Northern Exposure: Simon Fraser Picked In Men's Soccer Poll
Simon Fraser last won the GNAC championship in 2018. The team returns 17 total players and seven starters.
Simon Fraser last won the GNAC championship in 2018. The team returns 17 total players and seven starters.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – Seattle Pacific may have won the conference championship last year, but coaches expect Simon Fraser to return to the top spot this season.

Simon Fraser is the pick to win it all in the 2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Men’s Soccer Coaches Poll. The team received five of seven first-place votes and amassed a total of 47 points.

Western Washington, which finished a close third last year, is picked second with 40 points while the Falcons, who won their first GNAC championship since 2015, is picked third with 37 points. Both the Vikings and Falcons received one first-place vote.

Northwest Nazarene is slotted fourth with 29 points, followed by Saint Martin’s (17 pts.) and Montana State Billings (15 pts.). Western Oregon, competing in its first year of men’s soccer, is picked seventh with 11 points.

The 2021 season proved a close one with the top three teams separated by a total of four points. All three teams were in contention for the conference title until the last day of the season, with Seattle Pacific securing the title thanks to Simon Fraser’s 2-1 overtime win over Western Washington to close the conference slate.

Simon Fraser used a late October run to make its charge at the title, winning four straight at one point and closed the year by winning five of its final seven matches. The team won with defense, allowing just 20 goals all season, but scored just 17 of its own. The goalkeepers amassed a 1.23 goals against average and led the conference with seven shutouts as SFU finished 9-7-0 overall and 6-4-0 in conference play (18 pts.)

Simon Fraser, which last won the championship in 2018, returns 17 overall players and seven starters. Senior midfielder Conrad Cheng earned Second Team D2CCA All-West Region and First Team All-GNAC honors while being named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year. In 14 matches, Cheng finished with three goals, including one game-winner. Junior midfielder Mark Talisuna also earned Second Team D2CCA All-West Region and First Team All-GNAC accolades. Simon Fraser also returns a Second Team All-GNAC pick in junior midfielder Ali Zohar and an honorable mention pick in senior defender Tyler Dhillon.

Western Washington, which finished 7-8-2 overall and 5-3-2 in the GNAC (17 pts.), won five straight over the final three weeks of the season to put itself in contention for a share of the title. The Vikings ranked second to Seattle Pacific in most conference offensive statistical categories, including goals (26), assists (22) and shots (227).

The Vikings bring back 16 overall players and seven starters. Senior midfielder Gus Diehl and junior goalkeeper Brandon Locke each earned Second Team All-GNAC honors. Diehl registered two goals and an assist and was key in the Vikings’ creation in the midfield. Locke led the conference with an 0.93 goals against average in 772 minutes and averaged 4.38 saves per match. Senior Teagan Eldridge will help anchor the defense after playing in 17 matches, contributing a goal and an assist.

Seattle Pacific put together its best season in seven years under first-year head coach Kevin Sakuda, compiling a 12-4-2 overall record and a 6-2-2 conference mark to win its first GNAC title since 2015. The Falcons won 10 of their first 11 matches and six of their first seven conference tilts to set the table for its title run. Seattle Pacific led the GNAC in goals (37), assists (30), points (104), shots (255), goals allowed (19) and goals against average (1.01) and ranked fifth in Division II with 6.72 corner kicks per match.

While the Falcons return 13 players and six starters from the championship season, they must replace some key pieces in First Team All-American forward Alex Mejia and four other seniors that were all-conference standouts.

Senior forward Alden Massey earned First Team All-GNAC honors, contributing six goals and three assists. Junior Judah Johnson also returns at forward after compiling four goals and two assists. Defensively, senior goalkeeper Lars Helleren finished second in the GNAC with his 1.03 goals against average and 65 saves, allowing 19 goals in 1,655 minutes.

Picked to repeat its fourth place finish, Northwest Nazarene went 8-8-0 overall and 5-5-0 in GNAC play in John Powell’s first full season as head coach. The Nighthawks finished with 24 goals and a 1.42 goals against average, ranking third in the conference in both categories. The team closed the season with two wins, including one over Seattle Pacific on the final day of the season that left the conference title discussion open.

The Nighthawks are loaded with 24 returns and all 11 starters. Senior defender Lorenzo Valentini was a First Team All-GNAC and Third Team United Soccer Coaches All-West Region selection. Sophomore midfielder Lukas Juokunaitis was a Second Team All-GNAC choice and was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year after registering five goals, including two game-winners, along with an assist.

Saint Martin’s went 4-13 in 2021 and saved its best soccer for the end of the season, winning two of its final three matches. The Saints registered 22 goals on the season and tied for third in the conference with 17 assists. The cleanest team in the conference. Saint Martin’s amassed just 22 cautions in 17 matches and just one red card.

Sophomore forward Ethan Jud is the Saints’ top returning scorer with two goals and one assist while sophomore midfielder David Settle had one goal and three assists. Junior Hunter Askland is back at goalkeeper after placing 1,402 minutes in 2021 and leading the conference with 67 saves.

Montana State Billings is picked sixth after going 4-9-3 last season and 2-6-2 in conference play. Change is in the air for the Yellowjackets with just two returning starters and an interim head coach in Aaron Champenoy. Montana State Billings scored 23 goals and a 1.53 goals against average.

Both returning starters are in the backfield. Seniors Bryan Maxwell and Pascal Pisarek both played in all 16 matches with Maxwell contributing a goal. Junior midfielder Jeremie Briquet finished with four assists in 12 matches.

Western Oregon fields a men’s soccer team for the first time in 2022. Head coach Stan Rodrigues has built a roster with talent from all across the West. The roster includes a Division II transfer in freshman midfielder Harper Neubeck and a Division III transfer in sophomore defender Alan Rincon-Gaona.

The 2022 GNAC men’s soccer season begins with four matches Thursday, August 25, including Saint Martin’s taking on preseason No. 1 ranked Cal State LA in Burnaby, B.C. The conference schedule commences with three matches on Thursday, Sept. 22.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2021 GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Simon Fraser (5) 9-7-0 6-4-1 (18 pts., 2nd) 47
2. Western Washington (1) 7-8-2 5-3-2, 17 pts. (3rd) 40
3. Seattle Pacific (1) 12-4-2 6-2-2, 20 pts. (1st) 37
4. Northwest Nazarene 8-8-0 5-5-0, 15 pts. (4th) 29
5. Saint Martin's 4-13-0 3-7-0, 9 pts. (5th) 17
6. Montana State Billings 4-9-3 2-6-2, 8 pts. (6th) 15
7. Western Oregon N/A First Season 11
Points awarded on a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.