MORAGA, Calif. — Saint Mary's 2017 women's soccer schedule has officially been released as the young Gaels roster will look to build off their strong spring play.
With the 68th toughest schedule in the nation, according to Hero Sports, Saint Mary's heads into the fall season after posting a 4-1-1 record in six spring scrimmage matches. The Gaels defense highlighted their performance as the team surrendered just three goals.
Overall, the West Coast Conference non-conference strength of schedule is among the top in the nation. Santa Clara tops the list having the third toughest non-conference schedule, followed by BYU (5), LMU (7), Pepperdine (20) and San Diego (28).
"We started to do very well toward the end of last season and felt we were peaking once the season ended,” said head coach Travis Clarke. “The team was able to continue that late season success directly into our spring season."
Saint Mary's will face a number of tough teams in non-conference play. Rice (11-5-1), Idaho (11-5-4), Fordham (10-5-5), Samford (15-4-2) and San Jose State (10-6-4) posted strong 2016 records and will aim to repeat their success this fall. Samford advanced to last season's NCAA Tournament, while Idaho went on to win the Big Sky regular season title. Other scheduled opponent include a senior-heavy Cal State Fullerton squad.
"Our schedule is one that gives us a lot of challenges. We play a lot of teams who did very well last year and we are excited for the challenge."
Last season, the Gaels played 12 of their 19 games on the road - a trend that will reverse in 2017. Saint Mary's will play 12 of their 20 games in Moraga in the fall and host a tournament between Sept. 8-10. Invited to play in the weekend tournament are Grambling State, UC Riverside and Bakersfield.
"I feel the home heavy schedule will be nice,” explained Clarke. “It will give us more preparation opportunities compared to last season."
The young core gained ample experience last season as several freshmen held starting roles for the team. Jaylen Crim and Jordyn Cummingham paced the offense last season as newcomers, while the back line featured freshmen Anna Parker and Jessica Ko, and sophomore Jasmine Edwards. The midfield was also packed with first-year players Sophie Santos, Jordan Padgett and Kailana Kaeo. Freshman goalie Sarah Sawatzky has taken the majority of reps during spring play and will contend for the starting gig in the fall.
Returning to the Gaels for their final seasons are seniors Jackie Dutton, Heather Seybert, Valerie LaForge, Jaslyn Guillen, and last season's leading scorer, Hannah Diaz. Diaz earned All West Coast First Team honors for the second straight year, and was selected as a member of the U.S. U-23 national team roster in March. Saint Mary's anticipates adding six new freshmen to the roster in the fall including defender Kelsey Hill, midfielder Vanessa Gaitan and goalkeeper Sonja Rajatalo, who has been competing on the U-19 Finland national squad.
"We do anticipate several of our 2017 signees to be able to come in and contribute next season,” said Clarke of his upcoming roster. “We do have a lot of returners who played valuable minutes last season and this spring but the additional depth our new players will provide will be helpful and will make us more competitive right away.”
The Gaels' season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 18 at home against Sacramento State. The season opener against the Hornets will be of one six home matches in the Gaels' first eight games of new campaign.
Season, single match and group tickets to attend Saint Mary's men's soccer matches will go on sale on Monday, July 10. Tickets will be available online at SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTX (4689).
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