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Athenas at practice

CMS Women's Soccer Debuts at Pritzlaff Field Wednesday Night

CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's soccer team will be in action at Pritzlaff Field on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. when it takes on the College of the Desert for a 7 p.m. contest.

The Athenas will be playing the second half of an opening day doubleheader at Pritzlaff, after the CMS men's soccer team opens its regular season with a 4 p.m. contest against UC Santa Cruz. CMS will begin the 2021 season ranked nationally in the preseason by the United Soccer Coaches, earning the No. 22 spot in the preseason poll.  

Wednesday night will mark the first time that the Athenas will be in action at their home facility since the last week of October in 2019, when they defeated Cal Lutheran (1-0) and Caltech (7-0) in consecutive games. The 2020 season was eliminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, denying the Athenas the chance to build off a spectacular finish to their 2019 season. 

In fact, that 1-0 win over Cal Lutheran proved to be a significant pivot point for the program, as the Athenas earned a bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament despite falling short of the SCIAC playoffs. CMS had big non-conference wins over Pacific Lutheran and Illinois Wesleyan, and tied Cal Lutheran on the road, so the home win gave it the one more signature victory it needed to impress the committee enough to earn its way in the NCAAs. 

Once in, the Athenas had a storybook run, defeating Emory 2-1 in the opening round, and then tying Cal Lutheran 0-0 in the regional finals. The match went to penalty kicks, and CMS prevailed 4-2, giving it its second regional championship in program history, along with the 2008 team. The Athenas almost made it even further, holding a 1-0 lead over No. 3 Washington University late in the game, but they ultimately fell 2-1 in overtime to end their season with an 11-5-4 record. 

CMS headed into the offseason eager to build off that success, but lost the 2020 season entirely, and now enters its 2021 campaign looking to build around a new nucleus of players. The Athenas do still have an experienced defense, with senior center back Gracyn Buenconsejo returning after earning All-SCIAC and All-West Region honors. She will be flanked on the outside with three players who earned starting experience in 2019, senior Ava Sherry and juniors Sam Ree and Taylor Arakaki, and the unit also has junior Athena Manthouli behind them in net, who split time as the starter in 2019.

The Athenas will look to some new faces for goal scoring though, as junior midfielder Nicole Oberlag is the top returning scorer with three goals, including the game-winner against Emory in the NCAA Tournament. CMS had one exhibition game at Biola, and first-year Kaitlyn Helfrich found the net off a pass from first-year Ava Schmitt, giving a strong indication that the newcomers will be ready to contribute from day one. 

As one of the returning players from the 2019 team, Oberlag is help lead a young group of Athenas this fall. 

"We're really trying to build a culture and emphasize that we're there for each other," Oberlag said," supporting while still pushing each other to be our best. And just a big family that's trying to see what we can do out there." 

After facing College of the Desert, the Athenas will be quickly back in action on Friday for their first game against a four-year school, facing Willamette in a neutral site game at Cal Lutheran as the season gets off to a quick start.

Oberlag doesn't mind the busy schedule at all, though, and says that the team has been eagerly waiting for this week, especially after losing an entire season a year ago. 

"We're really excited," she said. "It's been a long time, but it's been really fun getting back and we're just really excited to get out there and compete and see what we can do this season."