2008 Preview: Vikings look to build on turnaround last season
July 18, 2008
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
by Greg Applegate, WWU Sports Information Office Intern
After finding a recipe for success last season, the Western Washington University men's soccer team is looking to take another step forward this fall.
The Vikings posted an overall record of 13-6-1, an 11-win improvement after winning just two games in 2006 and three in 2005.
"It was a big step forward last year and we want to continue to improve," said Western coach Travis Connell (10th year, 83-82-2). "The national tournament will be the next step for us."
Western, which placed third in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference at 4-3-1, narrowly missed placing among the top four in the final NCAA Division II West Region poll and qualifying for a post-season berth.
"We're going to have to play better than we did," Connell said. "It will be a new team with different leaders, so there will be a number of challenges we're going to have to work on. Goal No.1 will be finding the right chemistry."
Connell, who earned his second GNAC Coach of the Year accolade last year, has 18 returning letter winners, including 10 starters.
The Vikings scored 39 goals in 2006, matching the combined total for the previous two seasons.
"We always say that 40 goals gets you into the tournament," Connell said. "We were really close on both counts - almost 40 goals and almost in the tournament. So, we're on the right track now."
Leading the returning forwards are sophomore Gibson Bardsley (Fall City/Mount Si) and senior Samir Vejo (Trebinje, Bosnia), who were the GNAC Freshman of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, respectively.
Bardsley ranked third in the GNAC with 28 points, scoring a freshman school-record 11 goals and having six assists.
Vejo's seven goals were second on the team, and both he and Bardsley had three game-winning goals. They were first-team all-league picks along with senior midfielder Matt Pele (Kennewick/Kamiakin), a three-year letter winner.
"We expect Gibson and Samir to build on the great seasons they had last year," Connell said. "For our team to be successful and go to the tournament, both of them need to have their best seasons to date."
Besides Pele, another top returning midfielder is senior Oliver Wellman (Bellevue/Sammamish), who started every game last year, recording two goals and five assists. Also back is senior midfielder Joel Grossman (Anacortes), who missed last season because of a knee injury after being a team captain in 2006.
The lone graduating starter is goalkeeper Michael Lockwood (Canby, OR), who recorded seven shutouts with a 0.81 goals against average and a save percentage of .823, which ranked 19th nationally.
In all, Western allowed just 17 goals last season.
Expected to be Lockwood's replacement in goal is junior Cameron Copps-Tilley (Vancouver/Fort Vancouver), who started the first three games after transferring from Washington before suffering a season-ending leg injury.
"Cameron provides a lot of leadership and experience for us, and he's a big part of why our defense should be strong next season," said Connell.
Three starters back at the defender positions are junior Chris Jepson (Bellingham/Sehome), who was co-GNAC Freshman of the Year in 2006, junior Nick Saletto (Bellingham, Squalicum) and sophomore Thomas Kauffman (Evanston, IL, Evanston Township).
Seven talented newcomers have bee added to an already deep roster.
"I expect just about every one of the [incoming players] to challenge for a spot," Connell said. "This will be the deepest roster we've had. Top-to-bottom there will be 20 guys who I think could start."
Freshmen expected to fight for playing time at the midfield positions are Tyler Bjork (Kirkland/Juanita), Oscar Jimenez (Mount Vernon), Alex Couweleers (Bellingham/Meridian) and Kellan Brown (Tacoma/Bellarmine Prep).
Bjork was a first-team Associated Press Class 4A all-State pick and Seattle Times KingCo Player of the Year who scored 49 career goals. Jimenez was a three-time Skagit Valley Herald Player of the Year and shared Northwest League MVP honors with Couweleers, who scored 25 goals.
Brown was a member of Crossfire Premier club team in 2007 and 2008 and Simm had six goals and seven assists as a freshman for the Helmsmen.
Transferring back to Western after being a redshirt at Gonzaga last season is sophomore Sean Connor (Mount Vernon), who started 13 games for the Vikings two years ago.
"We're really excited, the players and the coaches, because we have a recipe here that looks on paper like we're going to do well," Connell said.
Western opens its season at home on Saturday, Aug. 30, against Cal State Monterey Bay.
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