If the Peninsula Pirates' men's soccer squad can repeat as NWAACC West champs, they can thank their American neighbors from the north.
With 16 of their 25 roster players from Alaska, the Pirates are gearing up to defend their first-ever division crown.
Coming off a sterling 12-3-1 conference mark, Peninsula earned its first NWAACC tournament win and berth in the semifinals, eventually finishing fourth. Peninsula also saw five team members named to the NWAACC all-star squad while Andrew Chapman was named co-Coach of the Year.
Besides Chapman, the Pirates return just one all-star, but he's a good one; Ernest Boham, an East Anchorage native, led the Pirates with 13 goals and 55 shots-on-goal in 19 games.
"He's a strong player everyone has to worry about," Chapman said of Boham.
Peninsula also sees Cascade High grad Hugo Vasquez return, after finishing third on the team with six scores in 2007, and Alaska native Teagan Cambier, a five-goal scorer last fall.
What the Pirates return in firepower finishers, they lose in both their top table-setters and the majority of their defense, including all-star goalkeeper Jared Hoffman. Hoffman recorded 60 saves and nine shutouts last year, and 135 saves and a team-record 12 shutouts in his two-year stint at P.C.
Freshmen Jase Hall, an Alaskan and brother of former P.C. goalie Rylan Hall, is battling Oregon's Alec Risk for starting goalie spot. Both come in at 5-foot-11 or so with good hands and strong leadership qualities, Chapman said.
Following their impressive 2007 season, the Pirates also lost top assist man Jesse Retan, an all-star who pocketed four goals, 13 assists and sparked the offense with physical play in the midfield, and Jon Larsen, who racked up 10 goals and seven assists for the division champs.
And while a number of defenders also have graduated, Chapman still has center defender Sean Gaskins, a sophomore who helped South Anchorage High School win state championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and spearheaded P.C.'s stingy defense last year.
Chapman said that this year's recruiting class makes the Pirates a smaller but more mobile unit, more likely to utilize speed and darting attacks than with muscle. Top recruit John Troka was the Olympic League MVP from Kingston and should add to Peninsula's attack.
"We're a team that's going to move the ball quicker and faster (than last year)," Chapman said. "We have a lot of guys who are comfortable with the ball at their feet."
During Peninsula's banner season last fall, the Pirates racked up an eight-game winning streak to close the season, minus a meaningless loss to Highline on the last day. Peninsula blanked Everett 4-0 before falling in a last-minute, penalty-kick goal to Spokane in the semifinals.
The Pirates' first postseason win and accolades were marred by the loss of sophomore all-star forward Jared Nagel, whose death while snowboarding at Steven's Pass in early February shocked the team and Peninsula College community.
Chapman scheduled a non-league game with Chemeketa to get the Pirates to Nagel's hometown of Salem, where P.C. teammates can visit Nagel's parents Scott and Joyce.
"That was one of the hardest things I've gone through in my life," Chapman said. "Tough on the program, tough on the team. He's a guy who really established the program ... (but) the guys have bounced back from it."
The Pirates already are battling injuries before their first game. Chapman said Port Angeles recruit Jay Kang banged up his shin and is out for another week, Vasquez is nursing a bum shoulder, and Luis Medrano, a potential starter, is out about six weeks with a broken toe in his right foot. Peninsula lost another recruit outright after he tore an ACL.
Hopefully, Chapman said, the Pirates are getting the injury bug out of the way.
Peninsula's top competitors from the West Division in 2007 were Highline and Bellevue; Highline's Thunderbirds visit the peninsula Oct. 8 while the Bulldogs are in town Oct. 22.