SPOTLIGHT: Yavapai shoots for greatness

In its 20th year of varsity play, the Yavapai College has enjoyed considerable success -- six NJCAA men's championships and 18 national tournament appearances.

But this year's team is on the verge of greatness. The Roughriders are 23-0-0 heading into the NJCAA Division I finals, which begin Thursday at nearby Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Ariz. No Yavapai has gone unbeaten and untied.

NJCAA D1 Men's Nationals
Quarterfinals
Nov. 20 in Phoenix
11:00 a.m. - #2 San Jacinto, Texas (16-1-2) vs. #7 South Suburban, Ill. (20-2-0)
1:30 p.m. - #3 Mercer County, N.J. (17-1-0) vs. #6 CCBC-Essex, Md. (17-2-2)
4:00 p.m. - #4 Garden City, Kan. (17-1-2) vs. #5 Georgia Perimeter, Ga. (16-3-1)
6:30 p.m. - #1 Yavapai, Ariz. (23-0-0) vs. #8 Schoolcraft, Mich. (17-1-4)
Semifinals
Nov. 20 in Phoenix
Final
Nov. 22 in Phoenix

With 10 players back from last year's national championship team, the Roadrunners are loaded. Yavapai, which has outscored its opponents, 111-9, is led by Justin Meram (28 goals, 20 assists) and Francis Khamis (28 goals, 10 assists). The defense features the back four of Chris Hunter, Jeff Bendawald, Dirk Petersen and Evan McNiel as well as goalkeepers Sam Hayden and Ivan Dizdar.

Yavapai has had a history of sending players to the pros. Among the current pros are MLS players Alan Gordon (Los Angeles), Roger Espinoza (Kansas City) and Michael Randolph (Los Angeles). Avery John and Kelvin Jack both played for Trinidad & Tobago at the 2006 World Cup. Adam Barrett plays for Southend in the third level of English soccer.

The Roughriders' national reputation and strong soccer alumni base mean players are drawn to Yavapai from all around the country. This year's team includes players from 11 different states.

JC coaches pride themselves on the opportunities that their programs give aspiring players. Here is some advice from Yavapai coach Mike Pantalione for players looking to play JC soccer ...

Advice to potential student-athletes: If a four-year school is making an investment on you and that is where you truly want to acquire your four-year degree, then go. Otherwise, you may want to consider buying your time and going the junior college route. The players coming into the Yavapai program leave with more options compared to their senior year in high school.

What kind of student-athlete excels at the JC level: The individuals that provide an honest effort both in the classroom and on the field will excel. We are looking for individuals who are serious about using soccer as a means to acquire an education. Yavapai is not interested in "one-semester wonders."

Biggest selling points of JC soccer: Save money (inexpensive in comparison to four-year schools even without a soccer scholarship); transferable credits (no Mickey Mouse courses at Yavapai; you are expected to take 16 transferable credits per semester and pursue an Associate's Degree); more options upon graduation (we have a history and tradition of moving players on); opportunity to play right away as a incoming freshmen, maturing as a person, student and player; competing for a national championship every year; and working with a full-time soccer coach, a rarity in the JUCO ranks, with no "American football" on the Yavapai campus.

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