Five vets lead Walla Walla Comunity College men into soccer campaign

The Warriors face a stiff challenge in defending last year's NWAACC championship.

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WALLA WALLA -- What will they do for an encore?

That is one of many questions hovering around the Walla Walla Community College pitch after the men's soccer program won its fourth NWAACC East Division title in five seasons and claimed its first NWAACC title last fall.

If the Warriors are going to return to those lofty heights in 2009, it will have to be accomplished with several new faces.

"It's a whole new team and a whole new year," said WWCC coach Chad Bodnar, whose teams have posted a 34-7-5 record the past two years. "Last year, we had a core group of eight or nine guys returning. This year, we return five guys."

The list of returning sophomores includes goalkeeper Joey Pagan, the most valuable player of last year's NWAACC Championships, mid-fielders John Dolphus and Juan Garcia, back Stephen Fujimoto and forward Levi Gunion.

"Having Joey back is a big plus for us," Bodnar said. "John and Juan got a lot of minutes. Stephen started all year. Levi got a taste of it and got his feet wet."

Gunion will play both up top and out wide, Bodnar said.

This year's freshmen class features four athletes from a Pasco High School team that finished second in the Class 4A state playoffs this past spring -- forwards Marco Acevedo and Paul Herrera, midfielder Miguel Acevedo, and defender Brady Espinoza.

Marco Acevedo was voted the Class 4A MVP and was twice voted first team all-state, Espinoza was a first-team, all-state pick, Miguel Acevedo was chosen to the all-state second team, and Big Nine Conference first-team honors were garnered by Herrera.

"I went there, worked there, and have a lot of connections," Bodnar said. "It's been a blessing to get these kids. It's a good pipeline to have."

Among other freshmen entering the fray are center mid-fielders Mikey Ramos and Talon Wyatt, forward Griffen Hoerner, and defenders Tyler Lawton and Chris Hawkins.

Ramos was a second-team, all-state selection at University High in Spokane.

The latter four are from Idaho. Lawton and Hawkins played in Boise at Mountain View and Timberline, respectively, Hoerner is from Post Falls, and Wyatt competed at Century High School in Pocatello.

"Mikey is a special player," Bodnar said of Ramos. "He'll run in the middle of the park for us. We were fortunate to get him at the CC level for sure.

"This is a hard-working group of kids," Bodnar said. "It's exciting to see kids come in, embrace the tradition, and who are willing to work to continue what we've created here."

This year's roster also has a pair of local booters -- Wa-Hi defender Angel Valverde and Mac-Hi forward Jose Corona, whose older brother Victor played for the Warriors a few season ago.

"I see a lot of talent in both of them," Bodnar said. "I think they'll do well over time. They want to learn and work hard."

When sizing up the race for the NWAACC East title, Bodnar stated the league is tough from top to bottom and noted top contenders.

"Spokane returns a lot of players, we'll be in the mix, Treasure Valley has gotten better, and Columbia Basin has got decent kids," Bodnar said.

The Warriors host the College of Idaho in their season opener at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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