Head Coach Kristen St. Clair, the program's all-time leader with 79 career wins in just five seasons (79-23-7), guided the Lancers to a Pacific West Conference and National Christian College Athletic Association National Championship in 2011, but as 2012 approaches, she is faced with moving forward from the loss of perhaps the best senior class in program history.
The Lancers lost five players from last year's championship winning team, including PacWest Goalkeeper of the Year Nicoline Jorgensen, starting right back Megan Merrett and Amanda Lammers, who ranks among the top 15 in program history in goals, assists and points. However, the biggest hit comes in the departure of both Kylee Nicassio and Fabiola Zanella da Silva.
Nicassio is the program's all-time leading goal scorer with 49 career goals. She is also No. 2 with 119 points. da Silva, meanwhile, was the heart and soul of the Lancer midfield the last four seasons and ranks fifth with 103 career points, sixth with 37 goals and third with 29 assists.
The thought of replacing that type of production is not lost on St. Clair, but the sixth-year mentor is confident she has the right pieces in place to make a run at a successful title defense.
"Fabiola, Kylee and all of our seniors last year were special players," said St. Clair. "But every year is a fresh year and we have a tremendous group of returnees back and exciting group of new players coming in. The team has become deeper, better and worked hard in the offseason and we're excited to get the season underway.
"We have a lot of players who can play a variety of roles, which gives us many options. Our approach to what we do is the same, and we'll focus on the things we can control which are our work ethic, performance and execution to get into a position to be successful."
With the departure of Jorgensen, who has minded the net for the last two years, four keepers are vying for the starting role. Rosie Nakata and Katie Rumfola are the most experienced, both having spent two seasons in the program. Nakata has made 10 appearances and two starts the past two years, including a start in the Lancers' win over The Master's in the second round of the NAIA Tournament in 2010. Rumfola, who redshirted last year, started seven games and made five starts with a 0.98 goals against average as a 2010 freshman.
"It's a talented corps of keepers," said St. Clair, who was a starting keeper for four years at Westmont during her playing days. "All four have done well in their offseason training and have improved in their presence, shot stopping, communication and organization. It's been a competitive training camp, and I anticipate someone will step up and take on that starting role."
With the loss of just one defender, the Lancers should be formidable in the back once again. The PacWest's leading defensive unit that allowed just 12 goals in 21 games is anchored by junior All-PacWest first team selection Kristen Witchey. Sophomore Courtney Shutts and senior Chantel Cappuccilli return after starting all 21 games last year, giving the Lancers experience on the backline.
Christina Armstrong returns for her sophomore campaign after making 12 appearances as a true freshman last year. Ashley Richardson sat out last season while recovering from an injury, but she made 18 appearances and two starts as a freshman in 2010. Melissa Laxamana, who made two appearances last year, returns after battling through injuries the better part of the last two years and appears to be healthy and ready to compete for time. Newcomer Samantha Myers (St. Mary's) transfers in looking to make an impact after playing in eight games at NCAA Division I St. Mary's in 2011.
"I am very excited about this group, especially about that fact that we have a strong returning core," said St. Clair. "It's a versatile group of strong defenders who do a good job defending individually and collectively but also give us options in the attack."
Six returnees, all of whom saw ample time last year, and three newcomers comprise the deepest position on the roster. Bernadette Witz, a two-time all-national tournament selection, is poised to assume a go-to role in the center of the park. Witz has scored 13 goals and assisted on eight others in two seasons.
Senior Eva Solis is the most experienced and is ready to return to form after battling through injuries. As a 2009 freshman, Solis had four goals and eight assists in 12 games before a season-ending injury. She played in 18 games with four assists last year. Channing Perea also returns after playing in 20 games with a goal and three assists as a sophomore transfer in 2011.
A trio of sophomores all made an impact in their rookie campaigns last year and are ready to take the next step in their second year. Lindsay Vesling scored five goals and five assists in 19 games (11 starts). Silvia Sanchez played in 20 games off the bench, scoring twice and assisting on two others. Mikala Gillis started all 21 games as a holding midfielder and had a goal and an assist.
Daelyn Paul, a transfer from St. Mary's, headlines the trio of newcomers. Paul started 57 games and had 34 points in three seasons with the Gaels. She earned West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team honors and earned three All-WCC honorable mentions. Tambrie Awai played her 2011 freshman season at Cal State San Bernardino where she played in 18 games, scoring once. Freshman Lauren Wallberg (Portland, Ore./Beaverton HS) rounds out the newcomers, having earned All-State honors as a 2011 senior.
"This is by far our deepest group," said St. Clair. "They have a good variety of styles and will give us creativity, athleticism and consistency. All of our midfielders bring something exciting to the table."
Sophomore Kimberly Allard (10 goals, 8 assists, 28 points) is coming off a spectacular freshman campaign. Allard earned PacWest Freshman of the Year and All-PacWest first team honors. She will be looked upon to help make up for the loss of Nicassio.
Junior transfer Kelly Jenks played two seasons at NCAA Division I Santa Clara, making a pair of appearances in the College Cup. She played in 21 games in two seasons and scored twice as a freshman, including the game-winner against No. 15 Georgetown. Freshman Natosha Yanes (Riverside-Poly HS) rounds out the forwards, joining the team as a walk-on.
"All our forwards are multidimensional, which gives us options and is problematic for opposing defenders," said St. Clair. "This is a group that can create opportunities for themselves as well as each other."
It all begins Saturday as the Lancers host Cal State Dominguez Hills. The PacWest season begins Sept. 13 at Fresno Pacific. If the Lancers can figure out a way to deal with the losses of some of the best players in program history, then a second straight PacWest title could be within reach.
"With any top team it takes a great deal of work to get to the top and it takes even more work to stay there," said St. Clair. "Nothing changes for us. We'll focus on our own performance game-by-game and those things that we can control. Our focus doesn't change from year to year and this year is no different. "