PORT ANGELES – For the second straight year, injuries played a hand in an early exit for one of the top junior college soccer programs in the NWAC – and the nation.
The Pirates, playing without three starters, fell to Walla Walla 1-0 Wednesday in the first round of the NWAC playoffs. Peninsula finished 10-1-4 in North Region play and 12-3-4 overall. They were ranked No. 4 in the NWAC and as high as No. 10 amongst the nation’s junior college men’s soccer programs.
“This season was about redefining philosophies and paving the way for future Pirates,” head coach Jake Hughes said. “In that regard it was a successful season that saw us develop a team chemistry and family mentality. We set standards and did not drop below them. Our record speaks for itself in league 10-1-4. We came across some good competition in the north this year, which allowed us to show our true colors, and now we are hungrier than ever.”
Going into Wednesday’s playoff against eighth-ranked Walla Walla, the Pirates were without Cesar Gervacio, the NWAC’s leading scorer, Adrian Benitez, who is second in assists in the NWAC, and Noah Scofield, a starting midfielder, all three players sidelined with injuries.
Despite that shortcoming, the Pirates outshot Walla Walla 19-3, but simply could not find the net against a defensive-minded Warrior team. The Walla Walla men scored in the 31st minute for the only goal of the match.
Sadly, it was a repeat of Peninsula's 2016 season-ending loss in a playoff that also saw the Pirates without Gervacio and a handful of other starters. Following that quarterfinal overtime setback to Tacoma, the Titans went on to win the NWAC.
Peninsula will graduate six sophomores in Gervacio, Benitez, Juan Carrillo-Perez, Michael Day, Sergio Gonzalez Reyes, and Joey Hollimon.
“It’s been an honor to coach these young men for two years,” Hughes said.
“Joey Hollimon is a young man I could turn to and depend on. His growth as a person and player is recognized in his 12 goals and 5 assists,” Hughes said.
“Sergio Gonzalez-Reyes, along with Joey, were our team captains. Sergio was our rock. He was consistent and did not miss a minute. Sergio leads by example and his teammates care deeply for him. He brings values that go behind the soccer field,” Hughes said.
“Adrian Benitez, is a talented and dedicated player who works extremely hard in training and in games. His ability to pick the right pass and link play is evident in his 9 assists and 2 goals. He has been a pleasure to coach and be around. Adrian was extremely unlucky to pick up a knee injury during our training session before our first playoff game,” Hughes said.
“Cesar Gervacio, was also unlucky to pick up a hamstring injury during our game against Edmonds. He had a truly special season tallying 18 goals and five assists. Cesar has the ability to link play, hold the ball, and get goals,” Hughes said.
“Juan Carrillo brings a spark to our offense. He scored 15 goals and six assists and played almost every game,” Hughes said.
“Michael Day scored arguably the best goal of our season against Edmonds. He has the ability to defend and get forward and attack. Michael has grown, and continues to grow into a good young man,” Hughes said.
After the NWAC All-Star Game on Nov. 12, coach Hughes and his staff will not only continue preparing their sophomores to advance to the four-year level of collegiate soccer, but they will also hit the recruiting trail to build a team around an outstanding freshman class.
“We have a Freshmen class returning that excites me,” Hughes said. “We have all the right characters, with talent and determination. We have everything we need to be successful moving forward. We have a philosophy and standard set in place to become champions again. I'm extremely proud and excited about our returning players.”