For the Yavapai College soccer team, Friday’s NJCAA Division I West District Tournament semifinal match against Snow College (Utah) at Ken Lindley Field in Prescott had the word “redemption” written all over it.
Redemption for an iconic program that has won a record seven national championships since the program’s founding in 1990.
Redemption for the 2014 Roughriders, who missed out on playing on their own field when nationals came to Prescott and Prescott Valley for the first time that year.
And redemption for 29th-year Yavapai coach Mike Pantalione, whose Roughriders didn’t qualify for nationals from 2014-2016.
Sophomore attacker Carlo Quesada notched two goals and an assist, freshman forward Jose Perez Flores tallied a goal and two assists, and John Scearce and Alexander Guadron added a goal apiece late in regulation, leading Yavapai to a convincing 5-1 victory over Snow College, qualifying the hosts for their 21st all-time appearance at nationals.
“The whole squad – everybody’s very happy about what we’ve done as a team,” Roughriders sophomore defender Johnny Ramirez said. “We came out and played, but we’re not done yet. We’ve still got to go and do what we’ve got to do at nationals.”
The Region 1 champion Roughriders will face familiar ACCAC foe Pima Community College for the district title at 3 p.m. today at Lindley Field. ACCAC co-champion Pima eliminated Region 9 champion Otero Junior College (Colorado), 2-1 in overtime, in the district’s other semifinal match earlier Friday. Yavapai has a 1-0-2 record against Pima this fall and is riding an eight-game winning streak. The district winner receives a higher seed at nationals.
“Ever since my first year last year, in 2016, it’s been the goal to make it to nationals,” Yavapai sophomore attacker John Scearce said. “We were unfortunate to not make it last year, even though we had the same opportunity. But it feels good to finally go in and qualify with a solid team.”
With their victories, Yavapai and Pima automatically made nationals Nov. 13-15, 17 and 18, at Mountain Valley Park Amphitheater in Prescott Valley. The top two teams from the west district were awarded berths into the 12-team national tournament, which Yavapai will host.
“We didn’t really feel too much pressure – we knew we had to win and what we had to do to win, and we’ve been doing that the last seven games now,” Yavapai freshman attacker William Baynham said of Friday’s match. “We came out with a game plan and stuck to it.”
In their district semifinal Friday, the Roughriders grabbed a 1-0 lead 14-1/2 minutes into the first half when Quesada found Perez Flores, who scored from 12 yards out in the box.
Although Yavapai struggled for the last 30 minutes of the half to find the back of the net, the Roughriders made up for it in the final 45 minutes of regulation Friday.
Less than 5 minutes into the second half, Quesada drained Yavapai’s second goal on an assist from Perez Flores, again in the box, on a 10-yard blast.
Trailing 2-0, Snow briefly put a scare in Yavapai with 15 minutes left in regulation when Taylor Banuelos headed a ball into the net on a free kick from Jerry Cota.
However, clinging to a 2-1 edge, the Roughriders responded quickly to put the game away. Within a minute-plus of each other, in the 78th and 79th minutes, Scearce scored on an 8-yard header off a Perez Flores corner kick and Quesada converted his second goal of the match on a feed from David Gandara in the box for a 4-1 lead.
“Give the players all the credit in the world,” Pantalione said. “There was a lot of pressure on them to qualify for a national tournament. They worked hard all season long, and they deserve to qualify. I’m so happy for them.”
Minutes later, Pantalione pulled his starters, including goalkeeper Tyler Trump. In the final 1:07, Guadron broke free to score in the box on a pass from freshman attacker Angel Lujan for the 5-1 advantage that stood.
“It was a completely different ballgame in the second half,” Yavapai defender Ricardo Nunez-Arellano said. “We just did what we normally did, and just go at them. We conceded one goal, but we bounced back.”
Snow ended its season with a 13-7-0 overall record and dropped to 0-2-0 against Yavapai this fall. On Sept. 9, the Roughriders beat the Badgers, 3-1, in Prescott Valley.
“Compared to last season – it’s our second year as a program – we made it to the [Region 18] final last year and lost, made it to the final this year and won,” Banuelos said. “We’ve had a great season. We’ve lost some games that we probably shouldn’t have lost, but I’m just happy that we made it this far.”
Yavapai not only recorded its 21st 20-win season in program history Friday; the squad will be making its 21st national tournament appearance since 1990 this month. The Roughriders have won seven national titles and six national runner-up trophies.
For now, Yavapai’s focused on battling Pima in a quest to earn the program its 21st district crown in 29 seasons.
“This program is built off of winning titles and being prestigious with winning,” said Nunez-Arellano, “and we want to add to that.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.