For the minute the women stepped back on the pitch in the spring to official practices beginning in mid-August, there has been a renewed hunger within the program.
"We are really thrilled with the first few weeks," said head coach Tim Hall. "The returning group has been fantastic. They have set the standard and the tone. I have four captains, all four seniors, just quality and they run and help setting an ethos and a culture so camp has really been good."
This is the largest recruiting class in recent memory, as coach Hall added 15 newcomers (14 freshmen) to the roster. While the talent level of this class offers tons of excitement to Sea Lions' fans, it is also a unique situation for coach Hall and his staff.
"We were excited but also a little nervous about our incoming class being so big," he explained. "They have all turned out to be very, very great young ladies. When you recruit people you know them well enough to say yeah we want them, but you don't really get to know them until they get here. We've been in for a few days and getting to know them.
“The more we get to know them the more we feel affirmed and blessed in our decisions as people. As soccer players, I mean we are more excited, we knew we were going to get some good players but we didn't realize we were going to get as many that could contribute. So, our problem right now, the first time I have had it in years, is our depth is pretty big. It's not a problem, it's a blessing but you have to manage it."
When the Sea Lions have the ball, fans should recognize most of the faces on the attack as Point Loma returns six of its top nine scorers, including PacWest preseason selection Sami Swanson.
"Offensively we have some talent, but it is always the question of do we have that person that can bury the ball in the net," said Hall. "We think we have a couple that are dangerous but obviously time will tell. We have a lot of kids that can play the high positions, especially the outsides. We've brought in a lot more speed, they have good technical abilities and are strong and smarter. These kids are technical and they are smart, and they have a good understanding of the game. We feel really positive about going forward with the ball."
Last season, Point Loma finished 12th in the NCAA with 0.529 goals allowed per match and 14th with a 0.611 shutout percentage, and these numbers were actually up from the previous season. Coach Hall's teams have always prided themselves on keeping the ball out of the net, and this year the team should be even better as they return all four starters, three of which were All-PacWest selections, including 2015 All-American and PacWest preseason selection Morgan Pearce.
"I think this will be one of our strongest defensive lines in a long time," he explained. "I think we have been blessed with some good recruits across the board. That goes all the way from the goalie up to the forwards. The girls really seem to be bought in to the defensive schemes because we hit that hard right out of the door at camp. I'm really pleased with what I have seen so far. I believe defense is a choice to play.
“Offensive is kind of fun, everyone likes to go try and score, but I feel like there is some real commitment to the defensive schemes that we have. It has just been amazing how the cohesiveness has been, and I think that is due to the serious leadership from our girls. Our four captains are strong people, good players and are tender-hearted. Everyone has bought into the system defensively, and I have been pleased with what I have seen so far."
One key part of the defense that Point Loma had to replace in the offseason was four-year starter at goalkeeper, Ariel Oriarte. To do this Hall brought in Brianna Linnell to compete with returner Jessica Warner for the starting spot.
"Ariel was big time, you never replace an Ariel, you just hope to find a new one," Hall explained. "We brought in a new girl from Alaska, Brianna Linnell, and she is showing very well. Experience is her big deficient now because she doesn't have any game time yet as a college athlete but she is very technical, gets the game, very coachable, very athletic, I think she is going to be a tremendous goalie. Jessica Warner is pushing her right now too. At the moment, Brianna has the net but Jess is fighter and a scrapper so she is not just giving it up easily but she is also carrying good spirit on it as a senior bringing in a freshman. But I know it is tough, she's in a tough predicament. I appreciate the way she is allowing this thing to go forward."
Coach Hall also spoke how depth and the defense would be the strengths of this team.
"This is my last year, and you know me, we are going to try to be a good defensive team," he continued. "It is a big passion of mine as I spend my last season with these girls. So, we want to be very good on defense."
Coach Hall is also not a man to look past weaknesses or areas of deficiency on his team, and knows these must be shored up is the Sea Lions are looking to make any type of postseason run.
"We can all improve, every one of us," Hall explained. "Fitness needs to get better but we are new in camp so I get it. We have 31 girls and only three at this point haven't passed the fitness, which is fantastic. So they are on schedule to being good. Our injuries are minimal right now, so we are praying that that stays healthy."
Although he does not like to write down goals, it is obvious to everyone around the program that coach Hall and every returner desires to bring home another title for the Sea Lions in his final season.
"I get nervous talking about numbered goals, like we are going to win this or we are going to win that," Hall said. "I feel like our goal is to prepare the best we can with fitness, with technical ability, with our tactical components, choosing to play good defense, committing to the attack, putting the work in on doing what our system wants to do; that's my goal.
“If we are very, very good at that and we push them to be very, very good at that then we will just see where our chips fall. The goal is that we will do really well. The other goal for me is, and this is the most important thing, is that I really want these kids to have a good academic experience here and we have been very intentional about being good academically right out of the gate. I want them to grow as people, I think we have a culture on this team that is what the spirit of it is, growth for these girls to be challenged and to walk life together.
“Those kind of goals, when they are the closest to being met, it doesn't hurt you on the field. We would like to do what we have to be successful in the wins and losses columns, whatever that takes. We want to go to the national tournament, all those things, it would be foolish not to mention that. I think if we can take care of the things we can do and control, we will see where it goes, I think we will have a good chance. We will see what happens."
There is a level of expectation that surrounds the Point Loma women's soccer program. It is not coming from the coaches, the administration or the school, it comes internally from the team. It has been earned by the success of the Sea Lions under coach Hall, and every member of the squad knows it will take an entire team effort to return to the level the program has become accustomed, but no matter what the 2017 season will be a memorable one.