By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's soccer team will start the 2019 regular season by taking on Howard Payne University and Trinity University this weekend in San Antonio, Texas. Both games will be played at Paul McGinlay Soccer Field on the Trinity campus, the site of Willamette's 2017 NCAA Tournament game against University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas). UMHB edged the Bearcats 1-0 in that first round match-up.
This weekend, the Bearcats will play the Yellow Jackets of Howard Payne (Texas) on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. CST/4 p.m. PST. WU will battle the Tigers of Trinity (Texas), ranked #9 in the NCAA Division III Preseason Poll, on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. CST/5 p.m. PST. Willamette finished last season with an 11-4-4 overall record, including 8-3-3 in the Northwest Conference (3rd place).
Max Berner-Hays (Jr., D, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS), who was chosen NWC Freshman of the Year in 2017 and was NWC Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, leads a trio of returning All-NWC players for the Bearcats. Berner-Hays earned First Team All-NWC honors for the second time last season, while Nicholas Ballenger (Sr., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS/Oregon State Univ.) was chosen First Team All-NWC for the first time. Mason Kelliher (Sr., GK, Wellington, N.Z./Wellington College) was named Second Team All-NWC.
Kelliher also received First Team Google Cloud NCAA Division III Academic All-District VIII honors for the 2018 season in voting by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Players named to the Academic All-District VIII Team were starters or key reserves with cumulative grade point averages of 3.3 or higher (4.0 scale). Only 11 players were chosen in CoSIDA District VIII, which includes the western United States.
Berner-Hays was a standout for the Bearcats last year at both ends of the field. He started 18 games and ranked first on the team with 1,643 minutes played. He helped the Bearcats limit opponents to just 19 goals in 19 games, while recording six shutouts. Berner-Hays also led the Bearcats in scoring with nine goals and four assists for 22 total points. He tied for second in the NWC in goal scoring and total points. He took 39 shots and placed 20 shots on goal. He tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals.
On his way to being named NWC Freshman of the Year in 2017, he was the only Bearcat to start all 18 regular season games, while leading the team with six goals and one assist for 13 points. He helped WU tie for the NWC Championship, as the Bearcats received the NWC's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament. Overall, he played in 19 games as a freshman and helped the Bearcats limit opponents to 19 goals, including just 11 goals in the final 17 games.
Ballenger ranked second on the Willamette scoring chart last year, as he contributed seven goals and three assists for 17 total points. Ballenger led the Bearcats with 57 total shots and 30 shots on goal. He played in all 19 games with 16 starts. He also was second on the team in scoring in 2017, when he tallied three goals and four assists for 10 points. During the past two years, Ballenger has scored 10 goals and provided seven assists for 27 total points.
Kelliher became Willamette's starting goalkeeper last season after being a forward in 2017. As the goalie, he achieved an impressive 10-3-2 record with a 0.81 goals against average and a .833 save percentage. He led the WU defense to five solo shutouts and one shared shutout, while making 62 saves. Including two starts in goal as a freshman in 2016, Kelliher has played in 18 games in the nets. He has made 16 starts in goal and has earned an 11-3-2 record as well as a 0.77 career goals against average and a .844 career save percentage.
Other top returning players for the Bearcats on defense include Omar Dominguez Pascasio (Jr., D, Madras, OR/Madras HS), Adhre Sparks (Jr., D, Lakewood, CA/Los Alamitos HS) and Tam Proctor (So., D, Seattle, WA/The Northwest School). Dominguez Pascasio, who also has seen action in the midfield, scored three goals and one assist last fall. Sparks played in 15 games with 11 starts in 2018, while Proctor saw action in 18 games with 10 starts.
Willamette Head Coach Jared Rust is starting his first season as the leader of the Bearcats. Prior to being named head coach, Rust was an assistant coach for the Bearcats on two occasions covering a total of six years from 2011-13 and 2016-18.