WALLA WALLA — Walla Walla Community College’s men’s soccer team came within two minutes of forcing overtime in the 2012 NWAACC Soccer Championship. Instead, the Warriors came away with a 1-0 loss after Peninsula scored in the 88th minute to take the title, completing a sweep as the Peninsula had won the women’s side just hours earlier.
Although Walla Walla is fielding just seven sophomores this year, Warrior coach Chad Bodnar said that between the returning pieces like decorated centerback Jhony Mendoza and a talented freshman class, WWCC has the potential to earn a another shot at the title.
“I think it’s just kind of an expectation of the program to be there,” Bodnar said of the NWAACC championship. “Those kids having that experience is a great thing. Most of those players (sophomores) were starters.”
The Warriors opened NWAACC play Tuesday with a 3-2 loss to Clark in the NWAACC Soccer Friendlies tournament in Tukwila, Wash.
Clark won the South Division in 2013 and was a quality opponent to start the year with, Bodnar said.
“Today was a great game for them because they played against on the best teams in the NWAACC (Clark) and at times we were the better team,” Bodnar said. “There’s going to be some growing pains. There’s some huge upsides to this team; they’re extremely talented and I think we have the capability to go on a deep run. But at the same time, that’s going to count on us as coaches developing them because we do have a lot of young kids.”
Clark won the game on a late own-goal after WWCC keeper Ulisses Faurrieta, a sophomore out of Redmond, Ore., attempted to clear the ball, but instead hit his own defender in the back and watched helplessly as the winning goal dribbled into the goal.
“It was one of the weirdest goals I’ve seen in all my years,” Bodnar said. “We made a lot of mistakes in the back and I think two or three weeks down the road, we won’t see that. It was a good first game for our kids. I think we might see Clark down the road in the playoffs.”
A celebrated sophomore who was the Columbia Basin Big Nine’s 4A MVP as a senior at Yakima’s Davis High School, Mendoza should provide some continuity in the Warrior backfield.
“He’s probably the best player in the league,” Bodnar said. “He had some big-time scholarships offers, he just couldn’t get the grades done.
“He’s just incredibly talented,” Bodnar said. “He’s very athletic and a tall kid. He covers a lot of ground in the back and he’s left-footed, which is something you don’t find very often. He’s just one of those kids that stands out in terms of his athletic and playing ability.”
The Warriors also return last year’s team-leading scorer in Max Smith, a sophomore out of Juneau, Alaska, who scored 13 goals and two assists in 2012.
“He’s the captain and he’s another kid who I think is going to get some scholarship offers,” Bodnar said of Smith.
“The sophomore class, they’re all going to help,” Bodnar said. “They’re a great group.”
Walla Walla won the East Region in 2012 with a record of 9-1-3 (16-2-3 overall).
Among the freshman class are several local products: Ricardo Saldana, Wa-Hi; Vicente Flores, Touchet; Jose Herrera-Torres, Mac-Hi; Leo Pedroza, Wa-Hi; and Jose Maya, Wa-Hi.
The Warriors take on Pierce today to finish the friendlies tournament and return home to play Tacoma Tuesday at 2 p.m.