|Saturday was about more than the final score for the regional foes | Photos: Gerald Barnhart|
Local foes Whitworth and Whitman met Saturday afternoon in Spokane with the host Pirates coming away 2-0 victors on goals from Matt Bray and Will Wren. It was the Northwest Conference finale for the two programs, though, first-year Whitworth coach Morgan Cathey is hopeful the team has an outside shot of being selected as an at-large representative of the NWC in the Division III NCAA Tournament with their 17-3-3 overall record and 10-2-2 conference campaign.
"I think, hopefully, we still have a chance on Monday," said Whitworth head coach Morgan Cathey. "Being fourth in the region I think we'll have to see what happens with the at-large bid. I don't know if we are in a place right now over UT-Dallas, but I think our guys thoroughly deserve to be considered in the NCAA tournament talk. I think we haven't lost in seven or eight games."
Saturday, however, with postseason aspirations just that, the day was more about the seniors wrapping up their collegiate careers. The Pirates sent off a group of nine players - many of them regular contributors - in the form of Andrew French, Jonah Brown (Missoula, MT), Andrew Flint, Anders Nostdahl (Sandpoint, ID), Balin Larson, Sam Selisch, Chris Beehler (Yakima, WA), Will Wren and Samuel Mean.
"So much good things to say about those guys… it's emotional," Cathey said. "I think for me coming in, and it being my first year and those guys playing for another coach for three years and being very successful under that coach; for them to be willing to adjust even to the slightest of differences, it's humbling for me to coach those guys because they are just super, super young men. Every single one of them did never stop; never took adversity the wrong way. They always showed the young guys what it means to be a Whitworth soccer player and I'm forever grateful, for sure."
It was much of the same on the other end of the field for the Missionaries, who finished the season with an improved record over last year despite battling through injuries.
"It is the worst part of the year," Whitman head coach Mike Washington said. "We are so glad to have them in the program and sad to see them go. They have been loyal servants over the years and it would have been nice to get them a win on the way out, but they can hold their head up. It is not what they did last, it's what they do next. This is a bright group and I think they have got a great future ahead of them, academically as well, so I think they will be fine."
"We probably lost a few [we shouldn't have] - we've had some bad injuries," Washington said of the campaign. "We've gone through the season with about four players out: a broken collarbone; Cooper Schumacher was coming back from a concussion today so he didn't play at center back; Reid Shaw has had a double concussion and was just coming back. We've had that kind of a year a little bit, but players have stepped up. We've not talked about that. You know it's not about what you don't have; it's what you have - and we have a great squad and other players have stepped up. We could have done better probably have we had all those players healthy but we only have ourselves to blame so we are not going to look at anybody else."
Although both teams wanted to close things out with a win, the game was hardly the most attractive of games to watch as neither team really found a rhythm in the match and clattered into one another continuously, increasing the feistiness as time wore on.
"Today, to be honest, I wasn't very pleased with how we played at all," said Cathey. "It wasn't as good as we've played the rest of the last six-seven games and I think the greatest thing for our guys to realize is when they do things right, it works very well. We've shown moments of absolute brilliance on the field of play and that's a good thing because now we can go back and obviously grow on that in the spring and hopefully be a lot stronger next year than we were to start this year."
It may not have been perfect, but in usual Pirate fashion they found the way to win behind the efforts of Wren and Sam Engle. The pair combined to find Bray on the left side of the box where he slotted it past the keeper from about 15 yards to open the scoring.
Fourteen minutes later they added a second when a foul at midfield was uncalled in favor of advantage, and the Pirates took full measure on the opportunity. The ball found its way to Engle, who drove toward area and from five yards out from the top of the arc slipped it out left to Wren, who proceeded to send a low-driven effort from the left edge of the area into the far back corner of the net.
The Pirates had a number of opportunities the rest of the way, including an effort they thought was a sure goal until they saw the flag raised for offside, but the two goals were all they needed as the defense limited the quality of looks the visitors had.
"I think it's unfortunate we ended up with exactly the same record we did last year in league and we, instead of winning the league by five points, we lost the league by five points," said Cathey. "It's unfortunate, but UPS - hat's off to them. They deserve to win the league with the amount of heart and desire they've had in the NWC so it's important for us to end on a high and hopefully, we'll see, the gods are smiling down on us Monday."
The local foes made sure it was not an easy victory though. Six minutes after falling behind, striker Daniel Kim took the ball up the inner left side of field with a defender back-tracking, slanting diagonally inside before launching a semi-chip shot toward the upper right corner from just inside the box that soared just a little high. Another chance with 38 seconds left in the first half saw a shot from Reid Shaw narrowly fly wide of the left post from about 15 yards out on the right side.
Kim was a continual threat in the offensive third, buzzing around in dangerous positions for the Missionaries thanks, in part, to the work at midfield by Junpei Tsuji, who is part of the program's departing senior class along with Jesse Mirman, Logan Grime, Reid Shaw, Jack Morgan, Chris Perkins and Cooper Schumacher.
"[Next year] might be a little rebuilder for us, but we bring a lot back and we want to try and play the way we've been playing, which is to just go at people. We didn't stop today - most teams would have folded, but we kept going. That's been kind of the description of this team all year, 'we're not beaten, we'll just keep going.' That's what we have to continue to do, and that's what we'll do next year too. And these young players have been around these great kids so I think it will be a great lesson for them. Then we just got to hope all the players coming in are good too."
Also confident of the future, Cathey was pleased at the results of his first season at the helm for the Pirates after replacing 17-year coach Sean Bushey, who stepped down last spring for a youth club position in Colorado.
"I think our guys responded so well to me," he said. "Hats off to our guys, they are just phenomenal young men. They really give of themselves to everything that they do and I wouldn't want to coach any other group of guys in this conference. They just never stop and they are so coachable, so moldable, they are humble and they serve.
"It was a pleasure for me this year. I think in the last six or seven games we started to play some beautiful soccer - we only conceded two goals in seven games and we averaged I think close to three goals a game, and numerous, numerous opportunities a game. So, it was starting to come together and hopefully we will get a chance to continue on. If we are able to I think we'll make a really good run in the NCAA tournament; and if not, I think next year we'll be very, very strong. I think we are only going to go up from this year."
As for the Women...
In other results, the Whitman ladies were 1-0 victors at George Fox Friday on a goal from Jade Anderson and the Whitworth women finished 1-1 Saturday at George Fox - yes, another draw - with Jackie Day putting them up in the 76th only to see the equalizer dash hopes of the win in the 89th. More in the weekly recaps later this week.