SPORTS: Peninsula College still vying to get soccer respect

PORT ANGELES — It takes a lot to get noticed in the relative obscurity of the North Olympic Peninsula.

Take the Peninsula College Pirates men’s soccer team.

The Pirates have been a fixture in the NWAACC playoffs the past four years with a 44-26-13 overall record, won a West Division title and, if that wasn’t enough, were one of two teams (Spokane the other) to reach the Final Four each of the last two seasons.

Even so, the emcee at last fall’s NWAACC end-of-season awards banquet couldn’t even get their name right.

“They called us by a totally different school name,” sophomore midfielder, and captain, Cody Sloan said. “It’s just like we’re just trying to make a name for ourselves still.

“So we’re just trying to build and not go backwards at all.”

Following back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the NWAACC, that figures to be a tall order.

Then again, it has been the modus operandi of the Pirates ever since head coach Andrew Chapman arrived in 2003.

With the exception of a 2006 hiccup (6-9-5), the Pirates have either improved or bettered their record in each of his six seasons.

After a 1-5-1 start to last fall’s campaign, the Pirates responded with a school record 15-game unbeaten streak to get to the Final Four.

And while they weren’t able to better the 2007 team’s fourth-place finish, they came awfully close, losing a 1-0 overtime heartbreaker in the semis followed by another 1-0 loss in the consolation game.

“Last year was a disappointment,” said sophomore midfielder John Troka in a not-so-subtle hint at his lofty expectations of his team.

“Everyone just hung their heads after that and wanted to get back to it.”

A record 13 sophomores return from last year’s squad to do just that.

That includes a pair of explosive goal scorers in forwards Omar Anderson and Steve Williams, playmakers at midfield in Troka and Sloan, and two goalkeepers with starting experience in Alec Risk and Jase Hall (each with five shutouts).

Throw in a class of 12 freshmen Chapman stands behind, headlined by outside defender Aaron Oppeltz of Roseburg, Ore., and the Pirates should be loaded once again.

The one thing they don’t have as much of, however, is size.

Chapman said the team will make up for that with speed.

“We have a lot of quick, fast guys,” he said. “So I think we’re going to be able to attack with our outside mids a lot more than we’ve previously [done].

“I think it’s going to be a team that is based off its speed and ball movement, more than with previous teams where we just overpowered [opponents]. There’s probably not going to be lots of big hits, out-muscling players.

“We’re going to put the ball on the ground and play the ball on the ground a lot instead of a lot of aerial game.”

The result is a team made up of skilled ball handlers who should control the ball during games, translating into a little more finesse and a little less brute force

“We’re going to be able to move the ball and keep the ball, and we’ll be dangerous that way,” Sloan said. “In the past we’ve been a bigger team, so it was a lot easier to push guys around and win the ball back.

“But I think that moving the ball and keeping possession is going to be a big part of the season.”

Of course, such soccer requires a team that is both fluid and on the same page.

Chapman hopes that’s something the team will develop during its preseason trip to Ireland.

All 26 players will cross the pond to spend 12 days in Dublin and Tramore/Waterford. They plan to visit three separate colleges while staying in large youth hostels in both locations.

It won’t just be some pleasure trip, however.

Chapman plans on drilling his team each day while also pitting it against college, semipro and adult teams in the area. That way the Pirates won’t have to stumble through another bumpy beginning.

“It’s definitely a unique thing,” Sloan said. “A big part of it is going and playing a lot better teams than we’ll probably face all season.

“That will help us a lot. Just going and seeing better soccer and playing up at a higher level we should be able to bring that back. At least that’s the idea.”

Maybe then the Pirates can live up to what Troka envisions as the perfect follow up to last year’s season: an NWAACC title and, perhaps, an undefeated season.

“We all agree that we think we can make it all the way,” Troka said.

If that happens, the rest of the NWAACC will surely have a hard time forgetting the Pirates this time around.

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