By FRANCISCO ZAPATA
The Pima Community College men’s soccer team ended last season in heartbreaking fashion after losing 2-1 in overtime during the NJCAA national semifinals to eventual champions Louisburg College of North Carolina.
Although the Aztecs finished short of a national title, they rewrote the Pima men’s soccer record books and opened the 2016-17 season ranked No. 5 in the national NJCAA pre-season poll.
The Aztecs finished the 2015-16 season with an overall record of 21-4-2, which gave them the most season wins ever by a Pima men’s soccer team.
PCC has now participated in two straight NJCAA Division I national tournaments. Last season’s third-place national finish marked the best from Pima since 1999.
Aug. 23: PCC 9, Paradise Valley CC 0
The Aztecs kicked off their season by traveling to Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix.
They quickly struck an 8-0 halftime lead and went on to deplete the host 9-0.
Sophomore Hector Banegas netted a hat trick, scoring three goals in less than 25 minutes.
Freshman Julian Gaona also provided stellar play, registering two goals and two assists.
Sophomore Andrew Bianchi scored two goals and both sophomore Juan Pablo Segura and freshman Luis Arias Jr. scored a goal apiece.
Aug. 27: PCC 7, South Mountain CC 0
The Aztecs dominated their home opener at Kino North Grandstand with a 7-0 win over South Mountain Community College of Phoenix.
Banegas scored his second straight hat trick.
He headed home a cross from freshman Gavino Carranza in the 11th minute and scored again in the 35th and 83rd minutes.
Carranza scored a goal of his own in the 19th minute, to go along with two assists.
Pima began the second half without scoring a goal for more than 20 minutes, then erupted with four goals in 12 minutes.
In addition to Banegas’ third goal, Gaona scored in the 71st and 82nd minutes and fellow freshman A.J. Valenzuela scored in the 79th minute.
“We’ve taken care of business and we’ve been very professional about our performance,” head coach David Cosgrove said of his team’s early success.
Although Pima glided through its first two games, Cosgrove knew his team had tougher opponents ahead.
“A week from tonight we’ll know what our weaknesses are and where we need to improve,” he said.
Aug. 30: PCC 2, Phoenix College 1
Pima faced its first ranked opponent when the No. 17 ranked Phoenix College Bears came to town.
Cosgrove showed tremendous respect for his opponent heading into the match, “Phoenix College is the best team in the conference, even though they’re not ranked that way.”
The Bears indeed proved to be a quality opponent, scoring the game’s opening goal a minute before halftime. Pima answered with two second-half goals for a thrilling 2-1 victory.
Cosgrove was agitated at halftime, telling his players they lacked energy and excitement. He concluded his speech by telling his team, “Raise your level, raise your energy!”
The Aztecs responded positively, with freshman Chris Cooper dancing down the right wing to whip in a deflected cross that Gaona knocked home in the 64th minute.
Pima completed its comeback in the 79th minute when Gaona grabbed his second goal of the game off a cross from Carranza
Sept. 3: PCC 1, Yavapai College 2
The Aztecs suffered their first defeat of the season with a 2-1 road loss to the No. 8 Yavapai Roughriders of Prescott.
Pima scored first, in the 53rd minute, when Banegas provided an assist to sophomore Carlos Valadez-Paz. The Roughriders equalized seven minutes later.
Yavapai gained the lead with just 45 seconds remaining in the game.
Sept. 6: PCC 2, Scottsdale CC 0
Pima beat the Scottsdale Community College Artichokes 2-0 on the road.
Banegas opened the scoring for the Aztecs in the first half, with freshman Tatsuma Yuki providing the assist.
Carranza assisted Valadez-Paz to give Pima a 2-0 lead and its fourth victory of the season.
Sept. 8: PCC 2, Gateway CC 0
Pima posted a 2-0 home victory over Gateway Community College.
Gaona assisted Carranza in the 37th minute, giving the Aztecs a 1-0 halftime advantage. Gaona grabbed his second goal of the game after converting a penalty kick in the 54th minute.
Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Anderson finished with two saves.
Sept. 10: PCC 3, Chandler-Gilbert CC 2
The Aztecs earned a 3-2 overtime victory when they traveled to face the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Coyotes. Pima gave up a two-goal lead before defeating the hosts.
Pima freshman Luis Arias Jr headed in a goal on an assist from sophomore Kyle VanAlstine in the eighth minute. Freshman Chris Cooper scored in the 16th minute.
The Coyotes scored in the 42nd minute and tied the game in the 64th minute.
Pima finished off the Coyotes when Banegas assisted Gaona for a goal in the 96th minute.
Sept. 13: PCC 5, Glendale CC 4
Pima secured its seventh win of the season in a nine-goal thriller against the Gauchos of Glendale Community College.
The Aztecs secured a 5-4 victory at Kino North Grandstand in a back and forth scoring affair.
The Gauchos took an early first-half lead until Hector Banegas scored in the 25th minute after being assisted by Kyle VanAlstine.
Chris Cooper found Benegas a minute later for a second goal of the game, giving the Aztecs a 2-1 halftime cushion.
The Aztecs increased their lead to 3-1 in the 50th minute, when Gavino Carranza scored directly 0ff a throw-in from VanAlstine.
The Gauchos promptly cut Pima’s lead to 3-2 just 30 seconds later.
Carlos Valadez-Paz headed home a goal for the Aztecs in the 54th minute, buying Pima a 4-2 advantage.
The goal fest continued when the Gauchos scored goals in the 63rd and 64th minutes, leveling the game at four goals each.
The Aztecs scored the go-ahead goal just 25 seconds later, when Rogelio Canez headed home a cross from Carranza.
Goalkeeper Taylor Anderson finished the night with three saves and Pima outshot the Gauchos 11-7.
The Aztecs are now on a four-game winning streak.They dropped their first and only game of the season during an away-game at Yavapai College.
Sept. 20: at Mesa CC, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 22: at Arizona West College, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 24: Paradise Valley CC, Kino Sports Complex, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 27: at South Mountain CC, 1 p.m.