Pirates win historic third NWAC championship
TUKWILA – The Peninsula College Pirates, who won their third Northwest Athletic Conference championship Sunday, joined four other colleges as the winningest women’s soccer program in NWAC history.
The 2016 Pirates opened their season going 1-1-1 in non-conference play against the NWAC’s top three teams, giving up four goals. Peninsula then steamrolled the North Division, winning 15 straight matches to capture their sixth straight region title, before winning three straight playoff matches to claim the NWAC title. During that 18-game winning streak, the Pirates gave up a remarkable two goals.
“This is mentally the toughest team I have ever coached and this is the most enjoyable victory of my career,” said head coach Kanyon Anderson, adding that, as a relatively new head coach who won NWAC titles in 2012 and 2013, he was less able to relax and enjoy the moment.
Anderson was at the helm when Peninsula College launched the sport of women’s soccer in 2010. He took a team of 17 women, soccer players, basketball players and softball players, and managed a 6-7-6 season – and a second-place finish in the West Division.
Since that year, his Pirates have won 117 matches, lost 11 and tied seven, winning every league title (four in the West and two in the North where they moved in 2015), qualifying for the Final Four every year, and emerging as the strongest women’s community college soccer program in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. They are ranked No. 12 in the nation and almost guaranteed to move into the top 10 this week.
Peninsula’s three championships ties Columbia Basin, Tacoma, Clackamas and Walla Walla for the most in NWAC history.
“This team did everything we asked of them this year,” Anderson said. “They met every goal they set for themselves, so even when the game was tense, there was a sense that we would win.”
To say Sunday’s championship was tense might be an understatement – at least to the big crowd of Pirate fans who came from all over the West Coast, and Hawaii, to watch the icing applied to Peninsula’s championship cake.
Peninsula fans, who included a very vocal and supportive men’s soccer team, as well as members of the basketball program, outnumbered Highline fans who play their home matches at Starfire Stadium.
Those fans watched, on the edge of their seats, for two scoreless 45-minue halves, one scoreless overtime period, and five minutes into a second OT before the goal of the season ended the match and sent the Pirates into a celebration in front of the Highline goal.
That goal came when Ellie Small intercepted a Highline goal kick near midfield, heading the ball into the middle, where Bri Vallente sent a through ball to teammate Maddy Parton, creating a foot race between the freshman speedster and Highline's Tea Lopes. Parton won that race to the baseline, passed the ball back into the box through Lopes’s legs where Vallente was on a dead run toward the goal. The sophomore striker from Waikoloa, Hawaii slotted her shot between the near post and a diving Thunderbird keeper Rachel Thompson for the Pirates’ 93 goal of the season, setting off a celebration that lasted long into the damp Tukwila night.
Vallente, who missed much of the 2016 season with a severe ankle sprain, was named NWAC Soccer Tournament Most Valuable Player. She scored two goals in Friday’s 3-1 semifinal win over North Idaho and the only goal in Sunday’s championship. She finished with seven on the season.
Anderson said he had a gut feeling about Vallente.
“I just knew she was going to score a goal,” he said, adding that he had a calm confidence that his team was going to win Sunday, even as the match entered into overtime.
Sophomore Kennady Whitehead, who red-shirted her freshman year due to an injury, came back strong to play 2015 and 2016, leading the Pirates in a very key role as a defensive midfielder. The Sparks, Nevada standout was named Most Inspirational Player of the tournament.
“Kennady was a big key to disrupting the attack,” Anderson said. “She has a torn trapezius muscle and maybe a cracked rib. She is unbelievably tough and played all 105 minutes. We thought we were going to have to use two players to do the job Kennady did.”
Anderson also praised the defensive play of sophomore Kameryn Jury-Hale and freshman goal keeper Akari Hoshino.
“Kameryn was amazing too,” he said. “She showed that she is the best center-back in the league and was a huge part of our success.”
“Akari had another fantastic game,” he added. “She literally went all season without making a significant mistake. She caught everything.”
The Pirates outshot Highline 12-5, but both teams had scoring opportunities in regulation, and through a frenzied first overtime period.
The back-line play of Audrey Barham, Isabel Vega, Cierra Hamilton, and Jury-Hale, in addition to Hoshino in goal, kept a talented, fast and physical Highline attack off balance and away from the Pirate goal most of the night.
Meanwhile, Peninsula’s mid field and forwards, led by Hoku Afong, Sydney Warren, Parton, Vallente, Small, Marriah Frazier, Jazmin Ramos, Kelly Kevershan and Colby Yoshimura controlled the ball and kept pressure on the Thunderbirds throughout the night.
And while the championship was the third for head coach Anderson, it was the first for new Pirate assistant Dana De Vaughn, who put her stamp on the title with a strong recruiting season in the spring and new tactical concepts that contributed to bringing the NWAC trophy back to the Peninsula trophy case.
“We are blessed to have outstanding coaches in all four sports, but what Dana brings to the table in women’s soccer can’t be overlooked,” said Rick Ross, Associate Dean for Athletics and Student Life. “Her contribution to Kanyon’s program is remarkable, and although it’s hard to take women’s soccer to another level when they’re at the top, look for this coaching tandem to do very special things in the future.”
In Peninsula’s NWAC semifinal win over North Idaho on Friday, the Pirates struck early with a spectacular goal from freshman Warren in the 16th minute, assisted by Afong, and then added a goal from Vallente to lead 2-0 at halftime. That second goal came from a scramble in the box where the sophomore used her heel to punch the ball through the legs of the Cardinals’ keeper.
The North Idaho women closed the gap with a goal in the 77th minute, but Peninsula answered with a second goal from Vallente, assisted by Barham, to put the match out of reach.