Embry-Riddle, which cracked the NAIA women's soccer preseason poll at No. 19, returns 19 players in 2017, including nine starters from a young team that included five sophomores and five freshmen that just missed out on an at-large berth in last season's national tournament.
As good as the Eagles were last year, it was Marymount California that caught fire at the end and represented the California Pacific Conference in the NAIA National Championship. The Mariners, the fourth-seed in the conference tournament, blanked ERAU 2-0 in the opening round and then edged Antelope Valley 2-1, a one-two punch that catapulted MCU onto the national stage. The Mariners return enough of firepower for a repeat performance in the postseason.
But MCU is far from the only contender for the top of the Cal Pac standings. UC Merced, which tied ERAU for first in the regular season, graduated two of the conference's top defensive players last fall, but the Bobcats still have depth and skill at both ends of the pitch. Antelope Valley, the third seed in the 2016 Cal Pac Championship, also figures to be in the midst of the race for the conference title.
Two teams that were in contention for one of the four postseason slots in the Cal Pac tournament last year, Soka University of America and Sierra Nevada, look to gain ground on the four teams that earned those spots.
The biggest question, however, will involved Benedictine-Mesa, lining up for its first official campaign in the Cal Pac. The Redhawks will look to juniors Allison Senna, Ariana Castillo, and Karla Moyano to lead the Redhawks into uncharted territory.
ERAU (7-1 in the Cal Pac and 13-3-2 overall) brings back three defenders that will make them one of the more difficult Cal Pac teams to score on. Ally Leara, a First Team All-Cal Pac player and Honorable Mention NAIA All-America, and Second Team defenders Adri Jackson provide the Eagles with strength on the defensive side. Forward Krista Lee, a two-time All-Cal Pac selection and the Freshman of the Year in 2015,
In 2016, UAV (6-2, 13-6) continue to challenge for the title in only the Pioneers' second season in the conference. UAV has a pair of First Team picks returning on defense--Nayeli Moreno and Reyna Ruiz, to lead that side of the ball. Forward Lucy Martinez, a Second Team All-Cal Pac pick, and Eva Rivas, an Honorable Mention, will ignite the offense.
UCM (7-1, 13-3-3) may have lost some key performers, but there is no shortage of talent returning for the Bobcats. On the offensive side, First Team All-Cal Pac forward Elizabeth Cruz and Ashley Bennett, an Honorable Mention in 2016, will combine with midfielder Veronica Villacorta and forward Bridget Villanueva will provide plenty of scoring power.
MCU (5-3, 11-10) returns a trio of First Team All-Cal Pac performers that will put the Mariners in position to challenge for a return to the national stage this fall. Forward Emily Atkinson was voted the Newcomer of the Year in 2016, and midfielder Brooke Ybarra was tabbed the conference Freshman of the Year, in addition to earning Honorable Mention All-America honors. Add to that mix defender Adrianna Cabral, and MCU has the balance to top any team in the Cal Pac.
Soka (3-4-1, 6-11-1) lost three key seniors to graduation, but the Lions will still have Natalia Gilbert, a Second Team pick last year, at forward, where she will team with midfielders Sydney Byers and Kiana Dinsmore to give SUA lots of offense.
SNC (3-5, 5-12) brings back two Honorable Mention selections from 2016, Annie Clements and Makayla Long.
PCC (2-5-1, 7-8-1) started the season with a win last week, and look to pick up a few more in 2017. Adrina Palacios, an Honorable Mention last season, will lead the defense. Alexis Vasquez recorded a hat trick in the season-opening win last Wednesday.
Last fall, LSU (1-7, 3-9) restarted its program after a seven-year hiatus and managed just one conference win. But the Golden Eagles are a year older and more experienced, and returning Honorable Mention midfielder Andrea Sida leads an influx of new talent that will make LSU more competitive this season. Goalie Lauren Holly will anchor the defense.
SU (1-7, 2-12-1) totaled just two wins in 2016, but two returning Honorable Mention players, defender Katelynn DeVille and midfielder Sandy Lule, should move that number up this fall.
Wednesday, August 16
PROVIDENCE CHRISTIAN 6, SAINT KATHERINE 1
The Sea Beggars opened the season by traveling to San Marcos, Calif., and dousing the Firebirds behind Alexis Vasquez's hat trick.