by Matt Benoit
The Whatcom Orcas women’s Volleyball team is looking to surface once more as a team to be reckoned with.
Last season, the Orcas, led by first-year coach Jeff McDonald, finished second in the NWAACC’s North Region standings with a 10-2 league record. They ended their 2009 postseason campaign with a 1-2 record at the NWAACC Championship Tournament. This year, the Orcas currently (as of press time) find themselves 6-5 in pre-season play.
McDonald, who returns as coach, says he attributes the losses to a still-young team, as over half of the 10 players (6) are freshmen. He’s optimistic, though, noting that the team’s first three losses were all in five-game matches.
Whatcom also finished tied for fifth out of 16 teams at the Sept. 4 Highline Fall Classic tournament in Des Moines, Wash., which McDonald says featured all of the Top 10 teams in the NWAACC.
The Orcas’ main goals, McDonald says, are to do well at the Oct. 15 Treasure Valley Crossover Tournament, and to achieve another Top 2 finish in the North Region standings.
“We look a lot bigger and stronger than last year,” says McDonald, adding that the benefit of having so many new players is the fact that they’ll be back next year. Although McDonald says his team tends to start games slowly, they have strong outside hitters.
Sabrina Schwindler, 20, is one of those outside hitters. She’s been playing volleyball since elementary school and is one of four sophomores returning to the team.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” she says. “We just need to find our chemistry.”
Emily Jovanovich, 19, a freshman and another outside hitter, agrees.
“We have a lot of talent,” she says. “If we learn how to put it together, we can do great things as a team.”
The Orcas began their pursuit of a North Region championship against Olympic Community College on Sept. 22. Their home-opener takes place on Sept. 29 in the Pavilion at 7 p.m., when they’ll take on rival Skagit Valley Community College.
The Whatcom women’s soccer team may be winless in league play so far, but that doesn’t seem to worry head coach Josh Turpen.
“I’m real optimistic with our team,” says Turpen, who led the Orcas to their first North Region championship last year on the strength of a 9-3-1 league record. The team advanced to the second round of the playoffs in only their second season of existence.
This year, Whatcom finished pre-season play with a 3-1-0 record, but is 0-3-0 (as of press time). Turpen says the team has a lot of tough games early in its league schedule, including the first three they’ve already played.
In their first game on Sept. 11, the Orcas had to take on the number one team in the NWAACC, Walla Walla Community College. Walla Walla entered 2010 as the defending conference champions after going 21-1-0 last season, including a 15-0-0 record in league play, and shut out Whatcom with a 4-0 victory.
The Orcas most recently lost 2-0 to Spokane on Sept. 18.
Even with the slow start, Turpen says victories will eventually come once Whatcom begins playing non-East Region teams, as the team has a good forward line and is full of versatile players despite having a slightly shorter roster than normal.
“We’re gonna win lots of games,” says Turpen. “We just need to keep on it.”
“I think we’re being challenged,” says Malia Grajada, 20, a team captain and forward for Whatcom who has been playing soccer since she was 6 years old. Grajada, who is one of five returning players, also feels victory is just around the corner.
“I’m very excited to win the rest of our games,” she says.
The women’s soccer team will play Treasure Valley on Sept. 24 in Ontario, Oregon. Their next home game, to be held at Orca Field, will take place Oct. 2 against Wenatchee Valley. The game starts at noon.
The Whatcom men’s soccer team, meanwhile, looks to add a sixth consecutive North Region title to their mantle this year. In 2009, the team finished with a league record of 6-2-5, and made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to Spokane Community College.
Head coach Josh Turpen says that, in addition to the goal of finishing on top in the North Region again, the team would really like to get back to the “final four” of the playoffs, something they’ve failed to do the last few seasons.
“Our goal is to get over that hump,” he says.
The Orcas finished the pre-season with a 1-2-1 record and is currently 1-1-0 in league play after a 4-1 win against Spokane on Sept. 18. In their first game, a 3-2 loss to Walla Walla on Sept. 11, Whatcom held a 2-1 lead in the game until the eighty-first minute, when consecutive goals by Walla Walla’s Mikey Ramos kept the Orcas from swimming away with a victory.
“It was just a heartbreaker,” said Turpen of the loss. “It was our game.”
Turpen says the team has a “strong, talented attack” and forwards capable of kicking over a dozen goals apiece. But even though Whatcom has outplayed many of their opponents so far this year, Turpen says they have given up easy goals. “That’s our challenge,” he added. “How do we finish the games?”
The team, which Turpen says is a mix of old and new students, including transfers from Western Washington University, has just six returning players this season. With so many new athletes, Turpen adds that everyone must be on the same page to achieve success. “We’re not quite firing on all cylinders yet, but we’re close,” he says.
The Orca men’s soccer team next plays on Sept. 24 against Treasure Valley. Their next home game comes Oct. 2 at Orca Field, when they’ll face Wenatchee Valley. The game begins at 2 p.m.