Aug. 22, 2007
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
It has been a difficult couple of years for the Western Washington University men's soccer program, but the Vikings appear ready to turn the corner and return to the success enjoyed earlier this decade.
The Vikings averaged 11 wins a season from 2001 to 2004, but have just five wins total the last two years, posting a 2-17-1 mark in 2006.
Twelve letter winners are back, including six players who saw extensive time as freshmen last year.
"We showed improvement last year," said Western coach Travis Connell (9th year, 70-76-1). "We were in a lot more games than the year before - we competed well and we were unfortunate not to be .500. The talent is there, especially with some key additions, to compete with anyone."
The Vikings remain young, with just three seniors on the roster. One of those, midfielder Joel Grossman (Anacortes), will miss the season with a knee injury, leaving senior forward Zach Bauling (Albuquerque, NM), as the most experienced player back from last season. Bauling, a three-year letter winner, had one goal last year and has nine for his career.
"Bauling is a very hard worker and also very versatile," Connell said. "He can play up front, or out wide. For us to have a big year, we need him to be a threat to score."
The other senior is forward Cody Hagler (Canby, OR). A former member of the US U-17 national team pool, Hagler led Western in scoring with six goals and was a first-team all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference pick and the league's Newcomer of the Year in 2001. He missed two years with injuries before returning in 2004. After two years out of school, he's returned to Western for graduate school.
Junior midfielders Matt Pele (Kennewick/Kamiakin) and Matt Zigulis (Sebastopol, CA/Analy), both regular starters last year, are the only other two-year letter winners on the squad.
Included among the other returnees are sophomore defender Chris Jepson (Bellingham), who was co-GNAC Freshman of the Year in 2006, and sophomore midfielder Michael Ricci (So., Bellevue/Newport), who had a team-high six assists last year.
There's also an impressive list of newcomers, led by sophomore goalkeeper Cameron Copps-Tilley (Vancouver/Fort Vancouver), a transfer from the University of Washington, where he saw action in three games last year, winning all of them.
Junior forwards Oliver Wellman (Bellevue/Sammamish) and Samir Vejo (Beaverton, OR) both earned all-region honors at the community college level - Wellman for Bellevue CC, Vejo for Clark CC.
Leading a deep group of freshmen, of whom Connell says at least five could see extensive playing time, is forward Gibson Bardsley (Fall City/Mount Si), a first-team Class 3A all-state selection who scored 23 goals as a senior.
"All of the new players have played with winning teams," said Connell. "They've had a lot of success and they know how to win. We need more of that mentality and confidence in our team."
Western opens its season by playing eight of its first nine games at home, including the opener against Hawaii-Hilo on Sat., Aug. 25.