SPOKANE, Wash. – Fresh off of one of the team's biggest regular-season victories ever, the 16th-ranked Whitworth men's soccer team will open Northwest Conference play this weekend by hosting Linfield College on Saturday and Willamette University on Sunday.
The Pirates improved to 3-0-1 by winning both games of the Whitworth Soccer Classic last weekend, including a 1-0 victory over 7th-ranked Wheaton (Ill.)
The Pirates: Many thought (hoped) that Whitworth would lose its role as perennial Northwest Conference men's soccer power this season after graduating nine seniors, including seven starters who all earned either first or second team All-NWC. But it appears that head coach Sean Bushey has the Pirates right back and ready to challenge for the crown again this season. Whitworth has won or shared six of the last eight NWC championships.
The Pirates served notice with their performance last weekend. On Friday afternoon Whitworth defeated NAIA Corban University 2-1. Robbie Ubben scored the match-winner in the second half only seconds after the Warriors had tied it up.
Then came the showdown with 7th-ranked Wheaton on Saturday. Mike Chavez scored the match's only goal in the 34th minute and the Pirates went on to post their third shutout in four matches this season.
The quality of the victory over Wheaton ranks with a 2-1 win at St. Thomas (Minn.) in 2009, a 2-1 win over Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2008, and a 3-1 win over Redlands played at Linfield in 2005.
Stout Defense: Whitworth has allowed only a single goal in four matches this season, posting a team goals-against average of 0.24 – by far the lowest in the NWC so far this fall. Goalkeeper Kyle Novak has not allowed a single goal to get by yet and has played all but one half of one match for the Pirates. Center defenders Andrew Flint and Balin Larson have clogged up the opponents' offensive attack.
Nice Debut: Freshman Karl Muelheims has made a nice debut for the Pirates, leading the team offensively so far with a goal and an assist. His goal was the difference win Whitworth's 1-0 win at Hamline on September 1st and he had the assist on the goal against Wheaton.
The Opponents: Linfield comes into the weekend with a 2-1 record, impressive considering the Wildcats won only two matches all of last season. Last weekend Linfield went to Santa Cruz, California and defeated Whittier 2-1 on a neutral field before falling 6-1 to host UCSC. Danny Snelgrow and Jake Baker have scored two goals each. Last year Whitworth swept Linfield, winning 2-0 in Spokane and 1-0 in McMinnville.
Willamette is 3-2 and the Bearcats have exploded offensively with an NWC-high 14 goals so far this season. Much of that offense came during a weekend sweep of Northwest University (5-1) and Walla Walla University (4-0). Yazan Hishmeh has totaled three goals and two assists in 2012, while Erik Kaufman has added 3 goals and one assist. Last year Whitworth defeated Willamette twice - 4-0 in Salem and 6-1 in Spokane.
The Coach: Sean Bushéy is in his 17th season as head coach of the Pirates in 2012. He has a 206-89-33 record after 17 seasons as a head men's soccer coach (196-83-32 in 16 years at Whitworth) and has led the Pirates to six Northwest Conference titles in the last eight years, and seven NWC titles overall. He has been named Northwest Conference Men's Coach of the Year four times (2001, 2004, 2007, 2008). Over the last 12 years, the Whitworth men are 174-55-26 (.733).
Coming Up: The Bucs will hit the road for Northwest Conference matches at George Fox (Sept. 22) and Pacific (Sept. 23). Both are scheduled to start at 2:30 pm following the conclusion of the women's matches.