NCAA fall sports recap
Several months ago, the Chimes took a look at how we believed Biola’s fall sports would fare in their upcoming season, their first against a new level of competition in the PacWest conference of NCAA Division II. After what had been a mostly disappointing final season in the Golden State Athletic Conference, our expectations for the Eagles were a bit tempered. However, a variety of teams across the board enjoyed strong results and possess even brighter futures. Here is a look at our predictions about where the Eagles would end up in the PacWest rankings, those of PacWest preseason coaches’ polls and the Eagles’ final result in their inaugural NCAA season.
Men’s Cross Country
Surprising absolutely nobody, California Baptist University rolled to its seventh consecutive conference win in the PacWest championships on Oct. 21. However, the event still provided a mild shock when Eagles edged out archrival Azusa Pacific University for the final spot in the top three. Sophomore Gabe Plendcio, who enjoyed a breakout season, carried them in the conference meet alongside freshman Gio Orellana and junior Ryan Thompson, the Eagles’ most reliable runners all year. With all three of them set to return for at least one more year, this squad’s greatest races may still be ahead of them.
Women’s Cross Country
This group of Eagles won its final GSAC championship in 2016 and three of its last four—no small feat. However, Biola lost a huge reason behind their recent success when superstar Lyndee Dawson graduated. Lucky for Biola, senior Hannah Hunsaker stepped in with a fantastic final season capped off by a third-place individual finish in the PacWest championships. Senior Stephanie Croy also proved consistent, finishing within the top three from Biola in every race this season. The Eagles also found a potential long-term heir to Dawson in freshman McKenna Mason, who started her collegiate career by leading her team in her first two races. Biola will face the departure of more talent next season with Hunsaker and Croy graduating, but Mason is just getting started and Emily Ransom, who improved throughout her junior season, will return for one more year.
Given that they were coming off a down year and entering a strong volleyball conference, neither we nor the PacWest coaches expected the Eagles to finish above the middle of the pack. However, coach Aaron Seltzer’s squad proved its doubters wrong despite losing several key players to injury before conference play even began. After a 2-3 start in the PacWest, the Eagles swept archrival APU at home on Oct. 7 and became virtually unstoppable from there on. They went 12-2 the rest of the way, with their only losses coming at the hands of undefeated Cal Baptist, and finished in a tie with Azusa for second in the conference, easily qualifying for a National Christian College Athletic Association playoff berth. The Eagles are set to lose only one major contributor from this season in senior libero Tess Van Grouw, so they will head into next year as a veteran, battle-tested squad that could compete for a PacWest title.
Women’s soccer entered the year with high expectations and, for the most part, lived up to them. The Eagles went 14-3-2 for a fourth place finish in the PacWest, with all three of their losses coming on the road. As we predicted last May, their offense took a hit with only 36 goals scored compared to 51 the previous year, but head coach Erin Brunelle’s squads are built on defense and that defense held firm against the improved level of play. The Eagles allowed a shooting percentage of only .057, just 10 points above what they gave up in 2016. They enter the NCCAA playoffs as the favorite to bring home a national championship against an unimpressive level of competition, giving outgoing players like senior captains Cat Newberry and Janae MeGorden the chance to end their Biola careers on a high note.
Even though they exceeded expectations like virtually every other team on this list, some close games and missed opportunities ultimately prevented men’s soccer from finishing within the top five of the PacWest standings and securing an NCCAA postseason berth. The Eagles finished 8-8-2 overall and 7-5-1 in the PacWest, but heartbreaking overtime losses to CBU and Point Loma Nazarene University in their final two home games ultimately sank an aggressive veteran squad. As we predicted, the Eagles struggled mightily on defense in the NCAA, allowing nearly twice as many goals (26) as they had a season before (14). Senior goalkeeper Igor Puglia had to deal with nearly 40 more shots on goal than in 2016, taxing the veteran far more even though he upped his save total by five compared to last year. Head coach Todd Elkins will have to fill several crucial roles next season with Puglia and three of the Eagles’ top four scorers set to graduate.