Bearcats are Picked to Finish Fourth in NWC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll

Max Berner-Hays (Jr., D, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS)
Max Berner-Hays (Jr., D, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University men's soccer team is picked to finish fourth in the Northwest Conference according to the 2019 NWC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll. The NWC head coaches voted in the poll, but could not vote for their own team.

The Bearcats earned an 11-4-4 record in 2019, including an 8-3-3 mark in the NWC (3rd place). Whitman College, which tied Pacific Lutheran University for the NWC title a year ago, was chosen to win the title outright.

Whitman received four first place votes and 46 points in the poll, to edge out PLU for the top spot. The Lutes followed with three first place votes and 45 points. Last year, the Blues and the Lutes tied for the NWC Championship with matching 9-3-2 records. Whitman was 10-6-2 overall, while PLU finished 13-6-2.

Top returning players for Whitman are defender Jadon Bachtold, forward Peter Stephens and goalkeeper Owen Davis-Bower. In the NWC statistics from last season, Davis-Bower led all goalies with a 0.49 goals against average and also ranked first in save percentage (.850) and fewest goals against (3). Stephens tied for fourth in the NWC with seven goals. Key returning student-athletes for Pacific Lutheran are defender Ryan Griffith and midfielder Emmanuel Saah. Griffith was named NWC Freshman of the Year in 2018.

University of Puget Sound received one more point than Willamette in the Preseason Poll to rank third with 32 points, while the Bearcats were fourth with 31 points. The Loggers return NWC Offensive Player of the Year Luke Mudock, who led the NWC with 11 goals and 25 total points last fall, while helping Puget Sound finish 9-5-4 overall, 7-3-4 in the NWC (4th place). Also back for Puget Sound is midfielder Cale Spence. Last year, Spence ranked fifth in the NWC with 16 total points on six goals and four assists.

Fifth place in the poll went to Whitworth University, just one point behind Willamette with 30 points. The Pirates went 5-11-4 overall and 4-7-3 in the NWC  last season. George Fox University, which completed its 2018 schedule at 2-12-4 overall, 1-9-4 in the NWC, was picked sixth int he poll with 18 points.

Linfield College was seventh in the poll with 15 points, and Pacific University rounded out the poll in eighth place with seven points. The Wildcsats were 6-9-3 overall and 4-7-3 in the NWC a year ago, while the Boxers finished 3-11-4 on the season, 2-9-3 in the NWC.

Max Berner-Hays (Jr., D, Seattle, WA/Ballard HS) Nicholas Ballenger (Sr., F, Salem, OR/West Salem HS/Oregon State Univ.), Mason Kelliher (Sr., GK, Wellington, N.Z./Wellington College) returning All-NWC players for the Bearcats. Other top returners for Willamette are Omar Dominguez Pascasio (Jr., D, Madras, OR/Madras HS) and Ryan Sato (So., MF, Sunnyvale, CA/Homestead HS).

Last year, Berner-Hays was named NWC Defensive Player of the Year and was selected First Team All-NWC for the second season in a row. He was chosen NWC Freshman of the Year in 2017. Berner-Hays played in 18 games in 2018 and led the team with 1,643 minutes. He was WU's top scorer with nine goals and four assists for 22 total points. He scored three game-winning goals. Berner-Hays tied for second in the NWC in both goals and points. Including one goal so far this season, Berner-Hays has scored 16 goals and earned five assists in his career, while helping the Bearcats shut out 16 opponents.

Ballenger was chosen First Team All-NWC in 2018 after being Willamette's second leading scorer with seven goals and three assists for 17 total points. He scored three goals and four assists in 2017. Ballenger has contributed two goals and one assist this season, giving him 12 goals and eight assists in his career with the Bearcats.

While playing in goal last season, Kelliher earned Second Team All-NWC honors. He registered a solid 10-3-2 record and a 0.81 goals against average to go along with a .833 save percentage. This year, he has allwoed only one goal in 355 minutes for a 0.25 GAA. Kelliher holds career statistics that include a 12-3-4 record, a 0.67 GAA and 72 saves.

Dominguez Pascasio scored three goals and one assist last fall. During his career, he has played in 36 games with 15 starts. Since moving to defender this season, he has helped the Bearcats shut out three of their first four opponents.

In 2018, Sato competed in 18 games and scored a goal and four assists for the Bearcats. This year, he has recorded two goals and one assist in four games played, including a goal and an assist in Willamette's 3-0 win over Northwest Christian University this past Sunday.

Willamette will host California Institute of Technology on Friday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. (PDT), before opening conference play on Saturday, Sept. 21 versus Whitman at 2:30 p.m. The Bearcats will conclude the first weekend of conference play by take on Whitworth at Sparks Field on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 12 p.m.

2019 NWC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Whitman (4), 46, 10-6-2 overall, 9-3-2 in NWC in 2018
2. Pacific Lutheran (3), 45 points, 13-6-2 overall, 9-3-2 in NWC
3. Puget Sound (1), 32 points, 9-5-4 overall, 7-3-4 in NWC
4. Willamette, 31 points, 11-4-4 overall, 8-3-3 in NWC
5. Whitworth, 30 points, 5-11-4 overall, 4-7-3 in NWC
6. George Fox, 18 points, 2-12-4 overall, 1-9-4 in NWC
7. Linfield, 15 points, 6-9-3 overall, 4-7-3 in NWC
8. Pacific, 7 points, 3-11-4 overall, 2-9-3 in NWC

Note: Points were awarded on an 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Coaches could not vote for their own team.