Whitman Men's Soccer Preview
Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012
As far as Mike Washington is concerned, it's time to make an entrance.
Whitman College's men's soccer coach, now in his 14th season at the Missionaries' helm, has seen his teams climb from the depths of the Northwest Conference standings to become legitimate title contenders. Last year's team posted a 9-8-2 overall record and finished 9-5 in the NWC, tied with the University of Puget Sound for third place behind perennial powers Pacific Lutheran and Whitworth.
"That was the third or fourth straight year where we've been knocking on the door," said Washington, who enjoyed his best season at Whitman in 2008 when the Whits finished 11-2-7 overall and 9-2-3 in league play.
"You look back at our past record, the last six or seven years we've turned the corner as far as being able to bring better players in here. Our goal is to win the conference championship, and I think the time has come to open the door and walk through."
And even though the Missionaries lost four key seniors to graduation, including outside midfielder Sam Freedman and defender Brian Percival, Washington appears to have the pieces in place to make a run at the championship.
"We return a healthy group of players," Washington said. "We are very deep in returning players and that depth is the strength of our roster."
Freedman led the Missionaries in overall scoring last year with three goals and a team-high six assists for 12 points while earning second-team all-NWC honors. Percival was honorable mention all-conference.
The other two players Washington must replace are midfielder Jordan Thomas and Nathan Ord, who played a utility role as a senior.
"We lost two natural starting players in Freedman and Percival," Washington said. "Anytime you lose four players of that caliber, you face the challenge of replacing them."
There are five seniors on this year's roster that Washington will look to for leadership on and off the field.
Leland Matthaeus, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward out of Sammamish High in Redmond, Wash., was second only to Freedman in overall scoring last year with 11 points. A first-team all-NWC selection, Matthaeus finished the year with four goals and three assists, and he led the team with 41 shots.
"He is a natural finisher and he will be one of our top goal scorers," Washington said of Matthaeus. "He brings some dynamics to our team."
Michael Bathurst (6-4, 180, Lincoln High, Portland) and Andrew Clark (5-8, 150, Pasco High) are the team's co-captains. Bathurst will be back in goal for the Missionaries this fall after recording 53 saves in 2011. Clark is a midfielder.
"He was an incredible part of our team last year," Washington said of Bathurst. "He brings some size to the team and he was a definite game-changer last year.
"Clark is a very quick little player, a playmaker type."
The other two seniors are Dhavan Vengadasalam (5-10, 155, Auburn Mountainview High, Kent, Wash.) and Jed Jacobson (5-7, 145, Mercer Island, Wash.). Vengadasalam played an outside defender position as a junior and Jacobson outside midfielder.
"Vengadasalam came off the bench for us last year, but he will step into Percival's starting role," Washington said. "Jacobson is fast and plays with great pace and is great in one-on-one situations.
"I will be disappointed if all five of these seniors are not starters," Washington added. "They are all roster makers who should contribute quite a bit this year, as they have in the past."
No fewer than eight juniors figure to make hefty contributions to this year's success, Washington suggested.
Heading that list is Cooper Schumacher (6-3, 170, Northwest School, Seattle), a second-team all-NWC selection who scored a team-high five goals from his central defender position a year ago.
"He played almost every minute of every game last year," Washington said. "He's very quick for a big fellow and gives us both strength and pace. He can be difficult to defend when we use him in set pieces."
Juniors Junpei Tsuji (5-9, 160, Issaquah, Wash.) and Jesse Mirman (6-0, 170, Harvard Westlake School, Northridge, Calif.) were all-league honorable mention as sophomores. Tsuji is listed as a midfielder and Mirman a center midfielder.
"Junpei is stronger than he was last year and we need more goal production from him," Washington said of Tsuji, who saw valuable minutes as a freshman and was a starter as a sophomore. "He can be a game-changer, a game-maker. He can control the tempo, but he is also a physical player. Moving forward he is captain material.
"Jesse is the same kind of player as Tsuji," the coach said of Mirman. "But he is more of a playmaker, a finesse player. He saw considerable time as a sophomore."
Other key juniors are Reid Shaw (5-11, 160, Garfield High, Seattle), Jack Morgan (6-0, 180, Bellingham, Wash.), Chris Perkins (6-4, 200, Garfield High, Seattle), Danny Smith (5-5, 135, Grant High, Portland) and Michael Axelson (5-11, 165, Issaquah, Wash.).
Shaw is an outside defender regarded by Washington as a strong, physical player and a "great player going forward." Morgan, a central defender, was a high-school state wrestling champion who started last year and provides "a physical presence that we need." The coach sees Perkins, a forward, as a technically sound physical player "who can push Leland (Matthaeus) for playing time."
Smith, a midfielder last year, is on the other side of the coin, according to Washington. "We will play him more at forward in wide areas because he is so small and quick and hard to defend."
Axelson, a midfielder/forward, is recovering from a knee injury he suffered over the summer.
"It's going to take some time to get his rhythm back," Washington said.
Sophomores Riley Paul (5-8, 150, Juneau, Alaska), Sean Williams (5-8, 150, DeSales High, Walla Walla), Jose Beleche (5-10, 145, Walla Walla High), Bill Landefeld (5-11, 185, Southridge High, Kennewick), Logan Grime (6-0, 150, Batesburg, S.C.) and Joe Virden (5-10, 185, Tri-Cities Prep, Pasco) figure to make contributions along with a bevy of incoming freshmen, a group that includes Wa-Hi product Marcus Medina and Pasco's Isaac Sappington.
The area flavor on the Whitman team is the byproduct of Washington's dual role as the boys head soccer coach at Wa-Hi during the spring, a position the coach assumed three years ago.
"It's a situation that works well because of the fall and spring seasons," Washington said. "And it gives me the opportunity to go to games I might otherwise not go to. It's a luxury to be able to sit and watch some of those games."
Washington is particularly pleased that a large contingent of this year's team showed up on Whitman campus in mid-August to begin preparing on their own for the 2012 campaign.
"We had 21 returning players on campus early, working together on their own, settling in, setting the tone for the season as to what their expectations are," Washington said. "That is always exciting for a coach, and I am quietly confident that if we do the right things we will be successful.
"We're coming in fit and stronger and with a good mind set. I keep telling them that this is their team and that it is their job to move forward."
Right through that open door.