SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth men's soccer team is one win away from clinching the 2012 Northwest Conference title. The Pirates get their first shot at picking up that win with a pair of road matches at Willamette and Linfield this Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Whitworth has only three games left on the regular season schedule, all away from home.
The 10th-ranked Pirates (12-0-3 overall, 9-0-2 NWC) found their offensive groove last week, outscoring Pacific (Ore.) and George Fox by a combined count of 9-1. Those two wins, paired with a surprising home loss by Pacific Lutheran on Sunday, moved the Bucs to the brink of the title.
Willamette will provide live statistics for Saturday's match. There are no live links available for Sunday's match at Linfield.
The Pirates: Whitworth jumped ahead 2-0 early in the match against Pacific before cruising to a 3-1 victory over the Boxers. Andrew French led the way with a goal and an assist. He assisted Robby Ubben on the Pirates' first goal in the 15th minute, then scored from an assist by Samuel Engle in the 30th minute. Karl Muelheims essentially put the game out of reach in the 54th minute with his second goal of the season. Kekoa Mountcastle had that assist. The Pirates gave up only their third goal of the season in Northwest Conference play in the 88th minute when Pacific's Garrick Knowles lofted a perfect corner kick that glanced off of a teammate's head before settling in the far-top corner of the net.
Whitworth rolled to a season-high six goals in Sunday's shutout of George Fox. Andrew French scored twice early in the second half to give the Pirates a 4-0 lead. Balin Larson scored his first goal of the season in the ninth minute after Robby Ubben headed down a corner kick from Mike Chavez. Ubben then tallied his team-leading sixth goal of the season in the 14th minute on an assist from Samuel Engle. Kekoa Mountcastle and Nathan Fosket each scored their first goals of the season late in the match. Ryan Wood assisted on both goals.
NWC Honors a Pair of Pirates: Andrew French was selected as the NWC Men's Soccer Offensive Player of the Week while Balin Larson was chosen as the NWC Men's Soccer Defensive Player of the Week for their efforts over the weekend. French posted three goals and one assist to lift his season goal total to four. Larson led a defensive effort that limited Pacific and George Fox to nine total shots, only two of which were on-goal. Larson was also chosen as the NWC Defensive Player of the Week on September 18th.
Defensively Dominant: Whitworth continues to rank highly among Division III schools in defensive statistics. The Pirates are second in Division III in goals-against average (0.25) and second in shutout percentage (.800). Whitworth leads the NWC in both categories by a wide margin.
Goalkeeper Kyle Novak currently leads NCAA Division III men's statistics with a 0.13 goals-against average and second in save percentage (.938).
Whitworth's defensive numbers have a chance to shatter the previous single-season records set in 2001 when the Pirates led all of NCAA Division III with a 0.59 team goals-against average for the season.
Balance: While the Whitworth offense finally broke through this past weekend, it has been balanced all season. Ten different players have accounted for the Pirates' 24 goals. Robby Ubben leads with six goals, while Samuel Engle and Andrew French have four each. Whitworth has scored 11 goals in the first half and 13 goals in the second half and overtime periods.
You-Been-Beat: To say that Robby Ubben's goals have been timely is to say that soccer is a popular sport played all around the world. Ubben leads the Pirates in scoring this season with six goals. But most important, five of his goals have been match-winners. His winner on October 6th came in the second overtime against Whitman. His winner against PLU came with less than seven minutes to play in regulation. He has also posted match-winners in one-goal wins against Corban and George Fox. He also scored the first goal in an eventual 3-1 win over Pacific.
Nationally-ranked: Whitworth is 10th in this week's NSCAA Division III national rankings – down one position from last week. The Bucs moved up two spots to 10th in the D3soccer.com top-25 poll and are 2nd behind top-ranked Trinity (Texas) in the NSCAA West Region ratings.
NWC Standings: The conference standings are based on a point system that awards three points for a win and one point with a tie. With a conference record of 9-0-2 Whitworth is alone in first place with 29 points. Pacific Lutheran (7-3-1) is in second place with 22 points. If the Lutes win out and finished 10-3-1, they would reach 31 points. One more Whitworth win in its final three matches would give the Pirates 32 points.
The Opponents: Willamette comes into the weekend as the second-hottest team in the NWC behind Whitworth. The Bearcats have won four of their last five matches to improve to 8-7-1 overall and 5-5-1 (16 points, 4th place) in the NWC. Last week Willamette lost 3-1 at second-place PLU on Saturday before pulling off a 2-1 win at third-place Puget Sound on Sunday. The Bearcats are also very balanced with four players who have scored at least four goals each. Yazan Hishmeh leads the way with six goals and two assists this season. Whitworth held off Willamette 1-0 in Spokane on September 16th when Will Wren scored in the 84th minute.
Linfield is also a surging team coming off of a huge road victory. The Wildcats are 7-8, 5-6 (15 points) heading into Saturday's match with Whitman. Linfield has won two of three matches, including a 3-1 upset at Pacific Lutheran on Sunday, following a 2-0 loss at Puget Sound on Saturday. A pair of young forwards lead the Wildcats in scoring. Jake Baker has six goals and two assists, while Domenico Del Prete has five goals and three assists. Whitworth defeated Linfield 2-0 in Spokane on September 15th when Will Wren scored twice for the Pirates in the first half.
The Coach: Sean Bushéy is in his 17th season as head coach of the Pirates in 2012. He has a 218-89-36 record in his 18th season as a head men's soccer coach (208-83-36 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 186-55-29 (.742).
Coming Up: The Bucs will finish the regular season on November 3rd with a match at Whitman.