There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2015 Western Washington University men’s soccer team.
With both experience and depth, the Vikings figure to be battling near the top of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and in contention for their first NCAA Division II national tournament berth.
Seven starters are among 14 letter winners from last season’s 9-8-1 squad that finished fourth in the GNAC with a 7-6-1 mark. Seven members of the squad are seniors.
“We could go 17 players deep,” said WWU coach Greg Brisbon (20-12-4), who enters his third year as head coach after 12 as an assistant. “It’s one of the deepest teams we’ve had in my years at Western. I feel confident across all three lines, we have a lot of options.”
Leading the Vikings is an experienced midfield core that includes three seniors. Two of them – Kurtis Pederson (Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep) and Uche Ugwoaba (Lagos, Nigeria/Highline) - are three-year letter winners. Ugwoaba has started every game the last three seasons, primarily as a midfielder. He was all-GNAC honorable mention last year, and a second-team selection the previous season. Pederson has made 49 starts over his three seasons, notching five assists while splitting time between midfield and central defense. He was a second-team all-GNAC pick last year.
The other returning senior in the midfield is Jeremy Wentzel (Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway), who has played a more attacking role, notching three goals and two assists last year after having four goals and a team-high six assists as a sophomore. Another key returnee is sophomore Luke Olney (Enumclaw), a second-team GNAC all-star who had four goals and led WWU with eight assists last year while primarily coming off the bench.
Two transfers provide even more midfield attacking quality. Senior Thomas Spragg (Auckland, New Zealand) did not see playing time at University of Washington because of injuries, but played for New Zealand in the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria in 2009. Junior Eleazar Galvan (Chelan) had nine goals and 12 assists for Skagit Valley CC last season in earning first-team all-region honors.
“It’s a very technical group of midfielders,” Brisbon said. “We’ll be able to possess and combine more than we have in the past.”
The most experienced returnee up front in WWU’s 4-4-2 system is senior Leonard Kusina (Harare, Zimbabwe/Shattuck-St. Mary’s MN), who has started 31 games over the last three seasons. For his career, he has two goals and two assists.
The top returning scorer is junior Chad Radulovich (San Ramon, CA/California), who had four goals and three assists last year. Also back is sophomore Wesley Stark (Snohomish), who saw action in nine games last season.
The key addition to the forwards is junior Adam Talley (Newman Lake/East Valley), who scored 20 goals in just 16 games last season at North Idaho JC, earning Baden Athlete of the Year honors for the Northwest Athletic Conference.
“It’s a dynamic group,” said Brisbon of the forwards. “They’ve got a lot of speed, they just need to put everything together and find ways to score goals.”
Two seniors return in the back. Trevor Bartels (Seattle/King’s), who made 14 starts a year ago, figures to pair at center back with junior Brady Ulen (Coeur d’Alene, ID/Post Falls), a transfer from North Idaho JC where he was a first-team East Region all-star. Junior Derek Zimmerman (Pasco), might also factor in.
The other senior, Sawyer Preston (Sammamish/Eastlake), is the likely starter at left back after starting five contests over the last two seasons. Sophomore Marcus Tinsley (Federal Way/Todd Beamer), who started all but one contest last season, notching two assists, returns at right back. Freshman Nicholas Brundage (Tacoma/Wilson) provides depth across the back four.
In goal is junior Tyler Visten (Mount Vernon), who redshirted last season after playing two seasons at Skagit Valley CC.
“We’re going to be tough to score on,” Brisbon said. “We have size and experience in a blue-collar back line.They have a mentality that they’re not going to be scored upon, and they love the individual battles.”
The Vikings open their season with a stern test, hosting Cal State L.A., ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division II in the pre-season coaches’ poll, on Sept. 3. That is one of four non-conference contests against West Region foes before GNAC play opens on Sept. 19 with a home contest against Simon Fraser.
“This is a motivated group,” said Brisbon. “They work super hard and have confidence in each other. If they can stay healthy, they can surprise a lot of people.”