Aug. 12, 2012
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
Coming off a roller coaster season of big highs and lows, the Western Washington University men's soccer team will look for a mix of experienced players and talented newcomers to return to winning ways in 2012.
The Vikings were just 5-11-1 last season, and 3-6-1 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. But in the midst of a disappointing record were some bright spots, most notably a season-ending 2-2 tie with NCAA Division II No.1 ranked Simon Fraser, which spoiled SFU's bid for a perfect season.
Eight players who started nine or more games return from last year, providing experience in a number of key spots.
"This is a very unselfish group, with a real blue-collar attitude," said WWU coach Travis Connell (15th year, 117-115-15). "Traditionally, we've scored a lot of goals, and I think our defense this year will be much better."
The squad has just four seniors, three of whom return from last season.
Two of those seniors - Bryan Hall (Tacoma/Stadium) and Jake Jorgensen (Bellingham/Meridian) - are at center back, where they are joined by junior Dean Byron (Renton/Liberty) to form one of the most experienced areas of what is overall a very young squad.
Hall is a two-time GNAC academic all-star who has started 22 games over the last two years. Byron started 11 contests last year. Jorgenson redshirted last season with injury after transferring from Trinity Western. Freshman Kurtis Pederson (Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep) could also see time in central defense.
The other senior along the back line is right back Justin Moore (Port Orchard/South Kitsap), who has started 29 games over the last two seasons after starting his career as a forward.
Sophomore Pat Cole (Bellingham/Sehome) figures to start at left back, and further depth at outside back is provided by Leonard Kusina (Fairbault, MN/Shattuck St. Mary's Prep).
"We have a good mix in the back, we have a lot of experience in the juniors and seniors, and we can combine that with the youth of Cole, Kusina and Pederson," Connell said.
Behind the back line, there is great depth at goalkeeper. Sophomore Keegan Rogers (Portland, OR/Portland Christian) had a 1.52 goals-against-average, making 12 starts, last season. Junior Leo Cohen (Seattle/Roosevelt), made six starts in 2011, and as a freshman posted a 1.08 GAA that included a run of three consecutive shutouts.
"It's going to be a great battle to see who the starter is," Connell said. "Both guys will battle hard and welcome the challenge."
The lone senior in the attacking corps is Sudinga Dangvan (Vancouver/Mountain View), who figures to start on the right wing when WWU is in a 4-3-3 system. The other upperclassman is junior forward Andrew Weishaar (Puyallup). Dangvan had two assists last year after having four goals and six assists as a sophomore; Weishaar had three goals and two assists in 2011 despite playing just 10 games because of an ankle injury, and tallied six goals in 2010.
"We would expect those two to carry the scoring load for us," said Connell.
Junior Caden Sowers (Ferndale), who had one goal last year, and freshman Connor Pichette (Tacoma/Wilson) figure to battle for time on the left wing.
The most experienced player in the midfield is junior Tye Hastings (Mill Creek/Jackson), who had three goals and an assist last year, including a goal and an assist in the tie versus Simon Fraser.
"He can be a force," Connell said of Hastings. "He's very experienced, very athletic, and he causes matchup problems for the defense."
Joining Hastings at attacking midfield is sophomore Matt Sanchez (Bellingham), who Connell believes will benefit from playing a more central position after playing wide much of his freshman season.
Behind them at holding midfield is likely to be freshman Uche Ugwoaba (Burien/Highline), although freshman Sawyer Preston (Sammamish/Eastlake) and sophomore Gabriele Zaccagnini (Olympia/Capital) will also see time.
"He's probably our top recruit," Connell said of Ugwoaba. "We expect him to contribute right away. He has a ton of athleticism, but he's also able to keep the ball and make good decisions."
WWU's roster is young, with 11 freshmen and eight sophomores in the squad. But Connell said there's more experience than those numbers might indicate.
"Almost three-quarters of the roster played in the academies, so they've played at a high level and should be able to contribute right away," Connell said. "This group brings lots of versatility. They provide a lot of options; I'd expect us to look different game-to-game for different opponents."