College soccer: Peninsula men are NWAC champions; women fall in semis

The stakes were high and the drama even higher as the Peninsula College men’s soccer team was forced to go to 11 penalty kicks to finally beat Highline in the NWAC championship match on Nov. 12.

An exuberant Nil Grau, the North Region MVP, said after the match that something felt different about the team after a midseason loss.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs this season, but I feel over the last month, we were invincible,” Grau said. “All these guys, all these lads deserve it. We are all family. We all deserve it.”

Peninsula and Highline ended regulation and two overtimes tied 2-2, sending the game to penalty kicks.

Both teams were nearly flawless as the entire Peninsula lineup — Nil Grau, Abdurahim Leigh, Brian Guzman, Tsubasa Abe, Pip van de Ende, Matthew Enriquez, Alfie Tucker, Fin Muotune, Zach Beehre and Brandon Wagner (Sequim) all made their kicks.

There were two especially dramatic moments in the penalty kicks. On Muotone’s first kick, the Highline keeper actually made the save to give Highline an advantage. But the referee ruled that the keeper had moved early, giving Muotune a rekick, which he made.

The same thing happened to Peninsula on the following kick as Laurin Lettow made a save to give Peninsula an apparent victory. But a rekick was awarded because Lettow had moved early.

Tied 10-10, the teams went back through the lineups and Grau made his second penalty kick. On the 22nd penalty kick, Lettow made another save. This time, there were no fouls and it stood up, giving the Pirates the victory.

Peninsula got off to a fast start, getting a goal from Matthew Enriquez in the third minute, assisted by Grau.

Highline tied it soon afterward, getting a score from the Thunderbirds dangerous forward Zane May.

It remained 1-1 until the 54th minute when Leigh scored on an assist by Rei Sato. The Pirates nearly got an insurance goal in the 83rd minute when Grau hit a near-perfect header on a corner kick, but the ball went off the crossbar and stayed out.

Highline effectively pressured much of the second half and had a number of scary chances on free kicks and corner kicks.

Alfie Tucker made a save on a potential goal on a cross right in front of the goal mouth midway through the second half. Tucker, a defensive player, moved in to sweep the ball out of the trouble area.

Peninsula was only a few minutes away from victory when Highline scored an equalizer in the 86th minute when a shot went off the crossbar. There were only 10 Pirates players involved in the play as a Peninsula player was down on the ground injured. There was a scramble for the loose ball and it went right to the Thunderbirds’ Damoni McKenna-Greenawalt, who kicked it in to tie the game 2-2.

Peninsula also won the NWAC champion in 2019 on penalty kicks. It is the sixth championship for the Pirates, who also won in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

PC women fall

In a game that came down to inches and could have easily gone either way, the Spokane women’s soccer team got the breaks and beat Peninsula College on penalty kicks in the NWAC semifinals on Nov. 9.

Spokane beat the Pirates 5-3 in penalty kicks. The difference? Spokane’s goalkeeper Kami Warden made a spectacular diving save on a penalty kick by Peninsula’s Maylin Rivera. Peninsula’s keeper Talia Marini made a diving near-save on the previous penalty kick, but the ball managed to go off her hands and into the net. She came within an inch or two of making the save.

There were other close calls for the Pirates. Shawna Larson missed a spectacular goal late in the second overtime. In fact, it would have been the goal of the year for the NWAC if it had gone in. She made a head over heels bicycle kick on a free kick set piece that beat Warden, but it went off the right post.

Rodriguez-Bordeaux also had a long shot in the second overtime that required Warden to make a diving save. A couple of solid headers by Hannah Wagner and Gemma Rowland late in the game got blocked by Warden or Spokane defenders.

Marini also had her share of solid saves. Her best was on a breakaway by Spokane’s leading scorer, Abbie Jay. Jay got behind the Pirates’ defense and was one-on-one with Marini, but Marini came way out of the net to challenge and never let Jay get a shot off. That was the closest Spokane came to scoring.

It was simply a tight, defensive battle between two evenly matched, solid teams. Spokane also knocked the Pirates out of the postseason last year en route to winning the NWAC championship. Now, the Sasquatch played Columbia Basin on Sunday after press deadline going for back-to-back championships.

“We’re feeling pretty blue,” said coach Kanyon Anderson. “It so easily could have gone our way. We don’t feel like we lost that game.”

Anderson pointed out that Peninsula outshot Spokane 20-11 and 7-1 in the overtimes. “We’ve played Spokane four times in two years, tied them three times and beat them once. But they’re the ones going to the NWAC finals to defend their title.”

Peninsula had some injuries, including to starter Briana-Jean Tanaka, but Anderson said Spokane was missing a starter, as well.

“I don’t want to make excuses. We played a great game. We had chances to win,” he said.

The game ended in regulation 0-0 and while there were some exciting close calls in the two overtimes, the teams remained locked at 0-0 into the penalty kicks.

Peninsula’s Lauren La Fontaine and Corpuz made the first two kicks easily as the kicks were knotted at 2-2. Marini then had her near-save as Spokane took a 3-2 lead.

Warden made her save on Rivera and the Pirates were in serious trouble as Spokane converted its next penalty kick to take a 4-2 lead.

The game nearly ended on the next penalty kick, taken by Larson, but the Pirates got one big break. Warden actually made the save on Larson’s kick initially, which would have won the match right there and then, but the ball had backspin on it and rolled over the line after Warden’s stop. That gave Peninsula life, down just 4-3 on the penalties.

However, Spokane converted its fifth penalty kick to seal the victory.

Officially, the Pirates’ season ended with a 16-0-3 record. “We haven’t officially lost a game since 2019,” Anderson pointed out.