In Head Coach Kristi Kiely’s first year with the Sea Lions, with only three seniors and nine upperclassmen on a roster of 30 team members, expectations for the women’s soccer team remained high before the season began.
So far, those expectations have been met, and perhaps even exceeded. Despite a rough opening loss to Western Washington, the team answered with a streak to remember, going 14–0–1 in the last 15 games. This stretch was one that the team had not seen in its history since 2011. The Sea Lions officially clinched their first conference title on Saturday, Oct. 27 when Azusa Pacific failed to defeat Biola.
During the historic run, freshman goalkeeper, Emma Hinson, who transferred from Saint Louis University, anchored a defense that allowed only one goal over the course of more than 1,350 minutes. She has been recognized with four PacWest weekly accolades since the start of the season, and has accumulated 39 saves.
“I’m from Portland, so I wanted to get back to the West Coast in a smaller school environment in a program that I could make more of an impact than what I was doing at SLU,” said Hinson. “Kristi brought me on my visit, talked about what she wanted to do with the program, and I just really liked the direction that she wanted to take. I really like the team, really liked Point Loma, so this was the best fit for me.”
Of course, Hinson felt that the credit was to be attributed not necessarily to herself, but to the team as a whole, particularly with how everybody functions together under Kiely.
“I think definitely our team chemistry right now is really good,” said Hinson. “I think the atmosphere Kristi has created in her first year has been really great for the team. It’s brought a lot of intensity into training, and causes a lot of people to fight for their spot in a really good way. It creates a lot of competition between everybody, but that’s a good thing on a team like this.”
Senior defender Madelon Denbaugh agreed that the team’s historical defensive performance has been an overall team effort.
“Defense isn’t just our back four…as a team, we defend,” said Denbaugh. “That’s kind of been our focus this year. Defending as one unit, not as one individual…when we are defending as a team, that’s when we produce more goals as well. I would say we’ve done a really good job with our chemistry defending as one team.”
Both in 2014 and 2015, the women’s soccer team clinched the PacWest title, but lost in the opening round of the NCAA Championships. The team hopes for a different outcome this season.
“We set goals at the beginning of the season, and one of them was to win conference,” said Denbaugh. “My personal goal was to be undefeated in conference, and I know many agree with me on that one. I think we definitely have a good chance of winning the whole thing undefeated, we just have to continue playing like we are and work as hard as we can.”
The goal of winning the conference is officially complete. In order to go undefeated in the conference, the team will have to win their final regular season game at Azusa Pacific on Saturday, Nov. 3. The quest to win the whole thing undefeated begins at the NCAA Championships on Nov. 8.