Expectations for the 2017 Walla Walla Community College men’s soccer team were no different than they had been in past years, according to coach Ben Rotert.

Compete for both East Region and Northwest Athletic Conference titles.

Though they fell short of the latter quest, the Warriors’ campaign ended with a third-place performance in the NWAC championships.

“The sophomore group was very experienced — having made it to the postseason the year before and losing (on the road) to the eventual NWAC champions (from) Tacoma in a shoot-out in the first round of playoffs, a match in which we could have easily won but suffered a devastating loss and way to go out,” Rotert said. “They were tested and excited to get back to the postseason.

“Additionally, we were very excited about our freshman class,” he said. “It was one of the best classes to come through in my tenure as a head coach — a class that led us to the 2018 East Region title. They were talented and learned quickly what it took to be a playoff-caliber team. They perfectly fit into areas we had lost and really started to gel on and off the field.”

The 2017 regular season was a consistent one for the Gold and Black, Rotert said.

“There was never really one match that was a defining win that cemented our stake as a playoff team.”

Ironically, it was a league-opening loss to Treasure Valley that kick-started the Warriors’ season, Rotert said.

“It was a shocking upset and a game that we expected to win but did not show up for,” he said. “Losing that game was really the best thing for us because it kicked us into gear and made the boys show up for every match for the rest of the season.”

Rotert said this team was the best band of Warriors he has ever coached.

“They jelled instantly. The friendships, the competitiveness, the relationships — all of it was fantastic,” Rotert said. “It was fun. And once the boys started to have fun, it was a true sign of good things to come as the season went on.

“The boys really stepped up to the plate and peaked at the right time, which allowed them to have such a successful playoff run,” Rotert said. “During the season, now looking back at it, we would suffer minor setbacks at the perfect time to get refocused and learn to be better moving forward. It honestly set up perfect for us to really peak during playoffs and go on the run that we did.”

Rotert said the 2017 playoff push “was one of the best week-and-a-half of soccer I have ever experienced.”

“We ended up losing our last league match to fall into third place in the East, thus making our playoff run much more difficult due to the playoff format of having to travel for the first round and quarterfinal matches,” he said.

WWCC traveled to Peninsula for its first postseason match and prevailed by a 1-0 tally.

“We left Tuesday for our Wednesday afternoon playoff match,” Rotert said. “It is a tough place to play with the long travel and their home field advantage. To go in and get a result on the road was fantastic. It was a game we expected to win and did.”

Walla Walla held a light training the following day, Rotert said, then traveled to the Willamette Valley on Friday for a Saturday quarterfinal match with Portland.

“The match was tied 2-2 after regulation and two 10-minute, extra-time periods and we won in penalties 5-4,” Rotert said.

Then it was on Tukwila the next weekend for a semifinal matchup against Highline.

“We scored first and felt like we were in a position to really carry through into the final,” Rotert said. “However, we ended up losing to a fantastic Highline team that went on to win the NWAC Championship.

“It was hectic, fun, intense and, overall, one of the best soccer experiences I have ever had,” he said. “The boys showed up and peaked at exactly the right time and knocked off two very good teams in the playoffs. So many players stepped up and did their job to help us accomplish that third-place finish.”

The lasting impact of this season “holds the truth that we just have to make playoffs and anything can happen,” Rotert said.

“The 2017 team was a very good team but highly overlooked by the league for finishing third in the East and going into playoffs as a three seed,” Rotert said. “Soccer is a crazy game and we showed that seeding does not matter and the best team got through. That 2017 team further put an emphasis on the team aspect and how important that is. I carry that with me today even more so because of the 2017 team.

“Team chemistry, camaraderie and having all team members bought into that one team goal of winning a championship is massive,” he said. “All about the team and not in it for selfish reasons will make good teams great and a great teams excellent. I was lucky to lead such a fun group of players who I have the privilege to still speak with today as friends. The players and I made each other better.”

Roy Elia can be reached