By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Hungry for another bite at a conference title, the Sonoma State men’s soccer team is expected to improve on last season.

Sonoma State, which hosts Santa Rosa Junior College in an exhibition at noon Sunday to open its season, was picked to finish second in the California Collegiate Athletic Association North in a preseason vote of conference coaches.

Should the Seawolves hold form, the squad would return to the conference tournament. Sonoma State didn’t make the CCAA playoffs last season, ending a run of seven consecutive appearances — and four straight NCAA playoff berths.

Chico State, ranked 23rd in the preseason NCAA Division II poll, is picked to win the North. Cal State Los Angeles, the nation’s eighth-ranked team, is tabbed to take the CCAA South. Another longtime small college power, Cal State Dominguez Hills, is the second pick in the South.

Bolstering the Seawolves’ chances for a strong season are a handful of returning starters led by Taylor Varnadore, last season’s top scorer. The junior forward from Analy High already is 11th on the Sonoma State all-time goal scoring list with 22 after two seasons.

Varnadore was among three Sonoma State players to make the All-West Region first team a year ago. Midfielders Michel Arroyo, from Calistoga High, and Cory Taufer also made the squad — and the trio returns.

The team’s third-leading scorer last season, Arroyo was conference freshman of the year. Taufer, out of Clovis, started all 18 of the Seawolves’ contests last season.

Also returning as starters are Nico Spann, a midfielder from Montgomery High, Trevor Tennant, a defender from El Dorado Hills, and Brian Angel, a defender out of San Diego.

Sonoma State finished last season 9-6-3 overall and 8-5-3 in the CCAA.

A loss to Chico State at home in the season finale eliminated the Seawolves’ from the conference tournament. After hosting Santa Rosa Junior College in Sunday’s exhibition, Sonoma State plays a pair of scrimmages before starting the regular season at the Grand Canyon tournament Aug. 31.

Sonoma State opens conference play with a pair of road contests. The Seawolves are home again Sept. 14 to face San Francisco State in a CCAA match.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.