by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – High expectations are the norm for Whitworth men's soccer, and 2017 is no different. This year, however, the Pirates have a chance to make history by taking home a fourth straight Northwest Conference championship, which would make them the first team in school history to do so.
Conference coaches think the Pirates are the frontrunners to do that. Whitworth received six of eight first place votes on the way to a first place ranking in the preseason coaches poll.
"It is extremely humbling that six of my colleagues picked us to win the conference again," head coach Morgan Cathey said. "I believe the potential for this group is massive, and the team knows it will only be achieved through a commitment to a tenacious mentality."
This season will be Cathey's fifth at the helm of the program. Under his leadership, the Pirates have compiled an overall record of 57-11-10 with three Northwest Conference championships
It's no surprise that conference coaches would predict another top finish for Whitworth. The Pirates return all but four players from last season's conference championship team, including six All-NWC honorees.
Moi Diaz is one of those All-NWC players, earning first team recognition last season. Diaz scored five goals last season including two match-winners. He's joined by returning forwards Christian Haas (2 goals), Drew Williams (2 goals), and Sam McKay (1 goal), all of whom figure to see more playing time this season.
Along with the four experienced forwards, Jack Sedor transferred to Whitworth from Marshall University and should receive playing time up front. Wenzi Ngcobo joins Sedor as a newcomer at the position. The South African freshman will look to compete for playing time this season.
The midfield is where Whitworth may return the most talent and depth. Jonah Snyder led the conference in goals (15) on the way to first team All-NWC recognition. He's joined by All-NWC second teamers Kyle Cacoyannis and Eric Espinoza (1 goal, 4 assists). Snyder and Espinoza are threats to score all over the field while Cacoyannis is among the best defensive midfielders in the conference.
The Pirates bring back plenty of talent alongside the all conference trio as well. Austin Cassity (2 goals, 5 assists) will be back on the wing. Micah Weller (1 assist) and Britton Clifford are also back and ready to contribute to winning seasons.
Defensively, Whitworth brings back a strong core as well. First team All-NWC center back Kyle Morris anchored the defense last season. He led the team in minutes played (1,572) and Morris' lone goal on the season was an overtime match-winner.
Morris will be joined at the back by fellow 2016 All-NWC honoree Aaron Yanagi. Yanagi returned from injury last season to start 16 matches at outside back, where he picked up three assists. The pair of All-NWC defenders are complimented by Tyler Pangia (2 assists), who was all-conference in 2015 Blake Hepler, and Tyler Cardinale give the Pirates great depth among the returnees. Mitchell Lovell and Scott Penner are newcomers at the position and will be able reserves.
In goal, Whitworth will look to Tony Watters to replace All-NWC first teamer Timmy Costa. Watters played in five matches last season and posted a 1.10 GAA in 325 minutes. Jesus Nunez and Alex Pells are the Pirate reserves in goal.
Whitworth begins its season on the road Friday, Sept. 1 when it takes on national title contender University of Chicago. After a day off, the Pirates will take on Benedictine (Ill.) on Sunday, Sept. 3 and North Park University Monday, Sept. 4. Whitworth returns home from Illinois for a pair of non-conference home matches against Carroll (Mont.) and Eastern Oregon on Sunday, Sept. 10 and Monday, Sept. 11 respectively.
"We will go and test ourselves against some of the best teams in the country this non-conference season," Cathey said. "The opponents we will face in Chicago will pose huge challenges to our group and I am really excited to see what we learn about ourselves through those three games."
The Pirates kick off conference play hosting Pacific (Ore.) Saturday, Sept. 16.