PRESCOTT - Day One of the journey to the national tournament is pretty well unchanged in 25 years for the Yavapai College men's soccer team.
Roughrider players report for the preseason's first practice this Monday in Prescott as the program embarks on its 25th season. Although the goal is to reach November's NJCAA Tournament for a 20th time in YC history, Monday's debut drill for the new team is refreshingly simple.
"Just let 'em play. Let them get orientated to the surroundings, to each other, and just let them play," Yavapai head coach Mike Pantalione said Friday.
"Based on what associate coach Hugh Bell and myself see on that first session, we'll develop a plan for Session 2. It's a step-by-step process. I'm not one of these coaches that have things mapped out in advance on what we're going to do on practice No. 10. We'll assess the first training session Monday morning and develop a plan for the second session. It's a daily evaluation both individually and collectively."
Even after a quarter century, with 517 program wins and seven national championships, the upcoming 2013 season is anything but typical.
The squad will welcome an entirely new roster this fall in the form of 25 new players. While the Roughriders are gunning to qualify for the 2013 national tournament in Tyler, Texas, there's a two-year plan also in place. The program is bulking up in anticipation of a sophomore-heavy lineup when the 2014 national tournament is held - for the first time ever - in Prescott and Prescott Valley.
With 19 national tournament appearances since 1990, Pantalione is acutely aware that it takes "a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck" to reach the final bracket. And he has been in this situation - with 25 new players - before. But only once.
"In a way it's 1989 all over again," he added, thinking back to the program's inaugural season.
It really will be like 1989 again when the first week of practice concludes next Saturday. The Roughriders will play an intrasquad exhibition at Lumberjack Stadium on the NAU campus in Flagstaff, in an event hosted by NAU women's soccer head coach Andre Luciano.
Luciano was the YC program's first ever goalkeeper, and helped lead the club to its first national championship in 1990.
He will reunite with Pantalione on Aug. 10. The Roughriders will play an intrasquad scrimmage at 5 p.m., followed by Luciano's NAU team playing an intrasquad scrimmage at 7:30 p.m.
The second week of practice features an exhibition match pitting Yavapai against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Aug. 17. The two Prescott clubs will tangle at 6 p.m. at Ken Lindley Field.
On Thursday, the NJCAA released its first preseason poll of the 2013 season, and Arizona was well represented.
The Roughriders came in ranked No. 5 among Division I teams in the nation. Yavapai has been ranked in every weekly poll since 1990, and has held the No. 1 position 75 times. Arizona Western earned a No. 11 ranking, and Pima received votes.
YC opens the regular season at Mountain Valley Park in Prescott Valley when Chandler-Gilbert visits for a 6 p.m. kickoff on Thursday, Aug. 22.
Also this season, Pantalione is chasing down the all-time record for most wins in the history of NJCAA men's soccer at all levels. With 517 wins, the NJCAA Hall of Famer is already the all-time Division I wins leader, and now finds himself just 17 wins behind George Vizvary, who retired from Division III Ulster County (N.Y.) College with the most wins (534) among all divisions.
The earliest Pantalione could set a new mark would be a home match against Scottsdale on Oct. 17.
"It's a special campaign coming up," he said. "We're looking forward to the 25th season of intercollegiate soccer at Yavapai College."