SPORTS: Defending NWAACC champion Peninsula College women’s soccer team could be even better this year
Bri Afoa, the NWAACC’s leading scorer and the conference’s player of the year in 2012, returns to the Peninsula Pirates for her sophomore season. --Photo: Jeff Halstead/for Peninsula Daily News
By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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Officially, the Pirates are 0-2, already with more losses than they experienced during last year’s 22-1-1 run to the NWAACC championship in women’s program’s third year of existence.
After scoring 114 goals in 24 games last year, a per-game average of 4.75 goals, the Pirates, officially, have yet to score a goal.
They’ve allowed five goals, only eight short of last year’s total.
But Peninsula coach Kanyon Anderson doesn’t expect 2013 to be a down year.
In fact, he thinks the Pirates, who face Lane Community College this afternoon in Eugene, Ore., will be even better than last year.
“I’m excited because we are more technically skilled than any team I’ve ever coached,” Anderson said.
“And every player on the team played for a high-level competitive club team [prior to coming to Peninsula College], so that usually translates into better tactical awareness.
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll be better, but we’re further along at this point in the season than we’ve ever been.”
Despite the 0-2 record, the first few weeks of the season have been far from a failure.
Not only did the two losses come to a pair of large Canadian schools — including Simon Fraser, the only non-American school affiliated with the NCAA — but the Pirates also earned a couple of impressive scrimmage wins against Vancouver Island University and the University of Victoria.
Victoria is one of Canada’s top women’s soccer programs, and feature a member of the Canadian national team (who, by the way, played the entire match against Peninsula). The Vikes have beaten the Pirates fairly handily in previous meetings.
“I don’t know if our record will be better — we only lost once last year — and our stats won’t be necessarily better, but we’ve already beaten a higher-caliber team,” Anderson said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that would have won against University of Victoria.”
It is also important to note that the Pirates would be 1-2, but their 6-1 victory over Trinity Lutheran at the NWAACC Friendlies Tournament was ruled a scrimmage because the Eagles didn’t have 11 players make the trip to Tukwila.
Back for Peninsula is forward Bri Afoa, last year’s NWAACC Women’s Soccer Player of the Year, and already the schools all-time leader in goals with 23 as a freshman.
“She’s playing great. She seems faster, stronger, more confident,” Anderson said. “She’s doing a lot of smart things off the ball.
“She’s a better version, I think, of what she was last year.”
This year, Afoa will play alongside another elite scorer, transfer Bronte Fitzsimmons, who trained with the Pirates in 2012.
“Bronte is lightning quick. She is the quickest player I’ve ever coached,” Anderson said.
“She’s quick and fast and she’s skilled, and she has a great attitude.
“So, really, she’s a kid who can make things happen every time she touches the ball, and there’s not a lot [opponents] can do about it — she’s just gone.”
Fitzsimmons played at Victoria Island University as a freshman, where Anderson said she earned first-team All-Canada honors. She wanted to play in the states, so she transferred to Peninsula.
Like Afoa, Anderson said Fitzsimmons is “a Division I goal scorer.”
At 5-foot-7, Afoa is more of a power striker, but she’s fast, too, so she can outrun big defenders and overpower smaller defenders.
Fitzsimmons, 5-foot-1, is all speed.
Afoa said the two goal scorers complement each other.
“It’s awesome. Just working with Bronte up top, and having her quickness and her speed and everything is just — it’s a dangerous combination,” she said.
“This year it’s like . . . everyone’s probably got a mark on me, not knowing that we have Bronte and her speed and her quickness.
“She’s kind of like a hidden weapon.”
Last year’s championship and national ranking was a boost to the program’s recruiting.
Anderson said better players contacted him, and he had a high success rate for signing the players he targeted.
“I think the team’s going to be pretty special,” said Port Angeles graduate Paxton Rodocker, a freshman who redshirted last year.
“I think that coach recruited girls who weren’t going to be surprised at the intensity level that we have this year, and so they came in and were ready to go and ready to play right away.”
Among the top newcomers are Kamryn Barney, who played at Western Washington University in 2012, twins Brooke and Brittney Yoshimura, and goalkeepers Kasie Lough and Emily Flinn.
Lough and Flinn are battling with sophomore Laura Morgan to fill the goalkeeper spot vacated by Denae Brooks, who is now playing at Division II Southwest Minnesota State.
“We’re the deepest that we’ve ever been at goalkeeper,” Anderson said.
“We’re not going to drop off in goalkeeper, which is a surprise to lose a goalkeeper of Denae’s caliber and still not drop off.”
The many talented newcomers combined with returners such as Afoa, Annie Armstrong, Rodocker and Shelbi Vienna-Hallam means there isn’t time to be complacent.
“It’s not such a big gap between your top 11 and the [rest of the team],” Vienna-Hallam, who plays center back, said.
“Everyone’s fighting for a spot, so it’s really competitive. Every training [session], everyone’s like, ‘I’ve got to earn my spot, I’ve got to make the top 11.’”
Despite the in-program competition, Vienna-Hallam said the team has bonded well. Anderson is expecting Vienna-Hallam to be one of the of leaders who ensures that bond is maintained.
“Her leadership in terms of just getting people organized, showing them how to work, showing them what a good teammate looks like, is exceptional. I haven’t had anybody better,” Anderson said.
“Her teammates like her, too; she’s not just domineering. She’s strict, but she’s kind, too, and I think players respond to that, especially from a center back who’s willing to make sacrifices for the team.
“Center back’s a really physical position, and a lot of players don’t want to play there.”
With the Pirates’ depth, talent and leadership, Anderson expects them to at least be a serious threat to win another NWAACC championship.
“I’m not one to get too excited about something before it’s happened, but I think it’s also important to be realistic about what’s possible,” he said.
“We could [repeat]. You know, anything can happen, but I would think right now, we’re probably the front-runner.”
Said Vienna-Hallam, “I feel like we’re on the right track right now, but we’ve still got a lot to do.
“But I feel like if we keep at it and keep working hard on the training pitch and stuff, we can get there.
Sports editor/outdoors columnist Lee Horton can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5152 or at email@example.com.
Last modified: September 09. 2013 6:32PM