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Women’s soccer adjusts to new challenges

Women's soccer has adapted to make an impact in their first NCAA Division II season.  |  Thecla Li/THE CHIMES

 

Despite the pressure of joining a new conference and league, Biola’s women’s soccer team has sailed through uncharted waters with more success than failure so far. The Eagles started 4-0 but experienced some bumps in their conference schedule with two rough losses on the road. Even so, they continue to hold their own in NCAA Division II and the PacWest.

The development of depth

“I felt well that we would be able to compete within the conference,” said head coach Erin Brunelle. “We’re a little inconsistent game to game. I think these next couple of weeks will show us where we are, because we are playing a bunch of [teams who need a win].”

Multiple new and returning starters stepped up their game for the Eagles this season. One of the biggest reasons for the team’s success remains the development of depth at the forward position. Senior Samantha Verduzco has transitioned seamlessly to the NCAA, leading the team with 11 points, from four goals and three assists.

Not far behind Verduzco, sophomores Sarah Jeffries and Paula-Marie Labate have scored six goals combined in their first year as starters. Jeffries has also assisted with two more goals.

Additionally, sophomore Sarah Yang provided two crucial goals against Notre Dame de Namur in a 3-1 win on Sept. 28. Senior Margaret Guadarrama, sophomore Annmarie Alvarez and freshman Madi deMetropolis have tallied one goal each this season as well.

“[Moving into a starting role] is definitely a challenge,” Jeffries said. “My coach has a lot of expectations for me and the new forwards. Learning to play with the other forwards has not been hard, and I think that we have really good chemistry.”

The Eagles defense, though strong in many appearances, has struggled much more than it did last season in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The Eagles only allowed nine goals total in 2016, including playoffs. They posted a 15-2-2 overall record, going undefeated on the regular season. Through nine games this year, the team has allowed 11 goals while already equalling the amount of losses from last season at 7-2-1.

Making a statement

“We’ve been making some mistakes that result in goals,” Brunelle said. “We’ve also been allowing teams to shoot on us quite a bit, so I think if we can start to minimize shots against that will help us, because we’ve been having to dig ourselves out of holes.”

Despite the statistical differences, the Eagles defense still finds a way to show its strength. In their season opener at Western Oregon University on Aug. 31, the defense held WOU without a shot after the 40th minute in a game that went to double overtime, with the Eagles winning 3-2.

Sophomore goalkeeper Christina Rodriguez plays a crucial role in the Eagles’ game plan, making big save after big save. Biola’s defense has not been blown out in any matches this season, allowing a maximum of two goals in a single match.

“I think we wanted to make a statement,” said senior defender Cat Newberry. “[We wanted to] start off well and set a good standard for future teams.”

If the season were to end today, the Eagles would not make the postseason, however, they still have a good chance going forward. The Eagles need to move up just one spot to fifth place in the PacWest, which is a gap of only two points, to qualify for the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament. The team’s next two matches are crucial home games against teams in similar positions in the PacWest, which will likely determine whether or not the Eagles will qualify.

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