Twice in the last week or two, someone has brought up Jeff Hoham's little losing streak to Grand Island.
“Like I didn't already know,” the Lincoln East boys soccer coach quipped.
Hoham's preseason No. 7 Spartans get a chance to end that string of five setbacks when they travel to No. 3 Grand Island Thursday night for an early-season test on the first day spring sports can begin.
The teams have turned into fast rivals after the last couple of seasons, starting the last 14 against one another. The Islanders may not have gotten their first win in program history over Lincoln East until 2008, but the five-game winning streak has taken the series to a new level.
“It's really come to rivalry status, and it's neat to see,” Grand Island coach Jeremy Jensen said. “When I first took over the program, I really wanted to use that first game against East as a barometer. We knew they would always come with one heck of a quality team.”
Hoham said there is mutual admiration. He called the trip “another test.”
“They will pack that stadium,” he said. “I have just a tremendous respect for how they go about it. I love to get tested like this right out of the chute. It tells me a lot about my team early on.”
In 2011 — a year after East went unbeaten in a state championship run — Grand Island handed the Spartans their only three losses of the season: one in the season-opener, again in the conference finals and then on the biggest stage, the semifinals of the state tournament.
The latter two matches were won in the last 30 seconds. The showdown at state was decided on a free kick with four seconds left.
Last season's two victories came by 2-1 scores and both were decided in shootouts.
Grand Island hasn't lost a regular-season game since 2010. Each of the past two years it has entered the state tournament unbeaten.
A run to the title game in 2011 was the high point for a program on the rise. Last year's first-round exit as the No. 2 seed provided all the motivation the Islanders needed in the offseason.
“We come in, don't take advantage of some things and Papio South does,” Jensen said, “and the next thing you know we're on the bus ride home thinking about what could have been.”
Jensen said the thought about this season began that same night. After a quick meeting about checking in equipment and things of that nature, Jensen said he left the building only to find his team out on its field playing. They stayed out there until well after midnight.
He called it a way for them to get the bad taste out of their mouth, but added that it didn't completely scratch that itch.
“Ever since the state tournament last year, this game seemed like light-years away,” Jensen said. “The kids are really champing at the bit to finally get a game. It's going to be good therapy.”
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