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A Golden Harvest : In Sophomore Chris Palm, The Master’s Soccer Team Features Another Ripe Talent From Eastern Washington’s Banana Belt

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Chris Palm grew up in Kennewick, a town of 37,000 located in eastern Washington that joins with neighboring Pasco and Richland to form what the Chamber of Commerce calls the Sun-Kissed Tri-Cities area.

The Columbia, Snake and Yakima rivers merge in this desert-like region known as the Banana Belt, where ranchers grow apples, cherries, grapes and other crops--just about everything except bananas.

Mark Schubert, soccer coach at The Master’s College, has found the Tri-Cities area to be a fruitful recruiting ground.

Two years ago, Jim Rickard came south to the Newhall campus and emerged as one of the top sweepers in the NAIA District III. Last year, Schubert discovered Palm, who drove opponents bananas by scoring 24 goals as the Mustangs compiled a school-record 17-5 mark and advanced to the District III playoffs.

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“He’s the kind of player you just have to leave alone and trust his decisions--particularly when he’s within 30 yards of the goal,” Schubert said. “You can teach dribbling moves to help a player maintain possession, but you cannot teach the spontaneity and creativity that Chris has. It really makes the game fun to watch. Whenever he gets the ball, you can feel the electricity.”

Palm, a 5-foot 9-inch, 155-pound sophomore, has a way of shocking opponents with his quickness, speed and improvisational skills.

“I like to try different things on the soccer field,” said Palm, who had 10 multiple-goal games last season. “I show them different things and, sometimes, they don’t know what I’m going to do next.”

The same thing could be said about Palm when he leaves the playing field. Last Tuesday, for example, boredom inspired a slalom-like traverse of the gridlocked Golden State Freeway on foot.

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The Master’s team was returning cult to cover because he is constantly moving. He moves off the ball real well and creates space for other kids to move into. A lot of kids don’t like to do that. They just stand around.”

Said Westmont Coach Bob Fortosis: “He’s as good as many of the forwards we play on the Division I level. Any team that plays The Master’s has to pay a lot of attention to Chris Palm or they’ll have a miserable afternoon.”

Loma Linda found that out the hard way last season when Palm scored what was reported as a school-record 10 goals in a 24-0 whitewash.

“It was pretty much a joke of a game,” Palm said.

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Loma Linda, however, wasn’t laughing. Neither, for that matter, was the Master’s administration, which felt the team had gone above and beyond the call of duty--and sportsmanship--despite Schubert’s restriction on his players that goals be scored only by headers or with their left foot.

The game, like Palm’s goals, has been stricken from the records.

“I think they felt it was going against what this school is supposed to be about,” Palm said. “A lot of our fans were pretty mad at us. We probably should have stopped but we were out there to play our best.”

Palm developed his soccer skills playing for youth club and select teams in Washington. Kamiakin High in Kennewick did not field a soccer team until Palm’s senior year, but recruiters took notice even before the season started when he led the Washington team to the championship of the prestigious Southland Dairies tournament in Texas. He was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

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Rickard had told Schubert that he had a friend back home who was interested in attending a Christian school and that Master’s should pursue him. Schubert made a few calls to Palm but said later that the conversations were low-key.

That all changed the day Palm’s picture appeared in Soccer America magazine, a national publication.

“I got the magazine in the mail room here at school, saw the picture and ran to my office and called his home,” Schubert said.

The next week, Schubert flew to Seattle and drove five hours to watch Palm play. Kamiakin won its game, 5-1, with Palm scoring 4 goals.

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“Every time he got the ball, faced the penalty box and started dribbling, everyone on the sideline would jump up and yell, ‘Showtime,’ ” Schubert said. “I went back to his house and signed him that night.”

By the time his college career ends, Palm will probably own every scoring record at Master’s. Scoring, however, is not his main objective this season.

“I love to score, there’s no doubt about it,” said Palm, who also has 4 assists. “But I’m not going to bear the burden of scoring for our team because we have five or six guys that can score a lot of goals.

“I don’t care how many I get as long as we make it to the NAIA championship.”

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