Sports

Pirates reload for run at NWACC title

Talking with a fellow coach, Peninsula's Andrew Chapman heard some words that can either delight a head coach or make him wary: "In this league, sophomores are as good as gold."

Thinking about his roster, one that boasts 14 sophomores, most of whom got plenty of action with last year's fourth-place Pirate squad, Chapman mused that Peninsula "might own Fort Knox."

But Chapman remembers how his Pirate squad dispatched Clark, the reigning NWAACC champion, in the first round at last year's season-ending tournament.

In other words, don't count on a championship until it's won.

With a four-year string of success that's seen Peninsula rack up 45 wins (45-30-14 overall) and four consecutive NWAACC tournament appearances, including a pair of final-four berths in 2007 and 2008, it seems the Pirates are likely in the mix to challenge for their first school soccer title.

But first things are first. Peninsula players are traveling abroad to kick off their preseason schedule, taking in a series of games in Ireland Aug. 27-Sept. 7.

Chapman said a college contact helped set up the international schedule that includes games against a university team, an A-league squad (think Seattle Sounders before joining the MLS), a B-league team and two youth squads.

"We just went after it - the guys were very interested in making (the trip) happen," Chapman said. "It's great bonding for the guys. We'll get to see some good play."

The Pirates return home in early September for a home-opening contest on Sept. 9 against Columbia Basin.

When they do take to the pitch for real, it will be without a number of key players from the 2008 squad, most notably team leaders Hugo Vasquez (team-high six assists, four goals) and Sean Gaskins (five scores), and the team's all-time leading goal scorer Ernest Boham, who scored seven goals last year and tops the Pirates with 20 lifetime scores.

But, as in past years, the Pirates won't be looking to a single player for the bulk of their scoring. In fact, Peninsula got scores by 14 different players in 2008 and 11 players had at least two goals.

"We've always spread it around," Chapman said. "We hope to do that for sure (this season)."

Back on the pitch is John Troka, a quick-footed and versatile midfielder from Kingston High who chipped in three scores and three assists. Omar Anderson, who tied Boham for the team lead with seven scores in 2008, bolsters Peninsula's front line. All-star defender Jason Simonis is back as well, as is Africa native Steve Williams, who had four goals and four assists in 2008.

While the offense looks to keep the scores coming, Peninsula remains strong in the goalkeeper position. The Pirates return two sophomore keepers who each recorded five shutouts last season. Alec Risk notched 52 saves in 11 games and earned an all-star nod while teammate Jase Hall swatted away 48 shot attempts in 14 games to earn all-region status.

Joining the club is a slew of freshmen with club, college or top high school level team experience. Aaron Oppeltz of Roseburg, Ore., is a 5-foot 11-inch defender who played with the Portland Timbers U-21 team. Steve Prevost is a North Kitsap grad who played central defender for a community college in Arizona before transferring. Brent Ricigliano brings experience from an undefeated 4A state high school state champion (South Kitsap). Look for Aaron Funderburk, a 5-foot 10-inch midfielder with what Chapman sees as a fantastic touch, to shore up the P.C. midfield.

Also making the cut is freshman David LaBeaume, a 2009 Sequim High School grad who led the Wolves with eight scores in the spring 2009 season but likely will play defender for Peninsula, and sophomore Jay Kang of Port Angeles, who had two scores for last season's Pirate squad.

Coming off a Final Four appearance in 2007, the Pirates were stunned to drop three of their first four games and five of their first seven before reeling off a 13-game unbeaten streak heading into the playoffs.

Despite hanging on to the No. 3 seed from the NWAACC West division, the Pirates knocked off Clark (the defending champs) and Whatcom in an overtime shootout before dropping a two-overtime game to eventual champion Walla Walla in the semifinals.

Following the season, five Pirates were named all-stars and Chapman was named West Division Coach of the Year.

But as Chapman noted, little of that matters coming into the 2009 season as evidenced by Clark College's early exit at last year's tournament.

"It's going to be a battle for sure," Chapman said.



Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.



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