Preview: West district tourney kicks off Friday

Roughriders seek program’s 21st national tournament appearance

Yavapai’s Jose Perez Flores (25) brings the ball toward the box as the Roughriders take on Pima Community College Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Prescott Valley. The Roughriders host the NJCAA West District Tournament beginning today at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier, File)

Yavapai’s Jose Perez Flores (25) brings the ball toward the box as the Roughriders take on Pima Community College Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Prescott Valley. The Roughriders host the NJCAA West District Tournament beginning today at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier, File)

NJCAA West District Tournament

SNOW COLLEGE (UTAH)

Region: 18

2017 Record: 13-6-0

All-time vs. Yavapai: 0-1-0

Last Meeting: Sept. 9, 2017 – Yavapai 3, Snow 1 (in Prescott Valley)

Players to watch: Sam BamberLister (15 goals scored), James Pena (10 goals, three assists), Renan Gomez (five goals, five assists)

Coach: Nuno Gourgel

Fun Fact: Yavapai trailed Snow, 1-0, at halftime in their first meeting Sept. 9. But the Roughriders went on to score in the 55th, 60th and 70th minutes, as William Baynham netted two goals and Jose Perez Flores tallied a goal and an assist for the victory.

PIMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Region: 1

2017 Record: 16-3-3

All-time vs. Yavapai: 7-60-7

Last Meeting: Oct. 28, 2017 – Yavapai 2, Pima 1 (NJCAA Region I, Division I championship in Tucson)

Players to watch: Julian Gaona (15 goals, five assists), Chris Cooper (six goals, 11 assists), David Silva (16-3-3 record, 0.84 goals against average, 70 saves)

Coach: Dave Cosgrove

Fun Fact: This fall, Pima sophomore midfielder AJ Valenzuela received 2017 ACCAC/Region I Player of the Year honors and coach Dave Cosgrove earned his sixth ACCAC/Region 1 Coach of the Year award. Pima shared the ACCAC regular-season title with Yavapai.

OTERO COLLEGE (COLORADO)

Region: 8

2017 Record: 11-5-2

All-time vs. Yavapai: 0-1-0

Last Meeting: Nov. 9, 2013 – Yavapai 3, Otero 0

Players to watch: Gimale Essacu (eight goals, five assists), Salvador Jimenez (eight goals, four assists), Kevin Chavez (eight goals, four assists)

Coach: Christopher Smith

Fun Fact: In 2013, Yavapai coach Mike Pantalione set a new national record for the most career coaching wins in NJCAA soccer history with 535 victories when the Roughriders shut out Otero, 3-0, in the West District title match at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott.

You could call Yavapai College sophomore attacker Carlo Quesada of Las Vegas a Classic Rock aficionado. A year ago Thursday, during the Roughriders’ men’s soccer team trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the NJCAA Division I West District Tournament, the squad made the first of two stops in Winslow.

Yavapai coach Mike Pantalione, a music buff in his own right, gathered his players to stand “on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” the most famous part of the lyrics from the hit Eagles song, “Take It Easy,” released in 1972.

Winslow marks a corner in town, one complete with statues and a sign that reads, “Standin’ On The Corner,” to honor the tune. Perhaps as expected, few, if any, of the 2016 Roughriders’ players understood what Pantalione was talking about – except for Quesada, who knows the tune’s lyrics and can sing them.

“I was one of the only ones who knew what that meant,” Quesada said. “A lot of the guys don’t even know who the Eagles are, you know?”

Although Yavapai – which backed into the district round when region finalists Phoenix and Pima were disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct last fall – lost to eventual national runner-up Trinidad State (Colorado) at district, the Roughriders’ 13 current sophomores learned from the travails of their travels.

Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott. That’s where Yavapai prepared to host a district semifinal match versus Snow College (Utah) at 3 p.m. today. Instead of standing in Winslow, Quesada stood comfortably on Lindley’s freshly-mowed grass field near a much more familiar corner at the intersection of Washington and Gurley streets in Prescott.

“This is a great opportunity,” Quesada said. “We fought hard for this. We wanted home-field advantage, and that’s the reason we really wanted to beat Pima [for the region title in Tucson Oct. 28], and we did. Last year we were on the road – it was an 18-hour drive, it was excruciating. There was pain and agony going all the way to Wyoming. But not this year. That’s going to help us out a lot. I’m really grateful for that.”

Added Yavapai sophomore defender Ricardo Nunez-Arellano, “It’s exciting, because we already know kind of what it feels like to be in that type of game [in districts]. We’re going to go with that mentality that we had last year, and this time try to come away with the result.”

If the Roughriders beat Snow, they will qualify for the NJCAA Division I National Tournament Nov. 13-15, 17 and 18, at Mountain Valley Park Amphitheater in nearby Prescott Valley. They have won seven straight matches, including three victories in a span of 10 days, from mid- to late-October, against nationally-ranked foes Arizona Western, Phoenix and Pima.

“It’s about the present right now, and we’ve been playing good soccer for the past month,” Pantalione said. “Hopefully, we can keep it up. The players are so cooperative. We hope they get the opportunity to play at the national tournament.”

WEST DISTRICT MATCHUPS

On Tuesday, Yavapai College’s athletic department announced the participants in the four-team district tournament, including Region 1 champion Yavapai and runner-up Pima, as well as Region 8 titlist Otero College (Colorado) and Region 18 winner Snow.

Today in the district semifinals, Otero (11-5-2 overall record) faces No. 8-ranked Pima (16-3-3) at noon, followed by Snow (12-6-2) versus No. 5 Yavapai (19-2-3) at Lindley.

The winners play for the district championship at 3 p.m. Saturday, also at Lindley.

Admission into the three-game tournament is $5 per adult and $3 per student. Children ages 6 and younger get in free.

On Sept. 9, Yavapai defeated Snow, 3-1, in a non-conference match in Prescott Valley. Pantalione said both teams are playing much different soccer than they did two months ago, though. At the Region 18 Tournament Oct. 27 and 28, Snow knocked out Salt Lake, 3-2, in the semis and Southern Nevada, 7-6, in the title match on the road.

Nunez-Arellano said playing solid defense and scoring early in the match will be important vs. Snow today.

“As the season progresses, every team changes – they get better and maybe some different players come in,” Nunez-Arellano added. “It creates a different style of play. From what we’ve heard and seen from them playing, they’re a different team now than they were back then. We’re just adjusting to what the coaches are telling us and the way that they play, and we’re just going to try to do what they tell us to be successful.”

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The two teams that advance to Saturday’s district title match receive automatic berths into the 12-team NJCAA Division I National Tournament, while the season ends for the two teams that lose in the semis.

Seven-time national champion Yavapai last qualified for nationals in 2013, when it finished third.

If the Roughriders capture the district title, they would claim their 21st victory of the season and their 21st national tournament appearance since 1990. A win Friday would hand Yavapai its 21st 20-win season since Pantalione established the program in 1989.

On Oct. 28, the Roughriders edged Pima, 2-1, to snare the Roughriders’ 22nd NJCAA Region 1, Division I championship since 1990. This fall, Yavapai leads all of NJCAA Division I in goals scored with 120. That mark is second only to the Roughriders’ 1993 squad, which owns the program record with 134 goals scored.

The 12-team field for nationals will be announced Saturday night. Pairings, seedings, groups and game times for the tournament will follow on Tuesday, Nov. 7. A banquet kicks off the tourney festivities at 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at Prescott Valley Event Center. Current Northern Arizona University women’s soccer coach and former Roughrider Andre Luciano will serve as the keynote speaker.

Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.