; D Erika Rodriguez, sr., East Valley; MF Dalya Sanchez, sr., Ellensburg; MF Isabel Arellano, sr., Wapato; MF Burnadette Yates, jr., East Valley; MF Elena Mendoza, jr., Othello; MF Kim Campuzano, jr., Grandview; F Mayra Fuentes, sr., Toppenish.
SCAC East champion: Connell. District 5 champion: Naches Valley.
Returning all-SCAC East selections
First team (3): D Esmeralda Roman, sr., Granger; MF Emily Thornton, sr., Kiona-Benton; MF Jessica Garcia (MVP), sr., Connell. Second team (8): GK Leandra Ramirez, sr., Kiona-Benton; D Judith Artiaga, sr., Connell; D Elizabeth Bravo, soph., Wahluke; MF Madison Wheeler, soph., Kiona-Benton; MF Brenna Whitney, sr., Warden; MF Elsie Delgado, sr., Royal; F Zayra Solorzano, sr., Kiona-Benton; F Jennifer Mendoza, sr., Warden.