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Turning heads at TMC

Influx of local talent hopes to help the Mustangs to big things this fall

Posted: September 15, 2009 10:52 p.m.
Updated: September 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Returning junior Nicole Richards practices at TMC on Thursday.

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One year ago, The Master’s College produced one of the best women’s soccer teams in the National Christian College Athletic Association.

This year appears to be no different.

The Mustangs women’s soccer team, which lost in the finals of the NCCAA championship game 2-1 to Olivet Nazarene, is ranked No. 3 in the NCCAA Division I preseason coaches’ poll, while the men’s soccer team holds the same standing in the men’s poll.

But the soccer program is not the only team looking to make a national impact.

With a strong core of returning talent through the six fall programs — women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s golf and men’s and women’s soccer — The Master’s College is looking to turn heads entering the new school year, aided by a host of homegrown athletes.

Women’s Soccer
With a top-25 ranking in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for the first time in the program’s history, the No. 15 Mustangs appear well-equipped for a repeat trip to the NCCAA title game.

TMC’s appearance in the championship was the team’s third ever, and though it controlled the ball for most of the game, the Mustangs fell just short.

The NCCAA is a Christian collegiate-based affiliation, independent from the NAIA with member schools nationwide.

“That’s the beauty of soccer,” said head coach Curtis Lewis, who was named Golden State Athletic Conference Coach of the Year last season.

“You have to not only beat the opponent, but beat the game also.”

The Mustangs’ up-and-coming class of stars is led by a pair of NCCAA first-team All-Americans in sophomore forward Robyn Estrada and sophomore midfielder Bobbie Roberts, who look to build on last year’s 13-9-1 season (5-5 in the GSAC).

However, a string of early injuries has forced Lewis to look to his bench a little sooner than expected.

Lewis said Estrada has been trying to play through pain and is performing at about 70 percent of her capability due to a groin injury.

“Last year, she was our leading scorer,” he said of Estrada. “She was really our spearhead to our attack, so it has been hurting not having her so far this season.”

Other key returners include Canyon High graduate and All-GSAC junior midfielder Sierra Goff, who posted eight goals and seven assists in 2008, along with fellow midfielder Andie Reyes.

Stepping into the program are freshman forward Kristyn Richards and freshman defender Ashlea Andrade, whom Lewis referred to as “by far my top recruits.”

With Estrada limited, Richards has stepped up for the offense.

“She is a very strong physical player,” Lewis said. “She is one of those players who is really good in the air, is willing to battle and has a strong body.”

Andrade is battling an injury to her right knee. Its severity has yet to be determined.

Also new to the program are freshman forward Janelle Sullivan and senior goalkeeper Amanda Durocher.

Durocher, who completed her eligibility for the basketball team, will help fill the void left by the departure of both Mustang keepers from 2008.

“Hopefully, this year we can break through and bring home a national championship,” Lewis said.

Men’s Soccer
The men’s program also looks impressive out of the gates, earning a No. 22 ranking in the latest NAIA coaches’ poll.

Last season, it was the combination of All-NAIA, All-NCCAA first team and All-GSAC senior midfielder Fabio Joaquim to All-GSAC midfielder Marlon Lindo.

Joaquim is no longer in uniform, having fulfilled his eligibility, but is helping from the sidelines as an assistant while finishing out his degree.

Lindo, however, is returning.

“He’s got a real nose for the goal and a flair that some players just don’t have,” said head coach Jim Rickard of Lindo. “He just has that extra special gear, a level of speed that is tough to shut down.”

Providing scoring balance are junior forward Jacob Marchesani and sophomore midfielder Joel Peluffo, a Hart graduate.

Rickard says that senior Guiherme Mitrovitch has taken up the distribution role previously held by Joaquim.

“One thing we are looking for is to not have one player for the other team to shut down,” Rickard said. “You just don’t want to be predictable. You don’t want a team to say, ‘Hey shut this guy down and they won’t score.’”

The Mustangs finished 11-3-4 overall and 5-2-3 in the GSAC last season.

Also returning are All-NCCAA first teamers Andy Hegg on defense and Kevin Lawson in goal.

Lawson had seven shutouts last season with a miniscule 0.70 goals-against average.

Top newcomers include defenders Fabrice Gautrat, a Hart graduate who transferred to the program from the University of California, San Diego, Austin Michelson and forward Marcelo Silva.

“We have high expectations and our goals are high,” Rickard said. “We have a very strong conference, so things are going to have to go our way.”

Women’s Volleyball
After finishing 9-18 overall last season and 3-16 in the GSAC, the Mustangs are looking to turn things around this season.

They must do so without the services of outside hitter Rachel Roleder, who took second place on the school’s all-time kills list with 1,394 as a senior last year.

But in the GSAC, which is known for elite volleyball, a turnaround is no easy task.

“It is a very tough conference. So you don’t have any room for an off day, or you lose. Last year, we had a lot of off days,” said head coach Kristine Butler.

According to Butler, it boiled down to youth and lack of leadership.

Both appear to have changed this season.

This year, lone senior Tanya Bekendam and junior libero Leslie Windham will return to lead a team made up of four sophomores and three freshman.

With a year left of eligibility, Windham is already the school’s all-time digs leader with 1,502.

“We are serving well, that has been one of our strengths,” Butler said. “Very good defense. Our offense is improving daily. We are getting better and better. Our back row has been doing a real good job and that is because of Leslie and Tanya.”

Meanwhile, sophomore setters Jamie Long, a Hart graduate, and Emily Gray and sophomore middle blocker Stephanie McBride now have a year of experience under their belts.

They are joined by top newcomer and College of the Canyons junior transfer Caitlyn Ramirez.

Ramirez, a Hart graduate, whom Butler referred to as a “spark plug,” finished 2008 with 228 kills, 41 aces, 193 digs and 54 total blocks for the Cougars.

With increased team chemistry, which Butler also identified as a key strength this season, the Mustangs are ready to get back on track.

“They are very hungry to get out and play, whereas last year it was a lot of uncertainty when they would step out on the floor,” Butler said. “They know each other, they trust each other, so I think it is going to be a different season.”

Men’s/Women’s Cross Country
It is no secret that the Santa Clarita Valley is home to great cross country.

Head coach Zach Schroeder and assistant coach Amie Schroeder, last season’s head women’s coach, know it and want to take full advantage.

“We really have a vision, and it boils down to this: to build an elite distance program here in the valley (at the college level),” Zach Schroeder said. “Right now, all these kids come up through the high school program — there are tremendous coaches here in the valley — and they all are going to different places because there is nothing really here to offer them within this community.”

Heading into the season, the men’s program had high expectations, but when senior Jeff Jackson, the team’s top runner, withdrew from the first race with bursitis in his hip, those goals took a bit of a hit.

But the expectations have not changed, largely to due to the addition of local running talent.

Freshmen Anthony Pizzo, a Canyon High graduate, and John Gilbertson, a Saugus native who graduated from Los Angeles Baptist, appear primed to take up the mantle.

“It’s a goldmine here,” Amie Schroeder said. “The terrain is a goldmine for distance running. We would love to keep the great local talent and advance it here at the collegiate level.”

They are joined by such runners as freshman Ryan Lambert, Saugus graduate and freshman Camden McAlister and sophomore Zachary Nave.

In all, there are six freshmen and two sophomores on the team, indicative of the influx of youth that the Schroeders believe will help take the program to an elite status for years to come.

The women’s team also has high expectations.

The Schroeders expect big things from freshmen Bethany Rasmussen and Erika Amaradio and junior Brook Vincent.

Those three will serve as the foundation to build the women’s program around.

“We actually turned over a huge percentage of our women’s team this past year. So that we could boil our women’s team down to something that is a cohesive unit that is excited about training and competing and winning,” Zach Schroeder said.

“And in those three, we find that.”

Men’s Golf
Though its season is primarily in the spring, head coach Jason Semelsberger calls the fall the team’s preview.

Despite only three events, the Mustangs start things off with the NCCAA National Championships Oct. 11-13 at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City, Fla.

Returning co-team captains Jordan Andrews and Kevin Anderson will lead four freshmen, highlighted by two former high school state champions.

Andrew Bergoon comes to the Mustangs off back-to-back Alabama High School Athletics Association 3A Individual championships while Michael Reitz won the 3A state title in Colorado.

“We definitely share a love a love for the game,” Semelsberger said. “I think the guys are feeding off each other. More than that,
we all love the Lord and sharing in that has been extra special.”

 

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