PORT ANGELES — Nothing beats the feeling of being better than the rest.
And there’s no squad better than the Peninsula College men’s soccer team right now.
The Pirates earned the school’s first NWAACC crown in history with a 1-0 shootout victory over West Division nemesis Highline on Sunday at Starfire Athletic Complex in Tukwila.
The two teams had tied 0-0 through regulation and overtime before Peninsula edged Highline 5-4 in shootout penalty kicks.
After two years of knocking on the championship door, making it to the NWAACC Final Four but losing 1-0 in the semifinals, the Pirates broke through in the third straight Final Four appearance.
And now the Pirates have that championship feeling.
“It’s exciting, it’s good,” offensive star Miguel Gonzalez said on Tuesday about how it feels to be on top.
“It feels pretty good,” midfielder and defensive star Jeff Mullen added. “I was glad we won because we are only the second [Peninsula College] team to win [an NWAACC] championship.”
The Pirates won a men’s basketball title almost 50 years ago.
And then there’s the unique perspective that Peninsula College President Tom Keegan brings to the table after winning an NWAACC men’s soccer title as a player, coach and now college president.
He won a title playing for Skagit Valley in 1977 and later coaching Skagit Valley in 1983.
It’s the feelings radiating from the players themselves that Keegan relates to the most.
“After coaching a championship team and watching our team win the championship [Sunday], I noticed it’s the look in the eyes of the kids that’s the same.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to see in the moment. You can’t describe the feelings but you can see it in their eyes.
“As a player and a coach I have had that feeling deep down, a sense of excitement and pride.
“As the college president, I have a deep sense of pride for the coaching staff — for all their hard work — but mostly for the kids.”
Head coach Andrew Chapman brought the first title to Peninsula in his eighth year.
His teams traditionally make the playoffs, and have made the Final Four three consecutive years, but broke through to win it all this year with a team of 20 freshmen and only seven sophomores.
It’s no secret why this particular group broke through, according to Chapman.
“These guys just wanted to work hard,” Chapman said.
“We have good, skilled players with good attitudes who are good human beings.”
Keegan plays up on the good student and citizenship angle of the team.
“This championship is the result of the work of [athletic director] Rick Ross, Andrew Chapman and [assistant soccer coaches] Kanyon Anderson and Tim Tucker.
“Our coaches and players have committed themselves to excellence.”
“Our athletic staff also did it the right way. They have recruited good students who are focused on academics, good citizenship and being prepared to compete.”
The confidence level is what separates these Pirates from other Peninsula teams, Chapman said.
“In the past, our teams were happy to be in the Final Four,” he said.
“These guys knew they should be there. It was more of a confidence level with them.”
One reason the Pirates have jelled so well together is that the players like each other and hang out together as a team, sophomore midfielder Brent Ricigliano said.
“We’re more of a team that way,” he said.
One of the keys to success for this team, that went 13-3-4 on the year, is the way the Pirates view leadership roles.
Chapman picks different players to be captains for different games.
Ricigliano and Mullen, two of the better defenders on the team, were the captains for the championship game.
“Everyone pitches in,” Ricigliano said.
“Everybody steps up and takes leadership roles,” Chapman said.
“Everybody on the team knows what to do [on the field]. They know how to attack; everyone knows his role.”
Gonzalez, a freshman forward who broke the school’s single-year scoring record with 15 goals, is one of many players who has had a leadership role for the team, Chapman said.
Gonzalez, who scored the winning goal in the 1-0 semifinal win over No. 1-ranked Columbia Basin on Saturday and scored one of the five shootout penalty shots against Highline in the title game Sunday, broke Ernest Boham’s single-season record of 13 goals in 2007.
Boham, a freshman that year, went on to score seven goals his sophomore season to earn the school’s all-time scoring record of 20 goals.
Gonzalez needs to score only six goals next year to break the all-time mark.
“I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
Peninsula College will hold a school assembly honoring the championship team tentatively for this coming Tuesday.
The event originally was planned for Tuesday but was postponed because the college was closed due to the winter-like snow and ice storm the North Olympic Peninsula is having this week.
Sports Editor Brad LaBrie can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]