Whitman Men's Soccer Side Seeks Elusive Northwest Conference Championship
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- After falling one victory short of a Northwest Conference title in two of the last three years, the Whitman College men's soccer team is poised for another run at the top spot this fall.
Whitman finished last season with a flurry, winning a school record six straight games while outscoring the opposition by a combined 15-5 margin.
The Missionaries, 7-0-1 in their last eight games of the 2010 season, finished second in the final NWC standings, missing the proverbial brass ring by a single victory.
Mike Washington, now in his 14th season at the Whitman controls, is cautiously optimistic about his team's chances for another stellar season.
"We have some good players returning in our junior and senior classes, and our depth of talent is better than it's ever been, but we're still a young team in many respects," Washington says. "This is still a team that needs to find a consistent rhythm."
With any luck, Whitman will find that rhythm earlier rather than later.
"We'd definitely like to get off to a quicker start," Washington says.
|Michael Bathurst save
"We can't wait until we're four or five games into the conference season before we get going. Rather than play catch up, we want to start the season on a strong note and make everyone else chase us."
From all indications, however, the 2011 title chase could be a dogfight right from the get-go.
In a recent preseason coaches poll, Whitman collected 39 points for a projected third-place finish. Pacific University, the defending champ, was pegged for second place, collecting just one more vote than Whitman.
Pacific Lutheran, which returns five players who earned All-NWC First- and Second-Team honors a year ago, topped the 2011 preseason poll with 43 points. The Lutes finished third in last fall's final standings.
Whitworth with 36 points and Puget Sound with 33 round out the top five in the recent poll. It is the first time that an NWC preseason poll in any sport has had five teams within 10 points of each other at the top.
To compete for a crown this fall, Whitman must replace graduated seniors Cooper Crosby, a four-year defensive star, and midfielder Connor Bottomly, who led the Missionaries in scoring a year ago. Both players earned NWC First-Team honors.
Defender John Fleming, midfielder Beau Morton and goalkeeper Tim Shu are three more key losses to graduation.
On the positive side, Whitman returns four of its top six scorers from last fall and a raft of players who were full- or part-time starters.
The defense looks promising, Washington says, despite departure of Crosby and Fleming in the middle and one of last year's keepers in Shu.
Michael Bathurst, a 6-foot-4 junior captain, started in net 10 times last fall and "looks better than ever," Washington says. "Michael played a lot toward the end of last season when we were going so well.
"We're in good hands with Michael, but we also have two freshmen, Stuart Ellsworth (Bellevue, Wash.) and Niko Contos (Boise, Idaho), who are more than ample back-ups. We're in better shape overall at keeper than we were the past few years."
|Jack Morgan (18) defending
Along the defensive back line, a trio of sophomores -- Jack Morgan, Cooper Schumacher and Satchel Grant -- are in line to fill holes in the middle.
While slowed by injury to start last season, Morgan started eight of Whitman's last 11 games.
"Jack also was an all-state wrestler in high school, so he fits the Cooper Crosby mold of being a physical, rugged defender," Washington says.
"Both he and Satchel Grant have looked good in early workouts, and Cooper Schumacher has made some real gains in strength and fitness. All three of these young men are well over six feet and give us good presence in the back."
Schumacher, who started four games last fall, has the ability to "move forward from the back," Washington says. "He's also excellent in the air on set pieces."
Grant, who made the team a year ago as a freshman, decided not to play in lieu of concentrating on his academics. "We're glad to have him back," Washington says.
Senior captain Brian Percival, a two-year starter, and sophomore Riley Hernandez are key returnees at the outside back positions.
Percival contributed four assists to the offense a year ago after combing two goals and one assist during his sophomore campaign.
"Brian is nursing a bit of an injury, but we think he's going to be okay," Washington says. "He looks as good as ever and has always had a knack for moving out of the back with the ball."
Hernandez, who started nine of 16 games last fall, is another "solid back with good speed who can move forward with the ball."
Sophomore Reid Shaw, senior Nathan Ord and junior Dhavan Vengadasalam are pushing for playing time in the outside defending slots.
Senior Sam Freedman, juniors Jed Jacobson and Andrew Clark, third-year sophomore Leland Matthaeus and sophomore Junpei Tsuji give the Missionaries a solid core in the midfield.
Freedman finished just a point behind Bottomly in scoring last fall, when he booted eight goals and had two assists. Matthaeus, bouncing back from a season lost to injury, started 18 of 20 games in 2010 and combined five goals with five assists.
Both Freedman and Matthaeus parlayed good quickness and foot speed into three game-winning goals last fall.
Jacobson, who made the transition from outside back to outside mid, chipped in with three goals and four assists.
"Jed is very quick and can hit the ball with authority," Washington says. "He and Sam are major threats on the outside, and we've got several players now who can push them for playing time."
Tsuji, who started 14 of 20 games last season as a rookie, has the potential to replace Bottomly's scoring in the midfield, Washington says.
"We started working Junpei into our attack last season. He has the talent and ability to replace what Bottomly did for us last season."
Clark, who started 10 games a year ago, is "another player who could give us more scoring from the midfield," Washington says. "Andrew is a very good player who needs to work on being more consistent."
Sophomore Jesse Mirman and senior Jordan Thomas are candidates to replace Morton as holding midfielders.
Chris Perkins, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, gives Whitman good size and quickness at forward.
"Chris is a strong, gifted athlete," Washington says. "We need to get him in a position to finish, or if he's holding the ball, we need to get a few of our midfielders beyond him."
Bill Landefeld, a freshman from Kennewick, Wash., also shows promise at forward, Washington says.
Other returning players are sophomore midfielders Michael Axelson, Danny Smith and Forrest Epstein.
Axelson tallied four goals and an assist last fall but will miss this season because of injury. Epstein, who played in three games as a rookie, also starts the season on the injured list.
Smith, who got into four games as a freshman, is "playing quite well" in early workouts, Washington says.
More than a dozen newcomers have pushed the roster ranks well past the 30 mark. At least a handful of those fresh faces could have an immediate impact, Washington says.
Jose Beleche and Sean Williams, two Walla Walla products, are in the midfield mix along with first-year sophomores Lucas Ramadan (Kentfield, Calif.) and Alex Baker (Eugene, Ore.).
Ramadan made the team a year ago but then decided to concentrate on academics in his first year at Whitman. Baker, a transfer who played on the club team at the University of Oregon last year, may also see time at forward.
Other freshmen battling for time in the midfield are Joe Virden (Richland, Wash.), Logan Grime (Batesburg, S.C.), Tim Reed (Pasadena, Calif.) Riley Paul (Juneau, Alaska) and Clint Vorauer (Bellevue, Wash.).
"We have options all over the midfield," Washington says. "That also gives us a chance to play different formations."
Rounding out the freshman class are two players, Daniel Varns (Bloomington, Ind.) and Mats Sanyer (Salt Lake City, Utah), looking for playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
"We've got a few weeks of preseason games to sort things out and get ready for conference," Washington says.
Washington wasn't surprised by the preseason coaches poll that put five teams in the running for the top spots in the conference.
"It could very well be a three- or four-horse race headed into the last week or so," he says. "Two conference games on the weekend can be exhausting, especially when you're on the road.
"That's why we're happy to have the most talented depth we've ever had here. We're going to need reserves who can come into a game and play hard while others get a break."
Whitman hosts a non-counting 7 p.m. scrimmage against College of Idaho on Monday, Aug. 29, before traveling to Kirkland, Wash., on Thursday, Sept. 1, for a season-opening battle with Northwest University.
The Missionaries return home on Monday, Sept. 5, for a 7 p.m. battle with Warner Pacific.
After a quick trip back east to play Augsburg College (Sept. 8) and Bethel University (Sept. 10), Whitman kicks off its NWC slate on Sept. 17-18 at George Fox and Pacific universities.
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; firstname.lastname@example.org