Aug. 8, 2007
SAN BRUNO, CA - Gonzaga University's men's soccer team has been picked to finish sixth in the West Coast Conference according to the pre-season vote of the coaches.
Defending regular-season champion Santa Clara University was selected as the pre-season favorite with five first-place votes and 35 points to edge the University of San Francisco which received one first-place vote and 28 points. Gonzaga received 18 points, one behind the University of Portland and Loyola Marymount University which tied for fourth.
The Bulldogs return 10 seniors, including two-time All-WCC first-team selection George Josten, who has paced the conference in scoring each of the past two seasons. Also returning for the Bulldogs are a pair of WCC second-team picks from a year ago - midfielder John Palladino and defender Austin Washington - and midfielder John Reha, a 2006 honorable mention selection. Senior keeper Vito Higgins, a 2005 honorable mention honoree, also returns.
The Bulldogs went 9-8-2 overall a year ago and 6-5-1 for 19 points and third place in the WCC, trailing only SCU (26 points) and USF (21). It was the highest finish for the Bulldogs since 2001 when they tied for second. The six wins were the most for the Bulldogs since the WCC adopted the double round robin 12-game schedule in 2004. Gonzaga went 6-3-1 in its last 10 matches, including 6-2-1 down the stretch in conference play after opening WCC action with three straight road losses.
SCU, which captured its ninth WCC title and advanced to the NCAA College Cup quarterfinals last season, brings back eight starters and 19 letterwinners from the 2006 campaign. Sophomore Stephen McCarthy, the 2006 WCC Co-Freshman of the Year, returns for the Broncos and will be joined in the midfield by senior Peter Lowry, who earned second team All-WCC honors after tying for the team lead with six goals a year ago. WCC Coach of the Year Cameron Rast also returns junior goalkeeper Joseph Buttitta, the conference leader with nine shutouts in 2006.
USF earned a spot in the NCAA College Cup for the third straight season last year after going 12-7-1 and 7-5-0 in WCC contests. The Dons return seven starters including senior defender Rob Valentino, who was tabbed for WCC Player of the Year honors after anchoring a USF defense that surrendered a conference-low 18 goals last season. Senior forward Ardalan Attar, who ranked second on the squad with five goals in 2006, will help pace the USF attack.
The Toreros were picked third after leading the WCC with 47 goals last season and tying a conference record with 22 goals against league opponents. USD's returning group is headlined by midfielder Dustin Guerrero, who tallied four goals and three assists last year, and All-WCC honorable mention defenders Tim Grey and Sam Reeder.
LMU and Portland tied for fourth place in the pre-season poll, and both programs have their sites set on a return to the NCAA College Cup for the first time since 2004. First team All-WCC midfielder Nick Blanco returns for his senior season after scoring a pair of goals and assisting on four additional scores last year, and junior Brad Stisser returns in the LMU attack after tying for the team lead with four goals in 2006. The Pilots will field one of the most experienced units in the conference as 23 letterwinners and nine starters return to head coach Bill Irwin's squad. A pair of All-WCC forwards in junior Alex Elliott and senior Christopher Sanders look to provide the scoring punch for Portland, as the duo combined to score 16 of UP's 28 team goals last season.
Saint Mary's College rounds out the poll at No. 7 despite the return of second team All-WCC selection Dylan Leslie, who tied for the team lead with four goals last season.
2007 WCC Men's Soccer Pre-season Poll
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Santa Clara (5) 352. San Francisco (2) 283. San Diego 204. Loyola Marymount 19 Portland 196. Gonzaga 187. Saint Mary's 8