After winning their third PacWest title in five seasons and posting a 15-1-1 regular season record, the expectations for Head Coach Kristi Kiely’s first season with the women’s soccer team remained high. After dominating the conference 10-0-1, the Sea Lions were hoping to make a significant impact heading in the NCAA Championships for the first time ever.
“I think we’re motivated. We’re coming off of good momentum,” said junior midfielder Ashlee Smith. “We haven’t made it past the first round, and I think this is the best season for us to do that. We are doing things we’ve never done before. We feel like this is our year.”
For a few days, it did feel like it was the Sea Lions’ year. On Thursday, Nov. 8, the team had an intense matchup against the 10-1-6 Chico State Wildcats, an unfamiliar foe for the Sea Lions.
“We’ve always played teams that we’re used to,” said Smith. “To not play someone that you have a history with is exciting.”
And exciting it was. Smith opened up the scoring nine minutes into the game, and with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, junior forward and team star Julia Glaser scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick, giving the Sea Lions their first-ever win in the NCAA West Regionals.
“We train all year-round as if every game is our last and as if every opponent will be the best we’re going to be playing,” said Smith. “We take every practice seriously and every opponent seriously.”
On Saturday, Nov. 10, the Sea Lions faced arguably their toughest challenge yet: A 17-2-1 UC San Diego Tritons team in their own stadium. The high for the team continued when they built a 2-0 lead 34 minutes into the game with back-to-back goals from junior forward Abbey Teagle and Smith.
But all good things must come to an end. For the first time all season long, the team uncharacteristically allowed three unanswered goals over the following 45 minutes to eventually lose 3-2. To put this oddity into perspective, the team only allowed four goals over the course of the entire regular season.
While the ending was catastrophic, the future remains bright for the women’s soccer team. Only three seniors will be departing: Midfielder, Bella Diaz, defender, Madelon Denbaugh and defender, Keagan Bolibol. Kiely has also been the coach for less than a calendar year, suggesting even more room for development and growth within her playing style.
“I think she’s been pretty important,” said Denbaugh. “It’s always hard having a new coach. You really have no idea what’s going to happen with new playing styles coming in. But we’ve adapted and really bought in this year. She’s been challenging us to be the best versions of ourselves on and off the field. When we reach our goal, there’s a new goal right away.”
In the end, the 2018 women’s soccer team convincingly won the PacWest title and their first NCAA West Regional game. There was certainly potential for further accomplishments, but as it stands, Kiely’s first year led to one of the most successful seasons in PLNU sports history.