Whitworth soccer players Matt Bray and Micheal Ramos have found their sweet spots, a big reason the Pirates are in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Before the season began, Bray was a midfielder, while Ramos wasn’t even a Pirate. Now they’re both conference Most Valuable Players and leading Whitworth to one of the most successful seasons in school history.
Transitions are never seamless, but coach Morgan Cathey has come close this year, his second at Whitworth. The 12th-ranked Pirates are 17-1-3 going into Saturday’s third-round game in Gambier, Ohio, against No. 17 Christopher Newport.
The biggest transition came before the year began. Ramos, a former star at University High and Division I Seattle University, wasn’t sure what the future held as he played last summer for the Spokane Shadow.
As it turns out, Ramos’ future was all around him. The Shadow roster included six Pirates: Bray, Karl Muelheims, Chris Rothrock, Colin Shockman and Braden Stepp – and they were doing more than connecting passes.
They were connecting.
“It was a great experience, and playing with those guys made a big difference in me coming to Whitworth,” said Ramos, a senior who’s made the most of his one season with the Pirates. His 14 goals and 12 assists are both team highs, and he was named the Offensive Player of the Year of the Northwest Conference.
“He has such a competitive drive and you don’t see that a lot,” Cathey said.
Ramos said he appreciates the Pirates’ “family-oriented” identity.
“We all are working hard on the field for each other,” Ramos said.
The move brought another goal into sharper focus for Ramos: his education.
“I figured if I didn’t go back now, I might never go back,” said Ramos, a sociology major.
“It was great for him to see the quality here, both as far as soccer and as young men,” Cathey said.
Bray was coming off a strong junior season, starting all 18 matches in midfield and earning all-NWC honorable mention honors.
Named a captain for the second straight year, Bray was moved to fill a need in central defense.
“We’re all expected to be soccer players, at every position,” Bray said.
Three months later, he was named the NWC’s Defensive Player of the Year while leading a unit that’s given up just 18 goals in 21 matches.
That defense is getting better when it matters most: Whitworth has gone 485 minutes of soccer without conceding a goal. During the last five matches, the Pirates’ defense has allowed a combined 10 shots on goal.
“He’s obviously made the transition almost seamless,” Cathey said of Bray, who prepped at Ferris. “He’s a great leader and leaves everything on the field.”
Bray also is leaving behind a legacy that Cathey calls “a benchmark and a pillar that we want to strive for as a program.”
In the immediate future, that means Saturday’s match against Christopher Newport, a team from Virginia that Cathey describes as having among the most “free” offenses he’s seen this year. That means a lot of fullbacks moving forward, the kind of challenge Cathey relishes.
“Problem-solving,” Cathey calls it, the kind that helped the Pirates play what he called one of their most complete games of the season in a 2-0 win over Berry in a second-round match last weekend.
If the Pirates win Saturday, they’ll face either Ohio Wesleyan or host Kenyon in a quarterfinal on Sunday. The survivor would play in the national semifinals on Dec. 5 in Kansas City, Missouri.
“We know that these opportunities are very unique, and everybody’s just trying to soak up the experience,” Bray said.
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