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Sun, Feb. 23

Roughriders open with No. 1 ranking

Vanessa E. Curry/Courtesy<br>The last time the Roughriders took the field, they left with the program's sixth national championship this past November.

Vanessa E. Curry/Courtesy<br>The last time the Roughriders took the field, they left with the program's sixth national championship this past November.

PRESCOTT - Not that last season will be easy to top, but the Yavapai College soccer team is picking up where it left off.

The Roughriders earned the nation's No. 1 ranking in the NJCAA's preseason poll, released Thursday. The ranking was expected, however, since the poll's top seven spots feature the top seven finishing clubs from the 2007 season.

The defending national champions earned the program's 64th No. 1 ranking since the program's inception in 1989. The team embarks on Yavapai's 20th season Aug. 23 at home against Mesa.

"Our goals and objectives have not changed. That's to win the conference, region, district and nationals," head coach Mike Pantalione said Thursday. "Regardless of where we start in the preseason poll, none of that matters until the results come out in November. But in the meantime it's certainly great publicity for the college and the soccer program."

The Roughriders rallied from two deficits to down Georgia Perimeter in a dramatic shootout round to clinch the program's sixth national championship last November. Perimeter checks in at No. 2 on the preseason poll.

Pima also represented the Arizona league on the poll, slated at No. 12 overall.

The Yavapai players report for preseason camp next Thursday. Pantalione hasn't spoken to anyone on the roster about the No. 1 ranking, but figures the word will be out thanks to the Internet.

"The players know. They'll know anything statistically-speaking about college soccer. It's easy to find and they're well aware of it," he said. "Our immediate goal is to be prepared for Mesa Community College in our home, conference and season opener Aug. 23."

That first practice session at Ken Lindley Field is as much about chemistry-building as it is evaluation. It will be a meet-and-greet for the new team followed by some school paperwork in the morning hours and the first workout that afternoon at which the players will divide into three teams for drills.

"We watch all the players closely to check out their health and fitness and their individual ability. But basically we let them be themselves and have fun," Pantalione said. "We'll get things together in the second session. The second session will be dictated by the first session."

The Roughriders have little more than a week before taking the field for the first time. The team will travel to Irvine, Calif., to meet Irvine Valley in the exhibition opener Aug. 16. Another scrimmage follows the next day against Mt. San Antonio in Walnut, Calif.

The season opens for real with Mesa as Yavapai plays three of its first four games at home. The Mesa match is at Lindley, but the team's annual home tournament - featuring games against Western Nebraska and Dakota County, Minn. - shifts over to Mountain Valley Park in Prescott Valley.

The Roughriders won't return to Lindley until Scottsdale visits on Sept. 10.

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