Wenatchee Valley’s Erik Owen, left, and Peninsula College’s Nicolas Hernandez fight for a header during a 2019 NWAC quarterfinal match. Hernandez, a super sophomore, returns for his third season with the Pirates this fall. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Wenatchee Valley’s Erik Owen, left, and Peninsula College’s Nicolas Hernandez fight for a header during a 2019 NWAC quarterfinal match. Hernandez, a super sophomore, returns for his third season with the Pirates this fall. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Peninsula College men’s soccer eyes sixth star

PORT ANGELES — A roster full of “hungry, driven and passionate,” players will work toward securing the Peninsula College men’s soccer program’s sixth NWAC Championship this fall, according to head coach Jake Hughes.

“They want to continue the legacy and haven taken the right steps,” Hughes said. “Our players know we have five stars above our crest and a number of league titles as well.”

But this team, which still retains holdovers from the Pirates’ 2019 NWAC Championship run, isn’t resting on past achievements.

“It’s about 60 percent new players, so it’s irrelevant,” Hughes said of still serving as reigning NWAC champs after the pandemic forced a condensed, playoff-less season last spring. “It’s about them writing a new story and going one game at a time.”

Thankfully for Peninsula, the cast of characters remains relatively unchanged, thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted to all NWAC athletes.

The Pirates retain a deep and talented crop of attackers up top.

“We really have a little bit of everything,” Hughes said.

Nicolas Hernandez and Kai Biegler tied for the team high in goals (4) during the nine-game spring season.

“Nico, John [De Motta], Theo [Baiye] are our super sophomores; Yutatsu Kaira and Kai Biegler are returning freshmen, and we’ve added Boris [Yapi], a true freshman from Colorado,” Hughes said.

“Nico has got a natural ability to be in the right position and score goals that’s very hard to coach.

“Kai is physically quite special, at 6-foot-1 or 6-2, a big boy who has got some speed. He’s an engine and quite a danger on set pieces. Theo is strong and likes to beat people on the dribble, and John is similar to Nico in terms of being in the right spot and also has a great shot and speed.”

Jeong Hyun Kang will serve as Peninsula’s holding midfielder, and the team captain will link up with fellow midfielder Fernando Taveres.

“Fernando is our attacking mid, and they form a great partnership in the middle of the field and really work well together,” Hughes said.

Outside midfielders Tim Deser and Takeshi Kasuga will be asked to work both sides of the ball, Hughes said.

“They’ll defend and attack, and it’s really a demanding position; we expect a lot from them this season.”

And Hughes feels comfortable with depth at the position.

“We have a number of guys that can come on and keep the level relatively high,” Hughes said.

Peninsula is set at defender as well.

“We have Nick Namwali returning, Dylan Pauw, Gabriel Kiekenbeck, and Chunghwan Lee is our standout player; he scored a goal in the NWAC Finals [in 2019],” Hughes said. “We have Chris Dominguez, Isaiah Penniston-John and Yusaku Shimakura as well.”

Penniston-John is one of two brothers of former PC players on the 2021 roster. His older brother Sterling is currently playing for NCAA Division II Utah Valley State. The other brother pair is Fernando and Edgar Tavares; Edgar was a captain on the 2019 title team.

Ian Dalton was second in the NWAC in save percentage and goals allowed average during the spring and leads a four-headed contingent in goal for Peninsula.

“Ian is our No. 1. He kind of bided his time sitting behind a guy [Evan Scholes] who saved two penalties in an NWAC Final,” Hughes said.

Hughes expects Whatcom to be the top rival for the North Division, with Skagit Valley, Everett and Edmonds fielding new coaches this season.

Hughes wasn’t ready to proclaim this deep group as his most talented in his fifth season as head coach.

“That’s a really difficult question. I don’t think we will know until the end,” Hughes said. “You can be the most talented team and not have the success we have had in previous years. You can get unlucky with injuries or a bad call.

“It will all come down to small moments throughout the season. Based on pure talent, they are up there with the best of them. And it will come down to how well can we use that talent and evolve and adapt as a team and will we get a bit of luck along the way?”

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.

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