MORAGA, Calif. — From the first fitness test to countless drills and scrimmages, the Saint Mary's women's soccer team is off to a solid start in preparing for opening kickoff on August 18 versus Sacramento State.
The Gaels welcome 10 first year players to an already young squad from 2016. Winners of three out of the last four games last season, head coach Travis Clarke and his staff are looking forward to see what this year's squad brings to the table.
“This first week has been extremely positive so far,” stated Clarke. “Every player is supporting and rooting for each other. The seniors did a fantastic job laying the groundwork for what this program will be moving forward, and the newcomers are buying in.”
Along with the 10 freshmen, SMC will have eight sophomores, two juniors and five seniors. Even with a young core and new crop of players, the Gaels are hitting their stride quickly.
“Every player came here fit so we are not behind,” said Clarke on the team's overall conditioning. “As a group, they have been working really hard. The team chemistry is very good for a group this size, and with a large amount of new faces.”
The 2017 Gaels are led by a strong core of seniors in Hannah Diaz, Heather Seybert, Valerie LaForge, Jackie Dutton and Jaslyn Guillen, and that leadership has certainly trickled down the roster to help develop the newcomers in the early parts of training camp.
This dynamic of veteran leadership and a wealth of new talent has given Clarke and his staff a competitive and deep team.
“The level of competition has certainly impressed me the most,” said Clarke. “There are several new players really pushing and challenging to break through. We are much deeper than last season and more athletic overall, and I expect several of the younger players to really help out either as starters or role players off the bench.”
Going up and down the roster, there are several key positional battles that are up for grabs, and will continue to push the players to execute at their highest levels. One position to keep an eye on are the keepers.
“The goalkeeper position is really up for grabs at the moment,” said Clarke. “Sarah [Sawatzky] did a great job developing last year and obviously all summer. She beat half of the field players in our fitness test as well, and really improved as a goalie.”
“Sonja [Rajatalo] has spent time with the Finland National teams growing up and is very technical, athletic and has a high soccer IQ. Maleah Milner is a very vocal leader from the goalie position. She is good with her feet, very athletic and has great shot stopping ability.”
Progressing to the back line, newcomer Kelsey Hill continued to make plays after plays in the first week of training, as the Elk Grove native fights to get a chance in the starting lineup. Fellow newcomer Vanessa Gaitan is another player who has been impressive in camp thus far and will look to make plays early for the midfield.
“I do think we are very deep this year, and we are athletic and experienced in all spots on the field,” said Clarke. “We have a lot of players who can help us this season and a lot of very versatile players who can play multiple positions if needed.”
Stay tuned to SMCGaels.com for in-depth positional breakdowns leading up to the opening season kickoff.
The Gaels will begin their season at home versus Sacramento State on Aug. 18 at 3:30 p.m. Season, single match and group tickets to attend Saint Mary's men's soccer matches are now open for purchase. Tickets will be available online here or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTX (4689).
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