As a writer and editor for The Point since January 2016, I have been fortunate to cover many notable and memorable moments in PLNU sports. From individual achievements to conference titles, these past three and a half years have made me more than proud to be a Sea Lion.
With that said, no year has been more memorable than what will be my final two semesters on campus. To give an idea of how event-filled the 2018-19 year has been, the women’s track and field team has been enjoying a successful season that included PacWest weekly honors for sophomore Freda Kallenberg, freshman Zita Molnar, and senior Brianna Bartello. The women’s volleyball team had their best season since 2015, with notable honors being received by freshman Rachael Schlect, junior Cara Keturakis and freshman Courtney Dyer.
As well-accomplished as they were, neither of these stories made it into my top five. Any other year they would have. But with how packed the last eight months have been for athletics on this campus, they would have to settle as honorable mentions. The following five highlights for PLNU illustrate this.
5. Men’s Baseball Thriving in Head Coach Justin James’ First Season
After 11 seasons, Head Coach Joe Schaefer announced in July 2018 that he would be departing PLNU to be the head coach of the Northwest Nazarene University men’s baseball team. James, who was the pitching coach at UC San Diego at the time, was hired to take Schaefer’s place. The change included a new coaching staff, most of whom worked with James at UC San Diego.
So far, the team has not missed a beat. As of this writing, the team currently sits at a 27–14 record with eight games left to play and an opportunity to complete their best season since joining the PacWest. Key contributors to the Sea Lions’ success have included junior transfer pitcher, Zack Noll, who was named the San Diego Sports Association Star of the Month for March, and junior outfielder, Micah Pries, who has received multiple PacWest Player of the Week honors.
4. Sophomore Alli Kim Shines for Women’s Golf
Collectively, the women’s golf team has had its best season in Head Coach Lance Hancock’s tenure, with two first-place finishes and four top-three finishes over the course of the year.
Even more noteworthy, however, has been the individual performance of sophomore transfer Alli Kim from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Throughout the season, she has accumulated four first-place finishes and six PacWest Golfer of the Week awards, the most PacWest Player of the Week honors within a season by any player in PLNU sports history.
With first-place finishes in the CA State Intercollegiate and the Augustana Spring Fling, as well as individual titles by Kim in both tournaments, the 2018–19 women’s golf team became the first in the history of the program to earn a first-place finish and an individual title at multiple tournaments.
3. Women’s Cross Country Captures First PacWest Championship
In Head Coach Jerry Arvin’s 24-year tenure with the program, never before had he overseen a conference title. But that would change on Nov. 2, 2018. To cap off one of the most successful seasons in the history of the program, the Sea Lions edged out Azusa Pacific at the PacWest Championships in thrilling fashion to win the conference.
The top five runners included senior Hannah Benoit Bucher, senior Marissa Bartello, senior Brianna Bartello, senior Cassidy Towner and freshman Zita Molnar. The former three would all be named to the All-PacWest First Team, while the latter two would be named to the All-PacWest Second Team. Benoit Bucher also received All-West Regional honors for her performance in the NCAA West Regional.
Other season highlights included four top-three finishes in six regular-season tournaments, a sixth-place finish at the NCAA West Regional, a 25th place finish at the NCAA Championships, Emily Donahue earning two PacWest Freshman of the Week honors, and Arvin being voted the 2018 PacWest Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year.
2. Women’s Soccer Makes History in Head Coach Kristi Kiely’s First Season
Following the retirement of Head Coach Tim Hall, the winningest coach in the history of PLNU soccer, the standards would be inevitably high for Kiely and her squad.
Those standards were more than just met. With a 16–2–1 record, including a 10–0–1 year in PacWest play, the women’s soccer team had its most successful season in program history in terms of winning percentage. The team won its third PacWest title in five years, and in the NCAA West Regional, they defeated Chico State 2–1 to earn their first-ever victory in an NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately, the season came to a heartbreaking finish when the team allowed three unanswered goals against UC San Diego to fall 3–2 in the second round. Up to that point, the team had only allowed five goals all season long—over the course of nearly 1,705 minutes of play.
At the conclusion of the season, Kiely’s coaching staff was named the Regional Staff of the Year by the United Soccer Coaches. Junior transfer forward Julia Glaser, who led the team in points (31), shots (78) and game-winners (10), received PacWest Player of the Year honors. Players who were named to the D2CCA All-Region First-Team included Glaser, senior defender Keagan Bolibol, senior midfielder Bella Diaz, senior defender Madelon Denbaugh and freshman goalie Emma Hinson. Junior midfielder Abbi Swanson received Second-Team honors.
1. Men’s Basketball Wins PLNU’s First NCAA West Regional Title; Reaches National Championship Game
In April 2018, incoming junior, Daulton Hommes, transferred from Western Washington University to join Head Coach Ryan Looney and the Sea Lions. One year later, it has proven to be the most significant acquisition in PLNU sports history.
The men’s basketball team went 24–4 over the course of the regular season, including a red-hot 14-game winning streak from late November to early February. The team finished first in PacWest play at 20–2 and defeated Azusa Pacific 77–65 and Concordia 67–58 to win their first conference title in more than 30 years on March 9.
But that was only the beginning, as Mar.15–30 would become one of the wildest rides ever in PLNU sports. By winning the PacWest, the Sea Lions earned the right to host the NCAA West Regional tournament in the Golden Gymnasium as the #1 seed. The team defeated Western Oregon 70–58, UC San Diego 73–50, and finally Saint Martin’s 60–54 on March 18 to claim PLNU’s first-ever NCAA West Regional title in any sport.
The following week, they traveled to Evansville, Indiana as the #6 seed in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. There, they took down the Southeast Regional Champion Royals from Queens University of Charlotte 87–74 and defeated the Midwest Regional Champion Screaming Eagles from Southern Indiana 81–71 in front of a roaring away crowd.
Out of more than 300 NCAA Division II men’s basketball teams, the Sea Lions were one of only two teams remaining. They had a chance to take down the undefeated Northwest Missouri State Bearcats in the National Championship. But unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as the team fell 64–58 despite a 26-point performance from Hommes.
On April 6, it was announced that Hommes, the Division II Player of the Year, would file an application for evaluation with the Undergraduate Advisory Committee to determine a possible future in the NBA. As of this writing, it is unknown if he will declare for the draft, remain at PLNU, or transfer to a Division I school.
On April 17, it was announced that Head Coach Ryan Looney had accepted an opportunity to become the men’s basketball head coach of Idaho State University, a Division I school. The search for a new Sea Lions head coach is currently underway.
It is possible that the men’s basketball team will look completely different next season, but the 2018–2019 starting five of Hommes, senior forward Preston Beverly, senior center Ziggy Satterthwaite, senior guard Josh Rodriguez, and senior guard Tanner Nelson will always be remembered as one of the best Sea Lion cores ever for what they accomplished in the 2018–2019 season.