Originally Published: November 22, 2014 6:03 a.m.
It was an unforgiving end to an otherwise spectacular 2014 season for the Yavapai College men's soccer team Oct. 30 at Ken Lindley Field.
Following a 2-1 sudden-death overtime loss to Phoenix College in the Region 1 playoff semifinals, one that eliminated the Roughriders from the postseason, the players and coaching staff took time to lament before moving on with the business of hosting the NJCAA Division 1 National Championship tournament for the first time this week.
Over the past several days, Yavapai and its longtime coaches, Mike Pantalione and Hugh Bell, have handled the disappointment about as well as anyone could under the circumstances.
"We essentially said the night that we lost, 'We're going to honor our commitment and responsibility to host a top-notch tournament,' and that's what we're doing right now," Pantalione said from Lindley Field Wednesday night. "It's been an outstanding tournament, and it's all been a team effort in doing this the way that it should be done. We have two fine facilities in this area and we've heard nothing but compliments throughout the week."
At the end of the regular season Oct. 25, seven-time national champion Yavapai was ranked No. 1 in all of NJCAA D-1 with a 20-0-2 record. The Roughriders, who sported 20 freshmen on their roster, were one of only two teams that went unbeaten this fall until the setback versus Phoenix.
"After the game (Oct. 30), we didn't do an awful lot," Bell said from Mountain Valley Park Amphitheater in Prescott Valley, a tournament site with Lindley, on Thursday. "And we arranged for the players to meet us the following Monday. They were still in shock, basically."
This week, Pantalione and Bell have been graciously working the tournament with their players - putting up and taking down scoring tables, chairs and banners; helping the game officials; ensuring that the 12 teams in the tourney got what they needed; and that most everything else went smoothly.
Pantalione primarily stationed himself at Lindley in Prescott, while Bell spent most of his time at the Amphitheater in Prescott Valley. Yavapai's baseball and volleyball teams also pitched in on the sidelines with retrieving balls during matches.
Bell said it hurts not being able to coach Yavapai at nationals, and yet he's taking it in stride.
"We just have to be professional about it and get out here and make sure that the teams that are here have a good time - and just have to live with it," Bell said. "If you've been in the sport a long time, the hurt doesn't get any easier. But you learn with experience to deal with it because you're not the only one that it's happened to.
"For us, it obviously was huge (not qualifying) because we were hosting the tournament and we felt that we had let the people down. Our community has supported us for so long. They've gone to our games and they've been great."
But before Pantalione and Bell returned to work, they made sure that Yavapai's players were in the right frame of mind to both learn from and accept the disappointment and focus on the future.
When the national tournament ends late Sunday afternoon in Prescott, Pantalione and Bell will immediately start planning for the 2015 season.
Among other things, they'll attend major Club soccer tournaments out West, including one in Las Vegas, where they'll evaluate potential recruits. They'll also continue to try and place their outgoing sophomores at four-year schools.
"Of the freshmen that remain (on our roster), we sincerely hope that they return," Bell said. "And the only thing that would hinder them from returning would be if they did poorly in the classroom. By and large, we feel that most of them will return."
Yavapai soccer has good reason to be hopeful about the future, though. There's a chance that the college, Prescott and Prescott Valley will host nationals again, perhaps as early as 2017.
Pantalione said that the tournament is currently on an "East, Central and West rotation." Patrick Hill Community College in Martinsville, Virginia, will host nationals in 2015, followed by Tyler (Texas) Junior College in 2016.
Yavapai College must submit a bid with the NJCAA to try and host again in a few years. Bell said he would welcome it.
"I think that would be great for our community to have the experience of seeing us," Bell said of the Roughriders playing in a national tournament at home. "We hope that by seeing the other teams (in this year's tournament), they get a bit of enjoyment."
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc