Smell the mowed grass. It’s a sure sign that the college soccer season is beginning.
In Arizona, a couple of men’s teams share more than the smell of grass stains on dirty uniforms. They each continue to enjoy the sweet smell of success that comes with winning on a regular basis.
Yavapai College in Prescott has to top the list of teams expected to win big, year-in and year-out. The Roughrider soccer teams have a long history of winning, as they begin the 2010 campaign looking for their 22nd consecutive Arizona Community College Athletic Conference championship.
How crazy is that?
Last season was actually considered somewhat of a down year for Yavapai soccer, despite the fact that the 2009 team went 19-5-1, won the conference crown, a region title, and a fifth-place finish nationally.
The problem was the five losses. No other Yavapai soccer squad since 1989 had closed a season with more than three loses.
They also failed to win a third straight national title last year, after snagging back-to-back championships in 2007 and 2008 – going undefeated in 2008 and losing just two of 26 games the year before. This is a program that expects to win a national title each year.
The Roughriders have made 19 national tournament appearances, had eighteen 20-win seasons, 21 conference championships, and an unbelievable winning percentage of .920.
And down in the Valley, the Grand Canyon University men’s soccer program just celebrated its 25th anniversary with its selection by the league coaches to repeat as Pacific West Conference champions. Last season’s title was the third in a row.
The ‘Lopes placed seven players on the 2009 All PacWest Conference team and also claimed all five of the conference top individual awards.
Kyle Ciliento, a graduate of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, was named to last year’s First Team All-Pac West and this season was chosen as the PacWest Pre-season Player of the Year. He scored 23 goals in 20 starts last year and racked up 51 points to lead the conference in both categories.
A common denominator for both programs is stability in its coaching.
Mike Pantalione is beginning his 22nd year at the helm of the Yavapai program, the last 10 of which have included six national championship game appearances and four national titles.
In Phoenix, the Grand Canyon head coach, Petar Draskin, has been directing that men’s soccer program for 18 years, during which time he, too, has filled the school trophy case with national and conference championships that have put the Antelopes on the national map. He was the 2009 conference Coach of the Year.
But, despite their overall dominance for more than two decades, the Roughriders ride into this season with one of its least-experienced line-ups. The recruiting in the off-season has basically brought in a whole new squad of 22 players.
Eight players who were freshmen on the 2009 squad have not returned and Pantalione has just four sophomores on this season’s roster. One of those is Willie Hammack, a defender from Chino Valley, who will join eight other local players on the team.
But the veteran coach doesn’t appear too concerned with all that youth and says he has a lot of players this year that are capable of scoring.
That was evident in the ‘Riders season opener against Paradise Valley CC last Friday, winning 3-1 as goals by Ethan Martin and Jonathan Flores put them up 2-0 within the first 10 minutes of play.
Grand Canyon will play their opener Saturday against Montana State Billings at the GCU Soccer Field.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)