Westmont women’s soccer season preview
After finishing last season in the NAIA National Championship quarterfinals, Westmont Women’s Soccer is setting its sights on a deeper run in this year’s campaign. Ranked eighth in the NAIA Preseason Coach’s Poll, Westmont returns 21 players from last year’s team, including nine starters.
In addition, Westmont head coach Jenny Jaggard has brought in 11 new players including nine freshmen.
“Since I have been here, this is the most mature team we have had with the biggest senior class,” said Jaggard. “These players have been to Orange Beach twice (site of the NAIA National Championship) and have that playoff experience. We also have this giant group of young people. So, on the one hand we have this maturity, but we are still very young.”
Unifying that large of a team can be a challenge for any coach, but the culture of prioritizing relationships that Jaggard has fostered provides the framework of a nurturing community.
“We are characterized by the bond we have as a family,” explained Jaggard. “We are extremely united already. In our first week, it was really special to watch the upperclassmen take these younger players under their wings and show them what our culture is all about and make them feel welcome.
“We are extremely competitive, work hard and have high fitness standards, but at the end of the day, the players do a great job of making everyone feel included. If someone doesn’t rock the fitness test on day one, everyone does a really good job of coming alongside their teammates that are struggling, building them up, encouraging them and getting them there. I love that aspect about us.”
This year’s theme of “More Than a Game”, chosen by senior team captains Reese Davidson, Taylie Scott and Kailey Meyer, reflects both the culture and goals of the team.
“There are a lot of aspects that go into that theme,” said Jaggard. “Obviously one component is our emphasis on relationships. The people part is one of the most important pieces to this program. Also, there is the emphasis on personal development and team development – learning how to develop as a group and embrace one of our core values of teamwork.
“Another part of the team is the idea of leaving a legacy. We are dreaming big. We know this is our last year to leave a mark in the NAIA history books. Because of our maturity, it feels like it could be a possibility. Can we build off that foundation and play a couple of more games this year?
“These seniors will leave a legacy regardless of whether or not we bring that trophy home because they have imprinted a strong culture that is going to carry on to future classes. That is a special thing for me. I feel like this program is in a healthy place in terms of the way we treat each other and our values and expectations.”
The “More Than a Game” theme also reflects plans the team is making to return to Africa in 2023. If they are able to do so, it will mark the sixth mission trip the team has made to Africa since 2006.
All three goalkeepers return from last year’s roster including seniors Kailey Meyer and Charlotte Chipembere.
“Every year, Kailey has continued to grow,” noted Jaggard. “I am extremely impressed with the work that she put in this summer. She has always come to training camp fit, but this year she has reached a new level. All the goalkeeper pieces from all these years of training are coming to fruition for her. Some of the things she has done in the scrimmages – coming out for crosses and big diving saves – show me that she has also developed in her ability to handle pressure. I am excited to see her mental game and confidence improving.”
Unfortunately, Chipembere has been struggling with a nagging injury.
“I am hopeful for her that this injury clears up and she can get after it again,” expressed Jaggard. “She plays an invaluable role whether she is in the goal or not. There is no one that outworks Char and she is a positive, multi-talented person. She helps set our team culture and our standards as high as they are.”
Also returning in goal for the Warriors is sophomore Maya Pablo.
“Maya is a very coachable player and the very definition of a great teammate,” said Jaggard. “Off the field, she is like the team mom meeting everyone’s needs and making sure everybody fits in. She is one who has invested in making sure these freshmen feel like they belong. She has made some saves in our scrimmages that she could not have done a year ago. I was impressed with the confidence that she has displayed.”
Returning senior center backs Taylie Scott and Sadie Hill are expected to anchor the Warriors’ back line.
“I have been so impressed with the growth we have seen over the years in our center backs and outside backs,” reported Jaggard. “They have a decent amount of experience and each of them has unique attributes that complement each other. Taylie is the brick-wall-type center back. She goes into every tackle and is very physical. She also has the ability to help us build out. She has a soft touch and the ability to send long and short passes. She is a very well-rounded player.
“Sadie has grown so much in her confidence and, as a result, in her decision making,” reflected Jaggard. “Before, Taylie would step to most things and Sadie would cover. Now, they are taking turns with Sadie stepping in and winning the ball while Taylie stays in behind. Sadie is a very talented offensive player with good vision. She is also very good on set pieces and takes a lot of our corner kicks.
Two sophomore starters return from last year’s team at outside back – Shayna Stock and Ande Siegel.
“Both Shayna and Ande were a huge piece of our game last year,” said Jaggard. “They came in as freshmen and handled the pressure. Playing a lot of minutes has built a lot of confidence. They are more seasoned than you would think as sophomores. They are both naturally talented. I am always impressed with their ability to hit accurate, long diagonal balls and both of them can receive them out of the air under extreme pressure. It is pretty impressive. They are both developing in their one-on-one abilities, which is crucial to that position.”
Also returning at outside back is sophomore Jillian Geist.
“Jill brings a calm presence and could add a different element to our passing game,” said Jaggard.
New players who could also make an impact as defenders are Ainsley Martin, Elise Hyde, McKenna Meyers-McNerny and Kayla Preciado.
“Ainsley can potentially do a fantastic job for us,” noted Jaggard. “She is a two-footed, very technical player that has pace. She is sitting at number one in our fitness ranking and is very hungry to prove herself. Ainsley is used to playing with her twin (Sierra Martin) who is a target forward. We are trying to figure out that dynamic. Those two playing on the field together could be deadly.
“Elise is six-feet tall and can throw a ball to the back post. She can throw a ball like a rocket that travels 40 yards. She has been trained as a utility player. To use her throw-in ability, we are going to have to find where she fits in our system.
“McKenna and Kayla are naturally center backs and both are very gritty and are very fit.”
Kayla Preciado is the younger sister of Macey.
The Warriors enjoy a wealth of returning midfielders including Daisy Alvarez, Kendall Morton, Grace Duckens, Karly Kingsley, Katie DeMillo and Grace Hotaling.
“Daisy has been a rock for us as a defensive midfielder,” expressed Jaggard.”Her set pieces are brilliant and she is very talented in her 50-50 challenges as a defender. She is not a big player, but she matches up against players all the time that are heads and shoulders above her and she still manages to come out with the ball.
“We are trying to figure out how best to use Kendall. If we play her at the six, she is a completely different kind of player than Daisy. Kendall has a very special vision of the field. When she is on the ball, she can hit these 30 or 40-yard perfect balls that are dangerous counter attacks. She can play the short game too. She is a very good passer and has improved her defending a lot.
“The two returning attacking midfielders are Grace Duckens and Karly Kingsley. They are both tremendously skillful, talented, well-rounded players. Grace has a bit of a flair for creativity and dribbling. When she balances that with appropriate decisions in the middle and back third – being a little more careful – with full permission in the front third, she is incredibly dangerous. This should be her breakout year. Defensively, she has the pace so she can step out on an outside back and still tuck back middle when it gets past. A lot of players can’t do that.
“Karly is one of the most well-rounded players I have ever coached. She literally can play everywhere but goalkeeper. There are obviously positions that are more suited to her and I think the outside edge of the diamond is a really good spot for her. She is very smart and reads the game well. She is very versatile in terms of her passing, defending and shooting. She is a master of her craft in an individual way. This year, she has bought into the team.
“A question I have is about Katie DeMillo. She has been playing at the edges of our diamond primarily. I’m not sure it is the right spot for her. How we utilize her is partly going to be determined by what formation we end up using. If we stay with the diamond, she may start challenging at the attacking midfielder. Her strengths lie in attacking moments, specifically transition moments. She is extremely strong and powerful.
“The 10 (attacking midfielder) is going to be an interesting, competitive spot. Grace Hotaling has been so good. She wins every 50-50 ball and shuts down the other team’s six and keeps them from swinging. She is obviously the senior in that role.
“We also have an up and coming freshman in Amelia Villa that brings a totally different dynamic and is going to be competing for that position.”
Competition will also be intense at the forward position.
“A little bit of polish in front of the goal is one of the themes for our forwards,” said Jaggard. “We have a lot of options this year. Obviously, we have the seniority of Reese Davidson. No one works harder on the field when we don’t have the ball. That is one of her characteristics that sets the tone for the rest of the team. As a senior, she is coming into her own. Hopefully, this is her breakout year where she scores a lot of goals. She develops so many opportunities in games. We will look to her to help set the tone in the front line for how to defend. That is a key piece at this level.
“I have been impressed with Amarys Machado’s development through the spring. She has gone from being a bulldozer-type player that tries to force things to making better decisions. Her movement off the ball is night and day. I can’t wait to see her connect a little more. She is doing a much better job to get on the ball and then not rushing to go forward. Holding a little bit, helping us build a play, is a very good attribute.
“Then we have some newcomers. Sierra Martin is very athletic, has some moves and has a lot of potential. She may represent the kind of swag that Grace Duckens has. Monica Pizano is very technical and can beat people one-on-one. She has a lot of the components that you look for in a forward.”
As is often the case, Westmont’s year begins with a number of scrimmages and exhibitions against NCAA Division I and II teams.
“I like starting with the best,” noted Jaggard.”It quickly exposes what we need to be working on. While there is some psychological security in winning some easy games early, it is much better to go into a game against an opponent that you know is going to be physically superior and have a little more depth. It is going to present some soccer problems for you. It is the best way to learn and it is just fun. It is a good experience to go out knowing they can play an opponent that you know is going to be good. We aren’t worried about the score, it’s just about learning and growing as a team.”
The non-conference season begins on Thursday, Aug. 18 when the Warriors take on the Raiders of Southern Oregon. Westmont has a 4-2-1 series advantage over Southern Oregon, including a 1-0 win last year.
The non-conference schedule includes games against four teams that the Warriors have never played – Lincoln, UC Merced, Saint Katherine and Westcliff. Westmont will also take on Division II opponent Cal State San Marcos for the first time since 2012, when they were an NAIA institution.
More familiar non-conference opponents will be California Lutheran and Antelope Valley. The Warriors are 3-0 against both teams.
“It is very compact,” said Jaggard of the pre-conference games. “We are going to have to use a deeper bench to get through August and stay healthy. I don’t think that is an unhealthy thing for us. I think it is good to give players exposure early in the year and give them a chance to show us what they can do.”
After the Warriors take on Antelope Valley, they will have 15 days off before starting Golden State Athletic Conference play. Because of a scheduling quirk, Westmont will play only three out of eight conference games at home. A scheduled home game with Life Pacific had to be canceled when the school could not field a team this year.
The conference schedule begins with a trip to the Grand Canyon State for games on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1
“For the first time in my three years, we will be traveling to Arizona for games against Ottawa and Arizona Christian,” said Jaggard, “I think that will be a challenging opener dealing with the heat and the travel. We will have to be very focused for the weekend. Ottawa has always been a team that punishes opponents on their home facility.”
A week following their game with Arizona Christian, Westmont will make their shortest trip to a conference opponent, taking on the Mustangs of The Master’s in Santa Clarita.
On October 15, the Warriors will host Hope International as part of Westmont’s homecoming weekend.
“Hope came off of a fantastic season last year and I have a lot of respect for Coach (Scott) Dement,” said Jaggard.”He has built a good foundation and has developed an effective style of play with the type of recruits he brings into the program.”
The following weekend, Westmont will travel to Vanguard and San Diego Christian for two more road games. Then the final weekend, Westmont will host William Jessup and Menlo to wrap up the GSAC Schedule.
Overtime rules are changing this year for college soccer. In regular season games, overtime will not be played. If the score is even at the end of regulation, the game will end in a tie. In the postseason, two overtime periods of 10 minutes will be played out completely, eliminating the golden goal rule. If the teams are tied after the second overtime period, postseason games will be decided by a penalty kick shootout.
‘All that the preseason number eight ranking really means is that we had a good season last year,” said Jaggard.”From a perspective of how rankings effect NAIA postseason selection, we have set ourselves up in a nice spot. Now we have to keep ourselves there. It is awesome to be able to say that you are in the top eight, but it is also a big target on your back.
“One of our four core values is fitness. We have talked about how fitness is a trinity of physical, spiritual and mental. I am convinced this year that if we want to achieve the ultimate goal, then we have to nail what we always nail, which is the physical, but we also need to nail the mental part.
“The pressure that comes with being a top team is a real thing. There are two ways you can fall off the boat. One way that we fell two years ago is to take things for granted because of past success. That is what happened two years ago when we lost in the Opening Round to Oregon Tech. The other way is the pressure that comes with being one of the best and having other teams gunning for us.
“Part of our challenge this year is to figure out how to get beyond the quarterfinals. Two of my first three years, we have reached the quarterfinals. There are teams that are very good that get stuck at just being really good. Our challenge is whether we can break through the mental and physical barrier of being in the top-eight and keep going.That is always what we are striving for.”
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.