WALLA WALLA — 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,” Washington said of Whitman’s last season.
Washington 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 title.
“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.”
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 with four goals and three assists, and he led the team with 41 shots.
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.
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.
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 defender position a year ago.
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.
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.).
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.
“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.
“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.