WALLA WALLA — As the Whitman College men’s soccer team embarks on the 2013 season, its roster features 10 returning starters and more than a handful of players who saw significant minutes last season.
Missionary head coach Mike Washington, who enters his 16th season at the Whitman helm, said the team has strong leadership in its senior and junior classes.
Among those who started in 2012, which saw the Missionaries finish fifth in the Northwest Conference (6-5-3) and win four of their last five matches to end the year with an 8-8-4 record, are senior captains forward Chris Perkins, midfielder Junpei Tsuji and defender/midfielder Reid Shaw.
Tsuji was second on the team in goal scoring and points last season, garnering All-NWC second-team honors after being named honorable mention in 2011.
“Junpei is a very high tempo and gifted player,” Washington said. “He has an incredible passion for the game.”
“Reid really gets after people on the defensive end,” Washington said of Shaw’s toughness. “He’s a great leader. He has very high expectations for himself and expects the same of everyone around him.”
At 6-foot, 4-inches, Perkins looms large on the frontline and plays very physically for a forward.
“He needs to play big for us all year, literally,” Washington said. “He’s very good in his technique. He can play in tight spaces. I think he’s going to take two players to mark him and that will free up some of our other players.”
Relying on their ball-control, possession style of play, the Missionaries’ midfield will play a key role in the success of the team. Joining Tsuji and Reid in the middle are three-year starter Jesse Mirman, Logan Grime, Riley Paul and newcomer Alex Brasher.
The midfielders will be counted on for a bulk of the scoring, Washington said.
“On offense, we will look like a 4-3-3,” he said.
The backline will be led by three-year starters Cooper Schumacher and Jack Morgan.
Schumacher, all-NWC second team the past two seasons, started all 17 games in which he played in 2012.
Morgan saw action in all 20 games last season, starting 19 of them, and ended the year as an all-NWC honorable mention.
The Missionaries need to replace stalwart goalkeeper Michael Bathurst, who was lost to graduation, but have two quality keepers to fill the role in Stuart Ellsworth and Niko Contos. Both are extremely strong and large for their position, said Washington, and both are workout enthusiasts.
Ellsworth improved his leaping ability by five inches in the offseason and is extremely agile, as is Contos. The two will rotate starts early in the season.
Whitman begins its season today against Colorado College at Colorado Springs, Colo.
After taking on UT Dallas Saturday in Colorado, the Missionaries makes a trek to face Northwest University on Sept. 7 in Seattle, and Carthage College the next night in Portland.
The following day, they face Trinity Lutheran in Everett.
The Missionaries then take a break before opening up the conference season at Willamette on Sept. 21.
“Preseason is important in providing competition, not having your way with teams, because I don’t think that tells you much about your squad,” Washington said. “The more difficult competition we have in the preseason, the better. If you have an easy ride, it doesn’t help you at all in preparation.”