Yavapai Rests in
Preparation for Championship

TYLER, Texas -- Saturday's off-day at the NJCAA Tournament was just that - quiet, low-key, uneventful.

The 2007 Roughriders held their final practice as a team with little discussion and even less physical conditioning. They jogged. They stretched. Then it was back to the hotel to sit and think about what lay ahead as concentration and focus took over.

"Really the final comments were made today," YC head coach Mike Pantalione said Saturday via a telephone interview from Tyler, Texas. His Roughriders face Georgia Perimeter Sunday afternoon to decide the national championship.

"We're not the type of coaches to clutter their minds with last-minute details. We do that in preparation throughout the week, and in a way it's through reminders throughout the season. We've worked four months leading to this match."

Actually, the program has worked 17 years leading to the match. Yavapai College firmly established itself onto the JUCO men's soccer map with the first of its five national titles 17 years ago to the day - Nov. 18, 1990.

Back then the Roughriders were a surprising yet fledgling club. Playing in only the program's 39th match that afternoon in Trenton, N.J., Yavapai was a solid four-goal underdog against Passiac, N.J. - one of the many upper-tier programs along the East Coast soccer corridor.

Yavapai's 2-1 win seemed then like an unpredictable anomaly. Seventeen years later, it's clear the Roughrider program was a sure thing from the outset.

More than 400 wins and five national championships later, the 2007 club can live up to the program's lofty legacy with a win today over unbeaten Georgia Perimeter (21-0-2), the top-ranked side in the nation.

"It's pretty hard, just sitting here and knowing that you've got the final match tomorrow," said sophomore Rudy Duarte, who will play in his second national championship match at noon Arizona time. "Everybody wants to play already. It's good we got a day off but we're just waiting for the big moment tomorrow at 1 o'clock."

The scene looks particularly familiar to Duarte. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound attacker out of Yuma sat out last season for medical reasons, and is therefore the only current Roughrider to have walked off the field against GPC in that fateful 2005 national title game on the losing end of a 3-1 final. That YC team brought a 20-game winning streak into the championship.

"Pretty much I want to leave that behind. This is a new season and a new team, that's what we are here for," Duarte said, reflecting on the '05 finish. "God gives us this opportunity to be here and we've got to play hard and get the result."

Duarte returned to the program in 2007 with a flourish. This season he became the vaulted program's all-time career leader in assists and has yet to slow down. In Yavapai's 3-0 semifinal win over Marshalltown (Iowa) Friday night, all three assists came from Duarte.

Not bad for a guy playing out of position.

Playing a hunch, Pantalione moved Duarte from his more natural forward spot to the attacking mid. The result has provided the offense with, in Pantalione's words, "a three-headed monster" in the form of high scorers Francis Khamis, Justin Meram and Duarte, the team's playmaker, all up top.

"It moved me into a better position where I can better help the team out," Duarte said of the switch. "I guess coach knows what he's doing and that's fine with me. As long as it works, that's fine with me."

It's worked well enough to guide the Roughriders to a 23-2-0 mark and the program's 12th national championship appearance since the team's debut at the highest level back in 1990.

"They're in good spirits," Pantalione said Saturday, summing up the mood of the team on the eve of the title game. "They've earned a national championship game appearance. It's just a matter of time before we see if they deserve a national championship."


PHOTO courtesy of Michelle Morse.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Rudy Duarte, seen in Thursday's quarterfinal win over Illinois Central in Tyler, Texas, makes his second national championship appearance with Yavapai on Sunday.

-- Article from The Daily Courier. Read it on-line at http://www.dcourier.com.

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