Point Loma Nazarene University women’s soccer team hosted the NCAA DII West Regional tournament for the first time in program history. The first and second rounds for the top half of the West Region bracket took place at PLNU’s soccer field from Nov. 16-18.
The Sea Lions had already punched their ticket to the regional tournament by finishing at the top of the PacWest Conference, but the honor to host came as a result of the Sea Lions being announced as the No. 1 seed in the region.
“It’s a special privilege to get to host,” said PLNU athletic director Ethan Hamilton. “We’ve had an awesome fall, and I’m proud of all our team and athletes.”
With this year marking the team’s fifth-straight postseason appearance, postseason play has been a common occurrence for the Sea Lions, but hosting has been a goal for the team for some time as only the No. 1 and No. 2 seed teams in the region get to host.
Fourth-year forward and biology-chemistry major Bethany Arabe said hosting is something the team has been working toward for years.
“The fact that we have finally accomplished this and that we get to experience this as a team with our families, with our fans and with our friends means so much more to us, and I think that was an extra push for us to do well,” said Arabe. “For not only the work that we’ve put in for this season, but also alumni and players who have come through this program years before makes it really special.”
Since PLNU was the No. 1 seed, the team got a first-round bye, while the PacWest runner-up No. 4 Concordia University Irvine (CUI) Golden Eagles and the CCAA tournament winner No. 5 California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) Cougars faced off on Thursday, Nov. 16.
The CUI and CSUSM match was a battle that needed two overtime periods to be settled. After more than 100 minutes of the 0-0 stalemate, CUI came out with the 1-0 victory, snapping the Cougars’ 14-game winning streak and setting up a rematch of CUI and PLNU’s first PacWest match of the season.
The Sea Lions have dropped the past three games they’ve played against CUI — including this season’s PacWest opener — which is the longest losing streak the team has had against the Golden Eagles.
During CUI’s season, the Golden Eagles had a stretch of nine straight shutout wins, including the 1-0 win over PLNU in the conference opener, but coming into their second round matchup, the Sea Lions had won six straight games, outscoring their opponents 25-3.
PLNU’s attacking and goal-scoring ability outshined the defensive shut-out capabilities of CUI in the second round as the Sea Lions won 2-0. PLNU associate athletic director for event operations Jordan Courneya said that seeding and byes can be a factor in tournaments like this.
“The beauty of hosting is you get the first-round bye and the other team has to play and that kind of showed,” said Courneya. “They [the Sea Lions] had fresh legs to start and scored two goals early.”
Within the first 15 minutes, the Sea Lions had set the final 2-0 score of the match.
The first goal came off defender Naomi Ellis’ cross that found the steady feet of midfielder Nicki Friedman in the fifth minute. Just 10 minutes later, the ball was sent straight up into the air and fell out of the control of the players under it when Arabe saw an opening and sent the ball into CUI’s net again.
Arabe said the goal was the result of what the team has been working on as an attacking group and their mindset of being desperate in the box.
“Whatever opportunities come, we take it, whatever we can do to get the ball in the back of the net,” said Arabe. “That goal was just an example of the work we’ve been putting in to accomplish that. I’m glad that we can see a little bit of fruit from the hard work that we’ve been putting in all season.”
While the offense had a hot start, goalkeeper Julia Pinnell made four saves throughout the game to secure the shutout for the Sea Lions.
PLNU will now face Seattle Pacific University — the No. 2 seed in the region and the host of the bottom half of the West region bracket — in the West Regional Championship at Community Hospital Unity Field in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. The winner of the match will move on to the national quarterfinals.