In 2014, the PLNU women’s soccer team became the first-ever Sea Lion team to win a Pacific West Conference Championship.
The team members were honored with a multitude of awards at the conference level, including four Sea Lions who received special honors and seven who were named to the All-PacWest team. The special honors were awarded to Tim Hall as Coach of the Year, Ariel Oriarte as Goalkeeper of the Year, Sami Swanson as Freshman of the Year, and Claire Mathews as Defender of the Year. Though given to specific individuals, these awards proved the hard work and vigor of the team as a whole.
The PLNU women’s soccer team was also the first team at all to go through a 12-game PacWest Conference schedule undefeated (11-0-1), a phenomenal triumph.
The achievements from this past season have encouraged and inspired each member to continue to work her hardest for the university and for each other. Get to know each awardee and find out why the women’s soccer team was so deserving of these honors.
Coach of the Year: TIM HALL
Dr. Tim Hall, head coach of women’s soccer and professor of freshman psychology, helped establish the PLNU women’s soccer team more than 10 years ago. He had been coaching men’s soccer at PLNU for six years prior when a group of undergraduate women athletes wanted to form an official collegiate-level team of their own. At this time, the university had also wanted a women’s soccer team and the idea was in the works. The combination of PLNU’s desire and the students’ initiative, along with Hall’s involvement on behalf of the students, turned the idea into a reality.
During those early stages, Hall contributed to the formation of many aspects of the team, including the women’s soccer training program, a two-week intensive program developed from the men’s training program. Hall was thrilled to watch the program and team develop over the years as it grew, and likewise watched his own coaching strengthen into a defined philosophy.
During his many years of coaching at PLNU, a particular challenge Hall came up against has been the tension his team members have felt between love and care for others as Christians and competing aggressively to be successful on the field.
“It’s something we talk about often, that tension between respect for others and competing,” explained Hall. “I think if Jesus were playing, he’d battle. He’d be fair, he’d play by the rules, and he’d respect his opponents, but I think he’d play hard and compete. That’s the kind of Jesus I think I serve.”
From Hall’s perspective, the team’s success in 2014 was due not only to the women’s commitment to work and practice, but also to their commitment to one another.
“There is love and respect for each other on that team, which produces good team chemistry,” said Hall. “That doesn’t always manifest itself as success on the field, but it seemed to this past season as the women came together, doing well off the field and on the field. They were committed to hard work as soccer players and caring for each other as people.”
Goalkeeper of the Year: ARIEL ORIARTE
For the past two years, sophomore Ariel Oriarte has played on the PLNU women’s soccer team. She personally thinks the team did so well in 2014 because they synchronized, working hard and well together.
“There was an extra bit of oomph, and an extra bit of pep in everyone’s steps,” Oriarte shared. “We all just kind of get it and it clicks. It was like we knew what we were doing out there, and that’s nice.”
Oriarte was named the PacWest Conference Goalkeeper of the Year. Receiving this title was a very humbling experience for her.
“I was so grateful, but I almost feel like my defense won it for me,” Oriarte said. “It’s really cool to get that recognition, but we have to be able to look to our left and to our right, and to the girls standing beside us, and say, ‘This is your reward just as much as it’s mine.’”
Although her freshman year on the team was rewarding, Oriarte experienced significant challenges. While difficult to go through, these experiences strengthened not only her relationship with her teammates, but also her faith. After battling another player on the team for the goalie position, Oriarte had lost. Not being able to play was the hardest pill to swallow, but looking back, she realized how much she learned.
“I felt like God was telling me, ‘You can be in competition with someone, and you can lose, and that’s loving someone,’” she said.
Oriarte’s love for her teammates, coaches, and all others who have helped her grow has increased since joining the soccer team. She is excited about the upcoming year and continuing such an integral activity in her life.
Defender of the Year: CLAIRE MATHEWS
Claire Mathews is a senior engineering and physics major who has played on the PLNU women’s soccer team since her freshman year. Though she is sad to leave this year, she’ll never forget the influential and significant experiences she had as a team member.
“It’s been cool to see how God has worked through teammates and games,” Mathews shared. “Since coming to PLNU, I have become much less of a selfish player. I’m so attached and connected to my teammates, and I truly believe all of us are playing for the team, to help our school and team do well. I’ve learned a lot about teamwork through my time here.”
As captain, Mathews stepped into the new positions of vocal leader and defender. While she describes these roles to be out of her comfort zone, her strong skills and diligence helped her win the Defender of the Year title.
“I’m really grateful—and see the whole team as such a defensive unit—but I know I can’t take responsibility for any of our success in the back,” Mathews said. “I’m very flattered, but every single girl on the team put her heart and soul into it. I’m really proud of them.”
Mathews’ time at PLNU and on the team has impacted and blessed her in many different ways.
“Coach Hall’s emphasis on faith and each other goes a long way, and I think that differentiates us from other teams and schools,” Mathews said. “I think the camaraderie and commitment to each other are the most amazing parts. We’re not a team of selfish players—instead, everyone has really been here for the team.”
Freshman of the Year: SAMI SWANSON
Though freshman education major Sami Swanson grew up around soccer, she was surprised to be named Freshman of the Year as a newcomer to PLNU’s women’s soccer team. To her, the season started off as a whirlwind of excitement, and winning this title only increased her exhilaration.
“Winning conference added to all the joy I was already experiencing being on the team. It heightened everything and made me so excited for next season,” Swanson shared.
For Swanson, the women’s soccer team at PLNU has been unlike any other soccer program with which she was previously involved.
“I feel like I have a connection with every girl on the team,” she said. “Each of these girls is so beautiful, and I look up to every single one of them. I’ve never had that on a team.”
The team members make a point to connect with their opponents as well, and this year, they started praying with their rivals.
“We do this really cool thing,” Swanson shared. “After the games, we create a prayer circle with the other team—we all intermingle, hold hands, and say a prayer at the end of the game. That way, we all know that even though it was a tough battle and we were fighting on the field, we’re all sisters in Christ at the end of the day.”
Swanson is thankful for the opportunities she’s been given, and has some advice for students on and off the field as well. As a freshman, it is her goal to appreciate her time at PLNU while she is still here, and she hopes the same for every member of the university community.
“You have to have fun in every single moment,” Swanson said. “When you’re losing, you have to be playing to have fun, and you have to be doing your best to have fun. I’m so blessed to be here, around awesome people, and at an amazing school.”