SOCCER PREVIEW: Peninsula College men defend first NWAACC championship

PORT ANGELES — It would appear the Peninsula College men’s soccer program is running out of room to grow.

A year after winning their first NWAACC soccer championship, the Pirates are a day away from hosting their first match at freshly minted Sigmar Field — a sparkling $1.4 million artificial turf complex that opened to the community use last spring.

The team began its preseason last weekend with a two-day tryout that drew a school-record 47 players from four continents.

And even after paring that number down to 39, including 18 sophomores, head coach Andrew Chapman still had enough athletes left for a 12-man “reserve squad” composed of redshirts.

“We’re going to have some people that aren’t going to be too happy about playing time,” said Chapman, lamenting the one issue with his program’s apparent glut of talent. “But I think the competition is good.

“When players realize that someone is still pushing and trying to take their spot, if they want it they still have to continue to compete every practice and every game. That’s going to help us in the long run.”

It already has.

With the University of Victoria set to visit Sigmar Field on Monday at 1:30 p.m., it might be hard to tell which squad is the community college team.

After all, the visiting Vikes’ full squad of 30 is only slightly larger than Peninsula’s active roster — set at 27 once cuts and reserve squad assignments were made earlier this week.

There’s reason to believe the talent level may not be as disparate as in years past either.

Not only do the Pirates bring back nearly all of the key players from last year’s championship team (13-3-4 overall), they also boast a boatload of athletic freshman from around the globe.

Among the returning starters is leading goal scorer and playmaker, Miguel Gonzalez, who broke a single-season school record with 15 goals last season and is six away from breaking Ernest Boham’s career mark (20).

The quick, diminutive Yelm product is one of nine returning sophomores who started in the Pirates’ championship game victory over Highline last November.

That also includes goalkeeper Jared Wilson (seven shutouts), midfielder Tyler Hindmarch (five goals, two assists) and defender Jeff Mullen (three assists), each of whom was named an NWAACC All-Star.

“This team is more talented I think [than last year],” said Gonzalez, who also had a team-high four assists last year and was named NWAACC South-West Division co-MVP.

“It’s more of a complete team.

“We’re strong throughout the field. Last year we had some weaknesses in some spots, but this is more complete.”

Of course, that could work against the incumbent sophomores in a way.

Newcomers like Brazilian goalkeeper Guilherme Avelar, Irish striker Dean Gaynor and midfielder Daniel Gonzalez of Yelm (Miguel’s brother) are sure to give their returning counterparts a run for playing time.

That level of in-team competition is exactly what has made the Pirates such a force during their six-year run as an NWAACC playoff team.

“It just makes us play even harder,” said team captain Yan Gioseffi of Brazil, one of 11 international players on the Pirates’ active roster.

“If there is someone good on the bench sitting waiting for a spot, you [are] just going to be there fighting for a spot.

“You just got to play harder and harder.

“That’s what it feels like.”

According to Chapman, the entire construction of his program is simply an emulation of what he had observed on the national soccer scene.

Upon showing up on the Port Angeles campus in 2003, and seeing his Pirates struggle to a 1-16-1 record, the former Eastern Washington University assistant went about the process of slowly building the Pirates into what they are now.

He has worked in the community to grow the sport, holding clinics for players and coaches.

He established pipelines of talent in Alaska, Oregon and Washington state.

And he has developed a stability within the program that has led to more players sticking around each year.

That work has paid off greatly the past four seasons as the Pirates have gone 53-20-14 overall with three division titles, three NWAACC Final Four appearances and, of course, one NWAACC title.

“We were looking at what are some of the better community colleges in the nation — not just in the NWAACC, but in the nation itself — and what they do,” Chapman said.

“We decided [to focus on] how do we go out and we compete with that program and beat that program?

“Now we’ve been making those steps, and we actually think we have pretty much closed that down in the national junior colleges.

“Our next step is, now, how do we beat and compete with the four-year schools?

“Why can’t we play a game against them and go head to head?’

“We have UVic here, and we’ve never beaten them, and we think we have a pretty good chance.”

It’s a new challenge for a program that is always on the lookout for one.

When it comes to the Pirates and their coach, there’s always something more to prove. And there’s always more room to grow.

“We won the championship last year, but you’re never always fine, you always have to learn something,” Gioseffi said. “We’re never comfortable.

“We won. We want it again, and we’re going to fight for this again.

“We always want more.”

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