The Western Wyoming Community College men's soccer team is in the middle of one of its finest seasons in recent memory, and the influx of former Utah prep stars is one reason why.
Led by former Bountiful midfielder Taylor Egbert, former Davis goalkeeper Mitch Jensen and former Layton forward Greg Howard, the Mustangs (14-10) are receiving votes in the NJCAA top 20 poll for the first time in program history. They're capping their season with a trip to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Albany, Ga.
The Mustangs captured the final seed in the 12-team tournament, which features a round-robin first round, meaning each team is guaranteed two games. The Mustangs fell to undefeated Darton 3-1 in their opening game before beating Western Texas on penalty kicks in their second game. The teams played to a scoreless tie before beating Western Texas 3-1 on PKs.
"We go in as the 12th seed, and we really have nothing to lose," Egbert said. "The first seed has everything to lose. They haven't lost this season, and it takes pressure off us. But we're in it to win."
It might have been hard for the Mustangs to envision themselves winning the Region IX title and earning a berth in the national tournament earlier this season.
The Mustangs experienced internal strife throughout the season, which led to mediocre results. But after the implementation of team rules and some disciplinary action, the Mustangs went on a winning streak to end the season.
"We just came together as a team toward the end of the season," Egbert said. "There was a lot of conflict at the beginning of the season, and that's why we were a little bit up and down."
The play of Egbert, Jensen and Howard also has had much to do with the Mustangs' late success.
Coach Jeff Atkinson describes Egbert as the Mustangs' field general. The sophomore is tied for second on the team with 13 goals and first with 15 assists.
"He's kind of our offensive spark plug, so to speak," Atkinson said. "He just gets involved in everything. He takes a lot of shots, but he's unselfish at the same time and dishes out and makes sure the best shot's taken."
Meanwhile, Howard also has 13 goals, and Jensen has been a reliable keeper.
"For me, the main thing is confidence," Jensen said. "I never go into a game expecting to lose. I always go in telling myself I'm not going to get scored on."
The Mustangs have been tapping Utah's soccer pipeline for several years, and they've had enough success that other teams are starting to follow.
"I totally think that's to our advantage," Atkinson said. "I started taking advantage of the Utah connection as one of the first ones from our region. A lot of the other schools have caught on."
One such school is Northwest College, which also qualified for the NJCAA National Tournament as the No. 10 seed. The Trappers, who are ranked 18th in the NJCAA top 20 poll, have five players who played high school soccer in Utah. They lost their tournament opener 4-0 to Louisburg then fell to Cincinnati State 2-0 in their second game.