PORT ANGELES — Four NWAC men’s soccer championship banners are displayed at Peninsula College’s Wally Sigmar Field. The ability to sustain that level of success is not so much an expectation for the Pirates men’s soccer program as a matter of fact.
But for Peninsula to claim its 10th league title in the last 12 seasons and make a run toward winning its fifth conference title, the first since 2015, the 2018 Pirates will have to come together and realize their vast potential.
And second-year head coach Jake Hughes, a member of Peninsula’s first championship-winning side in 2010 and an assistant on the 2015 trophy winners, as well as returning sophomore starters and NWAC All-Stars Jose Cerna and Sterling Penniston-John all believe in the task at hand.
Peninsula went 12-3-4 overall last season and finished second in the North, exiting the postseason with a first-round defeat as injuries piled up.
18 new players
The team returns nine sophomores and three redshirt freshman and is adding 18 freshmen players to the mix.
“This year it’s a bit different, we have returning sophomores that are more in the back in defense and in midfield,” returning sophomore and NWAC All-Star central-defensive midfielder Jose Serna said. “And the freshmen have quality up front.
“I’m liking the character of the recruits and the returners so far in practice. Everybody is coming working with the intensity we need with the ambition of winning a championship.”
The Pirates must replace the bulk of their scoring this season as two-time North Region MVP Cesar Gervacio, the NWAC’s leading scorer (18 goals) in 2017 departed along with fellow sophomores Juan Carillo (15) and Joey Holliman (12). Playmaking midfielder Adrian Benitez also exhausted his eligibility.
“With Joey, Cesar, Juan and Adrian gone we lose a lot of goals and creativity,” Hughes said. “But we have sophomores capable of stepping up and filling those shoes and incoming freshman that I feel will be just as creative and just as able to score goals.”
Peninsula’s leading returning goalscorer, forward Manuel Galiano of Italy notched three goals in nine games last season.
But Hughes has multiple freshman forwards at the ready including former Peninsula (Gig Harbor) standout Mason Haubrich,
“Mason Haubrick is going to be a special talent,” Hughes said of the former Class 3A all-state selection.
Others to watch up top include Zillah’s Pablo Medina, Johnny Bicknell of Hawaii and Rodrigo Contreras-Avila of Reno, Nev.
“Pablo Medina scored 20-plus goals his senior year,” Hughes said. “He’s competitive, calm, works really hard and is a good teammate.
“Bicknell — his speed is second to none. I like his IQ, his ability to read the game at a high speed and he is technically sound and has an eye for goals.
“Rodrigo he’s versatile, we looked at him in the midfield because he’s good on the ball and extremely fast. I’m Excited to see what he can do in front of the goal in a game situation. I think he will be a star.”
Peninsula does boast two returning NWAC All-Stars in Serna and defender Sterling Penniston-John and an All-Conference midfielder in Michael Benito.
“Jose Cerna and Michael Benito are going to light up the league,” Hughes said. Benito is the younger brother of former Pirates standout Eddie Benito, an integral piece to the 2015 Peninisula championship.
“Younger Benito is a really exceptional player and to be compared in the same realm as Eddie is a real compliment,” Hughes said.
“And Sterling is back, he’s kind of cut from the same cloth as Jose, an All-Star last year, expect him to return to that level. He’s a phenomenal athlete and there’s a different level to his game and I think he will go on and play at the next level. He’s 6-foot-1 and just very imposing out there.”
Noah Scofield returns from a dislocated kneecap that cut short his season and forced him to medically withdraw from the college for a time. Healthy now, Scofield is raring to get the season started.
“I’m so ready,” Scofield said.
“I definitely see the potential. We are really deep, we have a lot of role players who can come on and not let the level drop. We just have to put the ball in the back of the net, be composed in front of the goal and be assertive in the final third [defensively]. I think we will play as more of a team, move the ball a lot and share the wealth. We had mostly freshman in our backline last year, so with a year’s added experience, we should be improved.”
Hughes and Serna both pointed to Japanese players Hide Inoue, Yuya Yamamoto and Teppei Teramoto as likely contributers. The trio has been in Port Angeles since last spring, taking classes and adjusting to the other side of the Pacific Rim.
“They are all pretty special players with extremely high soccer IQ’s, high technical abilit and they play at a high and intense rate. They’ve been great to be around and train with and game day they can make a difference for us,” Hughes said.
“They are great and they are going to play a big role for us,” Serna said.
Goalkeepers Tristan Landry, Evan Scholes and Heber Martinez are all competing to start.
“Those three will really compete for that position in preseason,” Hughes said. “We will rotate them around, give them a fair crack at the whip and see if a No. 1 emerges and can hold his position throughout.”
Port Angeles products sophomore defender Jesse Salgado and freshman forward Ben Schneider also will compete for playing time. Salgado played in eight games for Peninsula last season.
The ultimate goal, getting back to Starfire to compete for a title, will depend on effort exerted, according to Serna.
“We will earn what we want [an NWAC championship] depending on the effort we give,” Serna said. “If we give the effort needed to win a championship we can get there. It all depends on the effort we give.”
“This year I’m already seeing a lot of positives in our training sessions every day taking big leaps forward,” he said. “I see a lot of potential in being a great team. We have to keep coming out wanting to work, wanting to get better day by day and you’ll see us at the NWAC Finals.”