Women’s Team Exceeds Expectations By Making Playoffs
Expectations were low for the women’s team entering the season, as they were voted to finish last out of 12 teams in the California Collegiate Athletic Association preseason coaches poll. They had finished the 2019 season with a 2-14-1 record.
To start the season, those expectations held up, with a 0-3 record after three games and a 2-5 record after seven. Then the Gators rattled off a run in which they lost only two out of the next 10 matches. This stretch secured a spot in the CCAA tournament for the first time since 2018.
“They’re resilient, courageous, brave, amazing, intelligent women,” Head Coach John DeMartini said. “This whole year has been all about the joy of being around them and creating a new environment for them.”
With one game to play, the Gators had the second seed on the line as they faced one-seeded Sonoma State University to finish off the regular season.
In the 26th minute, the Seawolves got on the board due to a hand ball that resulted in a penalty kick. In the final minute of the first half, SF State answered. Freshman forward Alexa Avelar (No. 11) had been on the field for only a few minutes when she tied the game after a perfect cross from defender AJ Tanner (No. 6) that she tapped past the goalkeeper, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Momentum seemed to be on the Gators side, but not for long. The Seawolves stormed back with two goals in the first five minutes of the second half to put the Gators in a 3-1 deficit that they couldn’t overcome.
The 3-1 victory for Sonoma State University gave them the first seed in the conference tournament with a 8-3 conference record and 13-4 record overall.
While the Gators would have loved to end the regular season with a win and possibility of a higher seed, they feel optimistic about the tournament and are excited to have beaten the odds to get there.
“This has been one of my favorite seasons of soccer I’ve ever played in my entire life,” defender Allie Vargas (No. 24) said. “There’s no shining star. We’re just a collective group that just wants to battle. You don’t know who’s gonna score and teams have a hard time stopping us because of that.”
Senior forward Glory Smith (No. 23) led the Gators in points for the season, with two goals and four assists. Alexa Avelar and midfielder Julia Hagedorn (No. 21) had the most goals for the Gators, with three apiece.
Thursday was special for the seniors involved, as it will be the last regular season match of their collegiate careers. The six seniors on the team will be moving on, including Kinesiology major Obioma Onejeme (No. 3).
“I was a little bit nervous,” the senior forward said. “But, it was a good nervous because I knew that we were gonna work hard for each other. And I was really excited too, after seeing everybody on the field.”
The fourth seeded Gators lost to fifth seeded Cal State LA Sunday at Cox Stadium in the first round of the tournament to end the season. The game went into double overtime with a 1-1 score and had to be decided by penalty kicks, with the Golden Eagles outlasting the Gators 5-3 in the shootout to advance.
Men’s Team Has Disappointing but Optimistic Second Half
The men’s team had a season result opposite to that of the women’s team.
After starting out the season with a strong 4-1 record, the Gators had a 10 game stretch without a win — three of them resulting in draws. Four of their losses were by one goal. The season could have been very different for the Gators had a few of those matches gone their way.
Head Coach Pedro Osorio believes this team was stronger than the 2019 team that made the playoffs but the team came across some tough situations that they couldn’t prepare for. “We lost some heartbreakers this year and I actually think we have a very strong team,” Head Coach Pedro Osorio said. “We didn’t have that spring, so I think that’s what hurt us the most.”
The Gators had a shot of ending the season with three straight wins when they played Sonoma State on Thursday.
The first half was close, and ended without a score as neither team was given many opportunities. Eight minutes into the second half, the Seawolves broke the tie. Later on in the 75th minute, the Seawolves scored again and won the match 2-0. Both teams had four shots on goal.
Despite the defeat, the two seniors on the team, goalkeeper Erik Ornelas (No. 1) and defender Santiago Sarmiento (No. 3), were in good spirits after their final match at the collegiate level as they both embraced Senior Day.
“It’s emotional, for sure,” Sarmiento said. “I put so much into this game and it’s given me so much, so it was an awesome experience to be out there today.”
Sarmiento aims to follow his career as a Business Administration major now that his soccer career is over for the time being.
When looking back at his fondest memories from this season, Ornelas, said Senior Day was his best memory. He plans on taking a break from soccer so that he can focus on his major, Visual Communication Design. But he is planning to return to soccer some day.
“It was such a great experience and it was just amazing going out there one last time with my brothers. I can’t go away from this game,” Ornelas said.
Forward Gustavo Ferrari, a junior transfer who had one of the best seasons of any player in the nation, led the conference in goals scored, with 14, and points, with 35. He was tied for the ninth most goals and points across all Division II players.
Osorio is optimistic that this team will be stronger next year and is excited by the prospect of having a regular offseason routine to get the team in shape.
“We felt like we had a team this year that could compete and take us deep into the playoffs,” Osorio said. “So having almost our entire team back and getting a Spring under our belt — I think that we will be very competitive next year. We’re really excited and looking forward to it.”