Into The North: SFU & WWU Top GNAC Men’s Soccer Poll
Simon Fraser and Western Washington both earned 44 points in the 2023 GNAC Men's Soccer Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing second and third in the conference last season, respectively.
Simon Fraser and Western Washington both earned 44 points in the 2023 GNAC Men's Soccer Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing second and third in the conference last season, respectively.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – One thing is clear from the 2023 GNAC Men’s Soccer preseason poll, the road to the conference title is predicted to head north with Simon Fraser and Western Washington tied for the No. 1 ranking.

Both the Red Leafs and the Vikings finished last season in the hunt for the GNAC championship until the final week of the season with SFU finishing runner-up and WWU right behind in third place. Coaches couldn’t separate the two in preseason voting, with both teams receiving 44 points. Last year’s GNAC champion Northwest Nazarene was third with 35 points. Seattle Pacific was fourth (30 pts.), Montana State Billings fifth (21 pts.) with Saint Martin’s and Western Oregon tied for 6th with 11 points each. Simon Fraser received four of the seven first-place votes. Western Washington picked up two and Northwest Nazarene garnered one.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2022 GNAC Record (Finish) Points
T1. Simon Fraser (4) 11-5-1 8-3-1 (2nd) 44
T1. Western Washington (2) 12-4-3 8-4-0 (3rd) 44
3. Northwest Nazarene (1) 15-4-3 9-2-1 (1st) 35
4. Seattle Pacific 7-6-6 6-3-3 (4th) 30
5. Montana State Billings 5-9-3 3-6-3 (5th) 21
T6. Saint Martin's 2-14-2 2-9-1 (6th) 11
T6. Western Oregon 2-13-2 1-10-1 (7th) 11

Points awarded on a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.

Simon Fraser will look to go one better in the standings after finishing second in the conference with an 8-3-1 record last year (11-5-1 overall). The Red Leafs were one of the best defensive teams in the GNAC last season, tied for first in the conference with 17 goals allowed and second with just one goal allowed per game on average.

Simon Fraser is set to return a strong batch of starters despite losing a pair of all-conference selections in 2022 GNAC Player of the Year Mark Talisuna and forward Alan Soto. The Red Leafs have six members of the starting 11 back for 2023, including first team all-GNAC honoree Devin O’Hea. A senior forward from North Vancouver, B.C., O’Hea ranked second on the team and was tied for sixth in the GNAC with 14 points. In 17 matches, he tallied six goals and three assists.

Senior defender Niko Papakyriakopoulos returns to the back line after starting all 17 matches for SFU and earning second Team all-GNAC honors. Papakyriakopoulos was not only a key part of the Red Leafs’ defensive strategy, but also contributed to the offensive output, tallying 12 points on three goals and six assists.

Western Washington enters the season as one of the favorites to win it all and returns seven starters, including five all-GNAC honorees. Western Washington ended its 2022 campaign with an 8-4-0 record (12-4-3 overall). The Vikings led the conference in shutouts (10), goals against average (0.89), assists (40 ) and assists per game (2.11). On the offensive side, they ranked second in the GNAC with 106 points and third with 33 goals.

Western Washington returns both of its top-scoring threats from 2022 in first team all-GNAC forwards Albin Jonsson and Andrew Rotter. Johnsson enters his sophomore year for the Vikings after scoring nine goals with five assists to be named the GNAC Freshman of the Year and recognized with United Soccer Coaches second team all-west region honors. He started all but one game in his first season while leading the conference in points, points per game, goals and goals per game.

In addition to pure goal scoring, Rotter was one of the best passing players in the conference. He tied for fourth in the GNAC with five assists and 0.28 assists per game. Rotter also netted four goals of his own to tie for ninth in the conference with 13 points.

Senior goalkeeper Brandon Locke looks set to take over the net for WWU after playing in three matches while backing up first team-all GNAC keeper Patrick Restum. Locke earned a record of 2-1-0 through 270 minutes last year, making 11 saves and allowing just two goals for an .846 save percentage and a 0.67 goals against average. Both of his victories came via shutouts.

Northwest Nazarene enters the new season on the back of its first GNAC title in program history. The Nighthawks compiled a 9-2-1 conference record before pressing on to the NCAA Super Region 4 Final and ending the season with a 15-4-3 overall record. En route to the super region final, Northwest Nazarene led the GNAC with 113 points, 39 goals, 267 shots, 1.77 goals per game, 35 assists, 1.59 assists per game, 80 saves and seven shutouts.

The Nighthawks are the only GNAC team to also feature in the United Soccer Coaches Division II National Preseason Poll. Northwest Nazarene is ranked No. 6 in the division by coaches across the country after a postseason run where the team proved to be a giant killer. Also featuring in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll are Cal State Dominguez Hills (No. 10) and Cal State LA (No. 13) who the Nighthawks defeated 2-1 and 3-2, respectively, in the postseason.

First-year head coach James Williamson returns 15 players from last season, including six of the starting 11. Junior midfielder Jonathan Cardona is the top offensive returner for the Nighthawks. Cardona ranked third for NNU and was tied for sixth in the conference with 14 points. He recorded 10 assists and added two goals of his own.

The leading goal-scorer returning for NNU is junior forward Sullivan Smith. The Fall City, Washington native notched five goals and added one assist through 22 matches. Also returning in the midfield is senior Ethan Atterberry, a first team all-GNAC and United Soccer Coaches second team all-west region selection. Atterberry ranked sixth for Northwest Nazarene in scoring last season with two goals and four assists.

Senior goalkeeper and honorable mention all-GNAC selection Sawyer Price will be back in net for the Nighthawks after ranking second in the GNAC last season with 77 saves. Starting all 22 matches, Price amassed a 15-4-3 record, a 1.18 goals against average, a .748 save percentage and seven shutouts while playing just under 2,000 minutes.

Seattle Pacific is predicted to finish in fourth this season after finishing last year in the same position with a 6-3-3 conference record (7-6-6 overall). The Falcons were one of the top offensive teams in the conference last season leading the GNAC in goals per game (1.79) and shots (271) and were top-three in points (95), goals (34), assists (27), assists per game (1.42), goals allowed (21), goals against average (1.11), shutouts (9) and corner kicks (120).

Sophomore forward Andrew Tran returns after leading the Falcons with 13 points through 13 games. Tran was also the top goal-scorer for SPU, tallying five and adding three assists. Sophomore midfielder Cameron Yriondo returns after a freshman season where he recorded three goals and one assist in 19 matches and was named an honorable mention all-GNAC selection.

The Falcons will look to get a further offensive boost from junior midfielder Raymundo Mendez who joins the team after transferring from 2022 NWAC champion Columbia Basin. Mendez was a potent scoring threat for the Hawks, recording 60 points with 22 goals and 16 assists across three seasons.

On the defensive side, honorable mention all-GNAC senior defender Evan Aune will look to anchor the back line once again. Aune started all but two of SPU’s games last season, logging 1,463 minutes on the pitch. The Falcons will have to look for a new leader between the pipes this season after first team All-GNAC and third-team All-American goalkeeper Lars Helleren wrapped up his collegiate career last season. Senior goalkeepers Cam Welty and Matthew Samson will be favorites to take over the net after not allowing a goal in three combined appearances.

Montana State Billings is also predicted to stay put in the standings after finishing the 2022 campaign fifth in the conference with a 5-9-3 record (3-6-3 GNAC). The Yellowjackets ranked fourth in the GNAC with 67 points, 23 goals, 1.35 goals per game, 210 shots, 21 assists and 1.24 assists per game. The team sees 12 players return, including seven starters.

Senior midfielder and honorable mention all-GNAC selection Callum Bryan leads the offensive returners for MSUB. In 17 matches, Bryan notched five goals and three assists. His 13 points ranked second on the team and tied for ninth in the conference. Bryan’s five goals also tied for seventh in the GNAC.

Defensively, the Yellowjackets return starting goalkeeper senior Jeremi Campagnolo who compiled a 4-9-3 record through 16 matches. Campagnolo made 54 saves and recorded two shutouts in net through 1,404 minutes. Sophomore defender Kolja Thomas also returns after a season where he added offense as well as defense for the Yellowjackets. In 14 matches, Thomas notched two goals to tie for fifth on the team with four points.

Saint Martin’s is tied for sixth in the poll after finishing sixth in the GNAC with a 2-9-1 record (2-14-2 overall) last season. The Saints return the majority of last year’s roster with eight starters back for the new season. The returners are led by one of the conference’s top scorers from 2022 in junior forward Ethan Jud.

Jud was tied for fourth in the GNAC with 15 points last season. His seven goals were also tied for fourth while his 0.83 points per game pace ranked sixth in the conference. Jud’s offensive performances earned him honorable mention all-GNAC recognition. He was also named the GNAC Men’s Soccer Player of the Week after recording a first-half hat trick against Western Oregon.

Junior midfielder Diego Andrade also returns for the Saints after ranking second on the team with 11 points. Andrade was a balanced attacker for SMU, scoring four goals and dishing out three assists in 18 matches. He was a near-constant presence on the field for head coach Rob Walker, logging 1,463 minutes to rank second on the team.

Western Oregon enters the second season in program history led by first-year head coach Michael Behonick. The Wolves return 12 players from their inaugural season where they finished with a 2-13-2 record (1-10-1 GNAC). The returners include seven of last year’s starters, including sophomore forwards Alex Grignon and Abraham Villalobos who led the team in scoring.

Grignon was the top offensive threat WOU, scoring four goals and adding an assist in 15 matches for nine points. Villalobos followed Grignon with seven points coming from three goals and one assist while playing in all 17 of the Wolves’ matches to earn second team all-GNAC recognition.

Senior goalkeeper Juan Suarez also returns to the pitch for Western Oregon after starting all but one game in the Wolves’ debut season. Suarez was the busiest goalkeeper in the conference last season, making 104 saves to lead the GNAC and rank second in Division II. His 6.12 saves per game also ranked second in the division. Suarez made the most of those stops, ranking third in the GNAC with a .754 save percentage.

The 2023 GNAC men’s soccer regular season kicks off on Sunday, Aug. 31 with all but one team on the pitch. The conference slate begins on Thursday, Sept. 28 with six of the seven GNAC programs in action.