Big team, big expectations for Warrior men

Some of the region's top freshmen join WWCC's men's soccer team, which finished out of the playoff race last season.

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The Walla Walla Community College men's soccer team practices before leaving town on Tuesday for its season-opening games this week, which begin with a match today in Tacoma.

WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla Community College's men's soccer program will do all it can this season to put the 2010 campaign in its rear-view mirror.

WWCC won the NWAACC championship in 2008 and was runner-up in 2009 before finishing out of the postseason picture a season ago.

Chad Bodnar, in his fifth season coaching both the men's and women's teams, has 34 players in camp whose goals are - among other things - to do their part to see that history does not repeat itself.

"Last year was a disappointment for our program," Bodnar said. "We lost (midfielder) Mikey Ramos (who contributed 16 goals and 10 assists) to a broken foot midway through the season. We fell apart from there.

"We blamed ourselves as a (coaching) staff for not being deep enough," Bodnar said. "We hit the recruiting trail hard. We decided we were not going to make the same mistake. We're working hard to move forward."

Veterans Mikey Luhrs and Martin Ramirez return to give the Warriors experience in the midfield, and Erik Vaught is expected to play up top after missing 2010 with a broken foot.

Ramirez displayed his versatility last year by playing in the back "the last five or six games of the season and did a good job," Bodnar said. "Erik is looking healthy and sharp in training camp."

Luhrs, Ramirez and Vaught hope to blend in with freshmen "that have come from all over the place," Bodnar said.

Among the newcomers are midfielders Kyle Menchaca, who was recognized as an ESPN Rise Top 25 player during his senior year at Meridian, Idaho, High School; Richland product Perry McNamar, who led the Big Nine Conference's 4A ranks in goals and was named the league's 2010 Most Valuable Player; Jonathan Rodriguez, a first-team, all-state selection from Connell; Toppenish's Luis Alcala; and Zach Russell of Southridge.

Kentaro Rodriguez, who can play both forward and in the midfield, is out of Seattle's Ballard High School and was seriously pursued by Seattle University.

"Luis is playing extremely well in camp and will play an important part for us right away," Bodnar said. "Kentaro has spent the last two years in New York on a church mission. It will be interesting to see where he fits in."

Adding further depth to the midfield will be Alaskans Sean Gillam and Eli Seymour.

"They will try to add a piece to the puzzle," Bodnar said.

Completing the list of potential impact players are midfielder Ariel Chavez of El Paso, Texas; and Yakima prospects Armando Escobedo (centerback from East Valley), and Oscar Hernandez (forward) and Alexio Garcia (midfielder) from Davis.

Locals on this year's roster are Lupito Salazar from Mac-Hi, and Wa-Hi stars Adrian Tello, Salvador Esquivel and Rene Saldana.

Escobedo was first-team all-state last year and Hernandez was one of the Big Nine's top scorers.

Salazar's brother Esteban was on the 2008 NWAACC championship team.

"We're deep in a lot of areas," Bodnar said. "Training camp is very competitive. That is what we wanted. We have two teams worth of kids. It's a matter of getting the pieces to fit. We have a chance to mold into a very good team."

Walla Walla opens its season today against Tacoma in Tukwila.

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