New Year, Same Goal For CSUEB Women’s Soccer

Jared Darling, Sports Photographer

In sports, it is often said that it is harder to defend a championship than it is to win one. After winning their first California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship last year, the Pioneers are up for the challenge of making a run at this season’s title once again. Junior midfielder Kelsey Pena is thrilled by the heightened stakes that come with the championship title.

“There is definitely a target on our backs this season because of our achievement last season, but people still underestimate us. They still don’t believe in us or give us credit for being the team that we are,” said Pena.

Despite last year’s historic season, the CCAA pre-season poll revealed that the Pioneers are predicted to finish fourth in the conference behind last season’s runner-up and this season’s predicted first, the Sonoma State Seawolves. Pena, who not only scored the game-winning goal in the championship match but also earned the title of the 2021 CCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Offensive Player, feels that this fourth-place prediction is unwarranted.

“We are definitely going to prove to the entire conference why we are a top team in our conference and why we should be placed higher than the other teams that were predicted to finish above us,” Pena assured, stating that “we’re now going to take things into our own hands and establish ourselves as a threat in the conference.”

If East Bay wants to end the season, once again, as the last team standing, they will need major contributions from up and down the roster. Another stellar campaign from goalkeeper Jordan Smith, might be the key factor that pushes the Pioneers ahead of the competition. Smith, named last year’s CCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Defensive Player, turned in a historic season for the Pioneers. Most notably, Smith’s ten shutouts set the record for the most shutouts in program history for a single season. Smith has already racked up two shutouts early this season, both resulting in Pioneer wins.

“There is a target on our backs. Every game we are going into, everyone is playing their best because we are the defending champions. We have to bring [our] ‘A’ performance every game or we are going to fall short,” asserted Smith.

One potential hurdle in the Pioneer’s quest for back-to-back championships could be team chemistry. There has been a great deal of turnover between this year’s squad compared to that of last season. This turnover includes a new assistant coach and a dozen fresh faces, ready to earn a championship title of their own.

One fresh face is Abigail Kern, a transfer from the University of Connecticut, who attributes an early season Hawaii trip as an integral part of helping build team chemistry. “As a transfer, the Hawaii trip definitely calmed down a lot of nerves, not just for me but for all the newcomers. It gave us some sort of release, that soccer was not just about winning but also having fun.” Further reflecting on the excursion, Kern continued, “this trip without a doubt, brought this team so much closer. Friendship is shown on and off the field so frequently. I’m happy to call this team my family.”

Pena echoed these sentiments, noting that the trip helped open their eyes to some potential faults in the team’s chemistry: “It was definitely an eye opener on what we have to focus on as a team so that we can perform at a high level. It was much needed, and I know it will help us drive each other to want to play for one another so that no one feels let down.”

Smith also noticed some of these flaws and had the realization that becoming back-to-back CCAA champions will not be a walk in the park: “[This trip] gave us a chance to figure things out on and off the field. It made us realize that we are also a different team than last year and what got us to the championship last year, is probably not what’s going to help us get to the championship this year.”

After a solid start to the season, the team’s mentality seems unwavering, with the trip already paying significant dividends. The Pioneers are determined to convert the naysayers into believers with their “prove them wrong” mentality. “I am looking forward to competing with this group of girls because of how talented we are as a team, but what makes it even more fun is getting the chance to prove everyone wrong again,” added Pena. Echoing this sentiment, Kern reiterated that she, “wants this team to prove to others that it wasn’t just a one-year thing.”

Senior Andrea Aborqui claims she is not backing down in her last season either:”[We are] still going to give everyone a run for their money.” Only time will tell if the Pioneers will stay atop the CCAA throne at the end of the season, but one thing’s for sure–they are poised for the challenge.