By Tyler Bindi | Sports Editor

For Saint Mary’s athletics, the fall season once again promises months of excitement and competition. Some teams, like women’s volleyball, will look to turn things around after a rough 2016 campaign. Other groups, like men’s soccer, will try to take the next step from mere competitiveness to conference-title contention.

Saint Mary’s volleyball team finished last season with a record of 11-18, and head coach Rob Browning’s club is looking forward to improving during the 2017 season. The Gaels will be challenged with a schedule that includes seven NCAA Tournament teams from the previous year, including three in their first weekend of the season alone in Creighton, Washington, and Pittsburgh.

Saint Mary’s begins their season August 25, but they don’t play a home game until September 8 against Fresno State after competing in tournaments in Seattle, Washington and Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Our schedule is loaded with a bunch of top-notch opponents,” says head coach Rob Browning. “We are going to find ourselves toe-to-toe with some of the very best teams in the nation, including the past two NCAA national champions in Stanford and Nebraska.”

Saint Mary’s returns plenty of experience with ten letter winners coming back this year. In addition, they’ve added several new players who have the opportunity to contribute immediately due to their athleticism and versatility. It will take a team effort to compete at the highest level against some of the best teams in the country.

“Some people think I’m crazy to set a schedule like the one we have, and part of me thinks they’re right,” said Browning. “It will be one of the toughest pre-conference schedules in the country. I don’t intentionally go out and schedule all the toughest teams I can find. If I’m invited to a tournament that interests me, I go for it. We aren’t afraid to play the best.”

The women’s soccer team is coming off a disappointing 5-13-2 season, but the Gaels have an opportunity to prove that last season’s struggles were just a fluke. They were able to finish last season with impressive wins against two top-50 teams in their final two games, beating San Diego and Loyola Marymount in a pair of home matches to close their season.

The Gaels continued that momentum into the spring, as they finished the short six-game season with a promising 4-1-1 record. Their defense proved to be the main story. Travis Clarke’s team allowed a combined three goals in those six games.

According to Hero Sports, the Gaels will have the 68th toughest schedule in the nation in the fall. This is partly due to their difficult non-conference schedule, which includes several teams with impressive 2016 resumes. Rice (11-5-1), Idaho (11-5-4), Fordham (10-5-5), Samford (15-4-2) and San Jose State (10-6-4) will add on to an already tough WCC schedule.

Saint Mary’s will be adding 10 freshmen to the roster this fall, and head coach Travis Clarke believes they can make an impact right away. “We do anticipate several of our 2017 signees to be able to come in and contribute next season,” said Clarke. Mixed in with the new faces will be five seniors playing in their final season as Gaels.  Jackie Dutton, Heather Seybert, Valerie LaForge, Jaslyn Guillen, and Hannah Diaz, will all be back for their final year.

Hannah Diaz led the Gaels in scoring last season and has recently been invited to represent the United States on the U-23 U.S. Women’s National Team. Diaz will compete for the U.S. this spring in Orland Florida (April 2-8). The women’s soccer team opens up their 2017 campaign with a home game against Sacramento state on August 18th at 3:30pm.

The men’s soccer team will be challenged with a schedule that includes only seven home games, compared to ten games on the road. They finished last season with a respectable 8-8-3 record but will be faced with a more difficult schedule this time around.

Saint Mary’s will be going up against a total of 13 programs that finished the 2016 season with an RPI inside the top 100, including two teams who finished last season ranked nationally inside the top 25. In addition, they will be playing five programs that competed in the NCAA Championship in 2016. “We’ve put together a great schedule this year that is exciting, challenging, and will provide a tremendous student-athlete experience with the teams we are playing, as well as the destinations we are going to,” said Saint Mary’s head coach Adam Cooper.

The Gaels begin their season with a difficult slate of games against Big West Conference teams. They take on UC Santa Barbara August 25 and CSUN August 27, with both matches being on the road.  Saint Mary’s will play their first home game of the season against Detroit Mercy on September 2 at 4:00 pm.

The Saint Mary’s women’s cross country team added six new student-athletes for the 2017-18 school season. They will add both athleticism and accolades to an already strong team. “We are very excited to have a large incoming freshman class,” said Saint Mary’s assistant coach Brett Zorich. “They have a lot of raw, untapped potential which will be great to build off of. Our women’s team looks to be one of the strongest in school history.”

The Saint Mary’s men’s cross country team has brought on five new student-athletes of their own for the season. These athletes bring not only a great deal of talent to the table, but also a championship mentality, with impressive high-school accolades.

“We have a very strong returning men’s roster,” says Zorich. “The freshmen coming in will have a lot of great men to look up to and learn from. We are excited to see what the incoming men can do.”

Both teams will certainly be leaning on their experience to lead them into the fall season. The men’s team is led by Gabe Arias-Sheridan, who made history last year as the first Gael to compete in the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championship.

Likewise, the women’s squad will turn to Haley Dorris, who twice broke the women’s school record in the 5,000 meters last year.

The two teams will begin  their seasons on Friday, September 1 in Sparks, Nevada at the Nevada Twilight meet.


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