Los Angeles Soccer: Jess Dingman
Frank Marino believes Cal Lutheran is on target for something big in women's soccer, and if it doesn't happen this year, well, check back next fall. And the years to follow.
The Regals, from Thousand Oaks, head into this weekend's start to the NCAA Division III tournament with a 20-1-1 record, No. 10 national ranking, and burgeoning confidence following back-to-back titles in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Cal Lu was perfect in SCIAC play this season, maneuvered past one little bump -- winning on penalty kicks over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the conference tournament final -- and are set to take its first step toward a potential national title Saturday night at 7:30 at the university's new William Rolland Stadium against UC Santa Cruz, a side the Regals have beaten twice this year, both by 2-0 scorelines.
“I think we're pretty good ...,” said Marino, who in three seasons has posted a 51-10-4 record, rising from 13 wins to 18 and then 20 -- the last two setting program records -- with back-to-back NCAA appearances. “I really think we're in the top 10 of the country. I feel if the ball bounces the right way, we can compete for a national championship, I really do. We have enough depth on our roster to play with anybody.”
But first things first. Cal Lutheran has never won an NCAA tournament game. If they do so against UC Santa Cruz (7-6-2), on Sunday, they'll play the winner of the other first-rounder at Rolland, the 5 p.m. game between Puget Sound (14-3-2) and Concordia-Morehead (12-3-5).
The Regals are led by two-time SCIAC Player of the Year Sinead Vaughn (Simi Valley/Royal HS), a third-team All-America midfielder last season who came to Cal Lu after stints at Cal State Northridge and Moorpark College. Other team leaders are senior central midfielder Kaitlin Walters (Moorpark/Moorpark HS and Moorpark College) and junior center back Jess Dingman (Moorpark/Moorpark HS).
The addition of freshman striker Taylor Will, from Santa Maria, is taking the Regals to the next level. She's got Division I skills but fell in love with the Cal Lu campus, and she has scored 19 goals in 19 games.
“She's athletic, but she's also got a very good sense of how to play football,” said Marino, who also coaches Westlake High School's girls team and in Camarillo's champion Eagles Soccer Club, where Will played. “She can score in multiple ways. She's really good in the box in terms of finishing and her versatility makes her special.”
Cal Lutheran's only loss this season came against defending champion Hardin-Simmons, which is 19-1 and ranked seventh in the Division III poll, but it has survived a few scares in the past couple of weeks. The Regals needed overtime to beat Pomona-Pitzer and Occidental in their last two conference matches and couldn't score in OT before prevailing in the SCIAC final.
That might be a good thing.