Yavapai Wins 6th National Title

TYLER, Texas -- The Yavapai College soccer team's sixth national title is certainly not in danger of being lost in the shuffle.

Seventeen years to the day after the Roughriders captured their first national championship in double overtime, the 2007 squad won the program's sixth crown in penalty kicks over No. 1 Georgia Perimeter, a team that had not lost all season.

In a season where Yavapai dominated or at least controlled most matches, it had to work for the biggest of them all.

The Jaguars led 1-0, 3-2 and even had a chance to end things on PKs. But the 'Riders would not be denied.

"You had to be here," Yavapai coach Mike Pantalione said. "For a team to respond with a goal down in the early going of a national title game... We've been a part of so many and witnessed so many and the team that scores first generally wins. Our guys were relentless."

Freshman Justin Meram tied the game before the half on an assist from Irving Garcia.

Francis Khamis scored his 23rd of the season early in the second half from Colby Swensen to give Yavapai the lead. But Georgia Perimeter tied it minutes later and took the lead with seven minutes to go.

With time running out, the Roughriders had a throw-in deep in Jaguar territory. Sophomore Rudy Duarte - the program's all-time assist leader - normally takes the throws, but he left in the first half with a broken foot.

Camilio Valencia took the throw and the 'Riders sent everyone to the near-post. Meram swung around to the backdoor and put away the throw to tie the game with a minute and a half remaining.

With two goals, Meram finished with three in the national tournament and nine in the postseason, tying him for third all-time in YC history.

"I don't care who scores," Meram said. "This was a team effort. We dug down. We had the heart and the desire and our goalkeeper (Sam Hayden) came up huge. He's the best goalkeeper I've ever played with."

Hayden - who said he didn't sleep the night before because he was so nervous - said he let the first goal of the game slip through. Pantalione said he made a brilliant save on the second goal but the Jaguars drove home the rebound. But the team picked him up and he came through with the game on the line.

With Yavapai shooting first, the two teams each scored on their first tries missed on the second and scored the next two.

In round five, Georgia Perimeter goalkeeper Jon Selkow made the save, giving his team a chance to end it. Pantalione said Hayden guessed right and caused Chris Ugarte to overcompensate and miss the target, keeping Yavapai alive.

The teams each scored in round six, but after seldom-used Dirk Peterson scored for the Roughriders, Hayden made the championship-clinching stop.

"I just prayed," Hayden said. "...I just needed to end it. I read it to the left and just dove."

After rallying late and staving off elimination on penalty kicks, Pantalione said, "the Yavapai mystique beat Georgia Perimeter twice today."

The Roughriders end the year with 24 wins for the fifth time in their history. They have made 17 of 18 national tournaments and appeared in 12 title matches in that span. They are now six up and six down in those games.

With the championship, the 'Riders have now had 136 different players win a national title.

"The feeling is unbelievable," team captain Denton Brown said. "I've never felt anything like this. It started as retribution for last year but by the end I just wanted to win it with this group."

Pantalione said the first championship was special because it was the first recruiting class and it put the program on the map, winning in just its 39th game ever. But he said he and associate coach Hugh Bell wanted to win it for this group of players.

Pantalione said he knew on Sept. 15, right after the program's 400th win against Chandler-Gilbert, that the team had what it took to win it all. He said that was the first game they played as a team.

"They all have memories they will cherish for the rest of their life," Pantalione said. "Another group of players bring their memories with them through the rest of their lives."


PHOTO courtesy of Vanessa E. Curry.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The celebration was on Sunday afternoon in Tyler, Texas, when the Roughriders won their sixth national title.

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

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