2009 Preview: Vikings seek to defend GNAC title
Aug. 18, 2009
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Coming off its first Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship since 2002, the Western Washington University men's soccer team faces the task of replacing nearly half its starting lineup as it enters the 2009 campaign.
The Vikings were 11-5-3 last season, and won the GNAC with a 7-1-0 record, closing the year with six wins and a tie in the final seven games.
"We have a very new team this year with a lot of young players," said Western coach Travis Connell (11th year, 94-87-11), the GNAC Coach of the Year each of the last two seasons. "It's important for us to learn about each other and our tendencies so that we are in sync on the field. We have a lot of depth and talent at every position, finding a new chemistry is the big challenge."
Copps-Tilley was a first-team all-GNAC pick last season, posting six shutouts and a 1.13 goals-against-average. Bardsley, a two-time first-team all-GNAC choice, had seven goals and four assists last year after having a team-high 11 goals as a freshman. After just two seasons, he already ranks seventh in school history in career goals with 18.
"Cameron anchors our defense, his athleticism and competitive leadership make him vital to our success," Connell said. "Gibson is our leading returning scorer, his speed and ability to score make him difficult to stop."
Other returning starters include two seniors - Chris Jepson (Bellingham/Sehome) and Mitch Barrows (Ferndale). Jepson, who has played both defense and forward in his career, is a three-year starter who earned honorable mention all-GNAC honors in 2007. Barrows, a midfielder, started 16 games last season.
Junior Thomas Kauffman (Evanston, IL/Evanston Township) is a rugged defender who made 16 starts last season after starting all 20 games in 2007. Another returning regular is sophomore Tyler Bjork (Kirkland/Juanita), who had five goals and four assists last year.
Senior Michael Ricci (Bellevue/Newport) and sophomore Kellan Brown (Tacoma/Bellarmine Prep) combined to make 17 starts in the midfield last year, each scoring three goals, and midfielder Oscar Jimenez (Mount Vernon) was a threat as a freshman with five goals and five assists, largely in a reserve role.
And while the Vikings have no true transfers coming in with five true freshmen, sophomore midfielder Sean Connor (Mount Vernon) is back after a two-year absence, including a 2007 season spent redshirting at Gonzaga. He started 13 games for Western in 2006.
One thing that may help the Vikings is that nine of their first 11 matches are at home. That should help Western prepare for the GNAC games that come toward the end of the schedule.
"Our players take a lot of pride in the conference championship, so all our conference games are important," said Connell. "There are a lot of good teams, but it will probably come down to us battling with Seattle Pacific and Montana State-Billings."
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