Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 7, 2006
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The Western Washington University men's soccer team has a new look this season.
Nearly half the squad are newcomers after the Vikings suffered through a 3-16-1 season in 2005, going 1-5-0 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. With the new personnel has also come a new outlook, says Western coach Travis Connell (8th year, 68-59-1).
"We knew we had to change our mentality," said Connell. "The players did a good job of that in our spring workouts. We've turned the corner."
Not surprisingly, most of the starting spots are wide open.
"Our new players are hungry, and they have an opportunity to play right away as freshmen," Connell said. "Every single player on our roster could start."
In the midst of all the newness, there's still some experience. Six players who started extensively return, led by junior forward Zach Bauling (Albuquerque, NM) and senior midfielder Robbie Curry (Mount Vernon), who were both second-team all-GNAC picks last year. Bauling is Western's top returning scorer, having four goals and an assist for 10 points last year.
Another key returnee is senior forward Gus Zadra (Poulsbo/North Kitsap). He was an honorable mention GNAC all-star despite battling injuries last season, notching a goal and sharing the team lead in assists with four.
"He's our most talented attacking player," Connell said of Zadra. "He's scored at every level he's played, and he's a dynamic attacking player when he's on his game. He finishes, he creates chances for himself, and he's a smart player."
Three other Vikings who were regular starters return. Senior defender Kenny Mueller (Snohomish/Bothell) was a second-team all-league pick in 2004.
There's also additional experience from a pair of midfielders who missed nearly all of 2005 with injuries after being key players on a 2004 team that was 13-7-0. Senior John Hoogestraat (Bremerton/Olympic) started 13 games in 2004, having two assists, and senior Joel Grossman (Anacortes) was an important reserve.
"Joel Grossman has stepped up as a leader" Connell said. "He can play a lot of different positions and fill a lot of different roles. He sets the tone for our intensity and work rate."
Sophomore outside midfielder Matt Zigulis (Sebastapol, CA/Analy) and sophomore defender Paul Kimbrough (Salt Lake City, UT/East) both started regularly last season as freshmen. Zigulis is the only returnee to play in all 20 games last year, including 18 starts, scoring two goals and sharing the team lead in assists with four. Kimbrough started 16 times and had one assist.
The goalkeeping position is up for grabs between three players. Senior Zach King (Fircrest/Wilson) saw action in two games last year, and will compete with freshman Christan Warman (Sedro-Woolley),who was Northwest League Player of the Year as a high school senior, and junior Michael Lockwood (Canby, OR), a transfer from Skagit Valley CC.
Goalkeeper isn't the only position where newcomers might have an impact. All but one of the new field players is a freshman - the lone exception being sophomore center midfielder Shogo Kurihara (Psukuba, Japan), a transfer from Whatcom CC.
The five field freshmen are defenders Ben Coffey (Mount Vernon) and Nick Saletto (Bellingham/Squalicum); and midfielders Mitch Barrows (Ferndale), Sean Connor (Mount Vernon) and Michael Ricci (Bellevue/Newport).
All were first-team all-league selections as high school seniors.
"The class coming in is really athletic and has a high soccer IQ," Connell said. "They all should be able to contribute, and we'll be mentally tougher with the addition of these guys."
Western opens its season with six games against California Collegiate Athletic Conference schools, four of them on the road. The schedule also features home-and-home series with local rivals Seattle U. and Seattle Pacific, both of whom have been frequent contenders for berths in the NCAA II West Region playoffs.
"We're on the road quite a bit, and we have three times where we play back-to-back days, but that's okay, because I think we'll be the fittest team in the region," Connell said. "You have to beat good teams to get to the post-season, and they're all on our schedule."
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