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Cal Lutheran Starts Season on Solid Footing

The men's and women's teams have 1-1 records, both losing games by one goal to Division II power Grand Canyon.


THOUSAND OAKS — Cal Lutheran men's and women's soccer Coach Dan Kuntz expected to know more about his teams following their openers last week against Grand Canyon, a traditionally strong program that won the NCAA Division II men's national championship last season.

"This will be a good early-season test for us," he said. "We'll know just where we are, right now."

Sure enough, after a 3-2 loss by the Kingsmen and the Regals' 2-1 defeat at the hands of Grand Canyon, Kuntz found out that his teams are just about on top of their games.

"I feel really good," said Kuntz, in his fifth year as coach of both teams. "Even though we lost, I don't really feel discouraged at all."

Despite only four days of preseason practice, Cal Lutheran (1-1), an NCAA Division III school, held a 1-0 halftime lead against Grand Canyon in the men's match before giving up a pair of goals in a six-minute stretch just after the break.

Grand Canyon added another goal in the 79th minute, although the Kingsmen closed the gap with another score four minutes later.

"We competed very well the whole game," Kuntz said. "It was a real pleasure to see them come together so quickly, against a strong team so early in the season. I feel pretty proud of that 3-2 score."

The strong showing and a subsequent victory over UC Santa Cruz left Kuntz optimistic about the team's chances of improving on its 12-7 record of a year ago, when the Kingsmen shared the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship with Claremont-Mudd and Pomona-Pitzer. All three teams were 8-2 in conference play, but Cal Lutheran was left out of the playoffs when the Kingsmen suffered a 6-1 loss to Claremont-Mudd and a 2-1 defeat to Pomona-Pitzer in a west regional qualifying tournament.

"I think we were thinking too much about where we were going to go if we won those games, instead of just taking care of business," Kuntz said. "We were looking ahead too much, and I take responsibility for that. Against Claremont, especially, it was a really bad game. Those were hard lessons, and if nothing else, we want to play well, and try to take each game at a time this year."

Kuntz believes last year left a mark on the Kingsmen. An influx of talent and speed is expected to do the same. A total of 50 players, the most in Kuntz's tenure, tried out for the team and 20 will be carried on the roster.

"I think we have a team that's a little bit more experienced and a little faster, and has a lot more depth than we did last year," he said.

The depth is expected to help offset the loss of leading scorer Aluede Okokhere to graduation. Okokhere had 29 goals and four assists last season.

Senior forward Brian Collins, the team's second-leading scorer with 18 goals and six assists last season, returns, as does junior forward Oskar Kantoft (seven goals, six assists).

Senior Sebastian Alvarado (five goals, seven assists) and junior Jeff Smilen (three goals, four assists) lead an experienced midfield that also includes returners Robert Spang and Edwin Astudillo and should be bolstered by the presence of transfer Jose Melgoza, a former Buena High standout who did not play while at Ventura College the past two years.

"I think what's going to happen is we're going to spread the wealth around a little bit more," Kuntz said.

Transfer Luis Alcaraz from JC state champion Santa Barbara City College will lead the defense at sweeper, with senior transfer Guillermo Alvarado from Cal State L.A. in goal.

Cal Lutheran's women expect to benefit from more depth than they have ever had after 43 players came out for the squad.

The Regals (1-1) were 17-3 overall and 12-0 as SCIAC champions for the sixth consecutive year last season. The team has gone 70-1-1 in conference play during that span and appears to have the material to continue the success.

Junior forward Holly Roepke, out of L.A. Lutheran High, returns after tying for the team lead with 14 goals and adding five assists to earn Division III second-team All-American honors last season. Also back is Newbury Park High graduate Kim Holeman, a senior attacking midfielder who was third on the team with 12 goals and seven assists in 1996, and sophomore Chayna Manning (six goals, three assists). Freshmen Alia Khan, a left-footed shooter, and former Moorpark High standout Liz Christensen add speed.

The midfield will be patrolled by returnees Ashley Scott, Heidi Theis and Kristin Taylor.

All-conference selection Lara Philby returns at sweeper. Christine Perry, Christine Beattie, Jennifer Agostino and freshman twins Erin and Gretchen Radtke are contending for fullback spots.

All-SCIAC goalie Amy Walz has graduated and will serve as an assistant coach. Vying for her position are seniors Kim Carver and Laura Corsi and freshman Brenda Coan .

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