Finishing the 2019 season at 9-1-1, Westcliff University women’s soccer was the school’s most successful athletic program in just its first year of existence. For their efforts, the Warriors were named the Team of the Year at Westcliff’s virtual year-end banquet.
From keeper Abby Craig, who allowed just eight goals all season, to center-mid Nelly Galeana who consistently controlled the flow of Westcliff’s attack, to Sandra Nantumbwe and Blair Gunderson up front, who combined to score 32 goals, Westcliff was loaded with talent, and it showed on the scoreboard.
Through Westcliff’s first four contests, the Warriors outscored their opponents 40-3, including a 22-0 pummeling of Cal Miramar on the last day of August.
By the end of the season, Westcliff had outscored its opponents, 55-9, for a stunning goal differential of +46.
Time and again, head coach Joey O’Keefe pointed to the Warriors’ family-oriented nature to explain his team’s unprecedented success.
That sentiment was echoed by new head coach Tom Lancaster when he was asked what stood about his team on tape in 2019.
“The closeness of the team as well as their work rate,” Lancaster said. “To our players, it is a ‘Warrior family.’ The players look out for one another and generally care about each other.”
Rebecca Gonzales, the Warriors’ sweeper, was a team leader behind the scenes, often sparking her teammates vocally in the locker room, which complemented her relentless play on the pitch, where she was a major factor in the Westcliff-opponent scoring woes.
Gonzales was named the Female Athlete of the Year, and she is one of 12 players off last year’s team to return in the fall.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all of our players,” Lancaster said. “We have a lot of quality returning and incoming players.”
Lancaster pointed to Galeana and Nantumbwe among others as on-pitch team leaders. Both have aspirations to play at the next level.
Christine Thorvaldsen is a name to look for among the newcomers to the roster this season. Thorvaldsen is a freshman from Norway who Lancaster says plays with an incredible amount of energy.
The recruiting period was extremely fruitful for the Warriors, who will welcome 20 new players to the roster this fall. Hartnell Community College in Salinas was a pipeline for Lancaster, as five former Panthers transferred to Westcliff.
They include Julissa Quintana, Heidi Vasquez, Jada Ware, Lexi Retanoza and Karina Briseno.
“They are all strong players,” Lancaster said. “Their experience and success at the college level will be very important for us.”
Lancaster said that a couple of the newcomers chose Westcliff over Division I programs, a trend that is occurring across programs at Westcliff, which will participate in both the NAIA and the California Pacific Conference in 2020.
Part of the appeal for Lancaster’s incoming players was his coaching staff, which is loaded with top-notch leaders with big-time experience in the game of soccer.
“We have a top coaching staff,” Lancaster said.
The staff includes returning coaches Tyrone Martin and Francesca Escobedo, who both played big roles in the success of the program a year ago.
Newcomers to the staff include Rich Tovik, who has experience coaching the women’s game at UCI, as well as Dev Jeter who played for D1 Portland before moving onto the professional game with Australia, Scotland and the WPSL California Storm.
“(Jeter) will be a huge inspiration and a fantastic role model for our players,” Lancaster said.
Rounding out the staff are Jack Gidney, who has coached in the WPSL and the professional game in the UK, Thannia Huerta, a keeper coach with Cal Pac coaching experience, and Diogo Silva, who will lead Westcliff’s developmental squad.
“(Heurta) is a great leader who will push our keepers hard,” Lancaster said. “(Silva) has coach professionally in Brazil and Saudi Arabia and is currently working on his Doctoral in Sports Science.
“I am very fortunate to have a staff that both cares about our players and has incredible experience.”
Lancaster himself has long track record in high school, college and professional soccer.
Growing up in England, Lancaster played for Lichfield FC, and since moving to the states has played for the LA Strikers (CSL) and OC Crew (UPSL), and he was a player-coach for the Irvine Matrix (UPSL).
In 2012, Lancaster coached for the Olympic Development Program and won a regional championship. He has assisted at Biola and Whittier, as well as five seasons at IVC, where the Lasers won the OEC League in 2015 and finished runner-up in 2016 and 2017.
Most recently, Lancaster was head coach at Woodbridge High in Irvine, where he led the Warriors to the Pacific League championship for the first time in five years.
Lancaster says he has enjoyed his time thus far at Westcliff.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The whole athletic staff has been very welcoming. It is a family here, and I’m excited about the direction we are moving in.”
Although COVID-19 has not allowed enough time with his new team as he would have wanted, Lancaster says the transition is going well, and he is excited about the upcoming season.
“We have a wonderful group of women,” Lancaster said. “They have shown a lot of strength during this difficult time and have looked out for one another.”
As of now, Westcliff athletes are scheduled to return to campus for season preparation in the middle of August.
If the season plays out as scheduled, Westcliff will meet both Ottawa and Masters in 2020, two teams that both went to the playoffs a year ago.
“We have a tougher schedule (than last year),” Lancaster said. “We want to play against the top opposition.”
To contact Brandon Petersen, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.