Greg Hansen: Pima College men's soccer reaches high

2011-11-04T00:00:00Z 2011-11-04T06:56:49Z Greg Hansen: Pima College men's soccer reaches highGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 04, 2011 12:00 am  • 

College sports dynasties in this state have nothing to do with Arizona or ASU. They belong to Central Arizona College's women's basketball team and to the Yavapai College men's soccer team.

Here's some context: CAC is 729-47 in women's hoops. As recently as last year it had won 167 consecutive league games. It is UConn of the desert and then some.

Yavapai's men's soccer team is just as imposing. Is that possible? It is.

"When you play at their field, it is the most formidable environment junior college soccer can create," Pima College coach Dave Cosgrove says. "You are a massive underdog."

A week ago, the Aztecs made the long drive to Prescott to play for the region championship. Cosgrove knows the lopsided numbers so well that he delivers them from memory.

Yavapai entered the game 244-8-1 at Lindley Field. This year's Roughriders team was 19-0-3. Every year, almost without fail, Cosgrove positions Pima as a Top 20 program, a national contender, and then along comes the Big Bad Bully from Gurley Street, turning you upside down, emptying your pockets and dropping you on your head.

On Saturday night in Prescott, Pima beat the bullies 2-0.

After he had 48 hours to absorb the warmth, Cosgrove was back on the job, scouting high school players (on Halloween night), working his day job as director of player development for the 1,000-member Tucson Soccer Academy, and preparing for today's NJCAA West District semifinal against Northwest College of Powell, Wyo.

"These are crazy hours and it never seems to stop or slow down, and besides, we've got a lot to sell right now," he says, "but this time, the drive home from Prescott didn't seem so long. That's why I keep doing this: it's all so unpredictable. I can't think of anyone in the city who has a better job than I have."

Fifteen minutes before Saturday's region title game, Cosgrove's star goalkeeper, Sahuaro grad Daniel Bacon, doubled over in agony, seemingly unable to play. The pinkie finger on his right hand had been dislocated by a practice kick, bent to 90 degrees.

It took two trainers to pop Bacon's finger back in place.

Two hours later Bacon was the MVP of the region tournament, an inspiring three-game playoff sweep in which the Aztecs not only chopped down the ACCAC's equivalent of the 1927 Yankees, but also went to Yuma to stun then-No. 9 Arizona Western.

No team in the history of the ACCAC had survived three playoff games (in six days) to advance to the district championships. Pima is the first.

There was joy but no runaway giddiness. That's because, in the larger picture, a Tucson team winning the men's regional shouldn't be eyebrow-raising.

This is a soccer city if it is anything. Across the last 25 years, Tucson teams have won a cumulative 35 state championships in boys and girls high school soccer. And it was Cosgrove himself who played on Pima's 1988 NJCAA national runner-up team, and then coached the Aztecs to the 1999 NJCAA championship game.

"Yavapai's history is such that anytime someone beats them, eliminates them, it's news," says Wolfgang Weber, a four-time state championship coach of the Salpointe boys team, and founder of the inestimable Tucson Soccer Academy. "Everyone in the soccer community is excited about this; it has been a long time coming."

Cosgrove quietly won his 200th career game at Pima this season, but there was nothing quiet about the way he replaced perhaps the two leading players in school history, All-Americans Donny Toia, now on the roster of the MLS's Real Salt Lake, and Minh Vu, who has been a Big Ten Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week at Penn State.

It will take considerable noise to defeat the Wyoming team today, and come back Saturday and eliminate long-time power North Idaho College. Cosgrove will attempt to get to the NJCAA finals with a roster of Southern Arizonans: 20 of his 22 players are homegrown, a testament to the TSA and the nature of soccer in this corner of the map.

By comparison, Northwest College will field a roster that includes five Brazilians, eight players from Florida and two from England.

"It's a little ironic to see Pima reach this point," says Weber. "Everybody felt that Dave had the horses to get it done last year, with Minh and Donny, but that shows you it's not the individual, it's the program. You keep doing things the right way and sooner or later the rewards follow."

Reaching today's semifinal isn't Cosgrove's idea of a reward. Rewarding, yes. But the reward will come only if the Aztecs sweep the weekend and play for the NJCAA title in two weeks.

The Aztecs start a lineup that represents the entire Tucson valley: Sabino's Jeff Weiler, Salpointe's Phil Porter, Sunnyside's Oscar Ortega and Mountain View's Nick Peppe are key figures on a club that played its best soccer when it needed it most.

Now it is a team that seeks to go beyond Tucson, and beyond the magical night in Prescott.

If you go

• What: Northwest College (Powell, Wyo.) at Pima College

• Where: Pima College West Campus soccer field

• When: 2:30 p.m. today

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