Men’s soccer team ready to return to top of the WCC
With a strong roster of experienced players, the Pacific men’s soccer team has set its sights on a West Coast Conference championship for the upcoming season, which starts at UC San Diego on Aug. 24.
The team developed a reputation as one of the top programs in the conference prior to the COVID-19 stoppage. The Tigers earned NCAA Tournament bids in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and won first-round matches in each of those tournaments.
Pacific bounced back from the COVID-impacted 2020 season and came within inches of winning its first WCC title in 2021, finishing second with a 4-1-2 conference mark despite numerous injuries that knocked key players out of the lineup for the season or an extended period.
“An achievable goal for this program is to win the first WCC championship in program history,” said Coach Adam Reeves, entering his fifth season as head coach. “I would not impress that upon them if I did not think it was attainable. With this group, that should be the expectation.”
Experience will be a strength for the Tigers with 14 players who are seniors or graduate students plus two juniors and three red-shirt sophomores.
“The leadership of this team is by example,” said Avery Whipple, who is entering his fifth year on the team. “We have guys who have played a lot of minutes, so they know how it is against teams at this level. Everyone is focused with the same goal in mind. We are one team and are committed to playing toward one goal.”
A core of four veteran players started all 17 matches last season, giving the team confidence and experience heading into the 2023 campaign. Midfielders Samuel Villalta, who rarely came off the pitch last season, playing more than 1,400 minutes, and Whipple will provide consistent play in the center of the field. The duo has 81 career starts with Whipple accounting for a team-best 43.
Senior Javier Chavez, another of the 17-match starters, has been in the starting lineup from day one since transferring from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and will anchor the backline along with seniors Corey Johnson and Lukas Aeberli, both of whom had double digit starts a year ago.
The final 17-match starter, Samuel Saiz-Herraiz, will provide experience among the forwards after leading the team in shots a year ago. He will spearhead the Tiger attack along with senior Derick Roque, who was among the regulars who missed a significant portion of last season.
Redshirt sophomore Brian Lanier leads a goalkeeping room that includes senior Tanner Johnson and redshirt sophomore Joshua Moya. Lanier appeared in six games with four starts last season and recorded one shutout while making 30 saves.
With eight newcomers on the team, Pacific has excellent depth this season in preparation for the grind that the WCC schedule provides. Transfers Vinzent Zingel, Emmanuel Obiefuna, Anthony Navarra, Danny Govea and George Riberal will join three freshmen to round out the new faces on the pitch this season.
“All the guys that coach brought in, he brought them in for a reason,” Whipple said. “We are making a push to win the WCC this year, and the new guys are here to help us do just that.”
Pacific opens on the road at UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara before coming home on Thursday, Aug. 31 to face UC Riverside.
The Tigers host Sacramento State, San Jose State and Houston Christian before the start of the WCC schedule. The Tigers set up a home match with California (Saturday, Oct. 14) in the midst of the WCC schedule as a feature contest on Homecoming and Family Weekend.
“With the parity in college soccer, every game is important,” Reeves said. “We play 17 games, so every game is roughly six percent of our schedule. That is a significant number, and you cannot afford to drop matches. Every WCC game is a great game; it’s a battle. When we put 90 minutes together, we will be a very difficult team to beat.”