The Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Association might be the best NCAA Division III women’s soccer league that no one outside of California knows much about.
The SCIAC was formed in 1915 and today’s eight member schools are all located within minutes of one another in southern California. The schools are connected by a maze of southern California highways. That gives schools seeking non-conference road games a warm-weather destination filled with potential opponents. It also keeps SCIAC travel costs down, a blessing during tough economic times.
Two SCIAC teams are actually located on the same plot of land in the Claremont cluster of colleges that combine athletes from different colleges to form sports programs.
Athletes from Pomona and Pitzer colleges make up the SCIAC’s Pomona-Pitzer team. Claremont Mudd Scripps, the defending conference champion, draws players from Claremont-McKenna, Scripps and Harvey Mudd colleges. Pomona, Pitzer, Claremont-McKenna, Scripps and Mudd share borders behind ivy-covered walls 35 minutes east of Los Angeles.
The eight SCIAC teams remain largely unranked, but have combined for a record of 26-21-3. Since all the highly-academic colleges recruit nationally, they have a deep talent pool playing in soccer-crazy southern California. Chapman College was rated the highest of all at BR-50.
The top five teams in the standings Occidental College (4-0, 2-0 SCIAC), Claremont Mudd Scripps (5-2-1, 2-0), Pomona-Pitzer (4-2, 2-0) and the University of Redlands (3-2, 1-1) are 16-7-1.
Claremont Mudd Scripps won the SCIAC title last year and earned a trip to the NCAA Division III tournament, where the Athenas suffered a first-round loss. Head coach Keri Sanchez explained that playing close to home doesn’t help build a national profile through rankings, but does enhance a SCIAC team’s chances of rising in the NCAA’s West Region and, thus, earning postseason bids that build a nationwide profile.
“We traveled to Massachusetts for two nonconference games and trips are always good. They’re good for team bonding,” Sanchez said. “But, playing four nonconference matches in region gives us a chance to see where we stack up compared to the teams that are also trying to get that NCAA tournament berth. We got one last year and lost in the first round. We still have a bitter taste about that, so we want to get back there. In-region matches really help and we really have a drive to return to the NCAAs.”
Midfielder Makella Brems is a 5-foot-4 sophomore who helps lead the Athenas. Junior Darrah Shields is a standout in the midfield while senior defender Sara Tweedy and junior Laura Hayward anchor the defending champions’ defense.
Occidental, located in Pasadena, California, has outscored opponents 9-1.
“I can’t be happier for a real great group of young women who are starting to knit together,” Occidental head coach Colm McFeely said. “We’ve showed resilience, resolve and fought until the end.”
Freshman Camille Scrager has four goals for the unbeaten Tigers. Senior Karina Garcia has two.
“I’m delighted for our young freshman forward Shrager who hit the game-winning goal in our first win, and also for ,” McFeely said.
Redlands shows exactly the type talent that could earn the SCIAC an increasing position in the national spotlight.
Chicago University (5-0), ranked 16th in the HeroSports Top 25, defeated Redlands 2-0 to open the season. The Bulldogs, however, out shot the visitors 13-7. Then, Redlands rallied to upset Chapman, 2-1, to open SCIAC play.
Katie Frame and Cassie Lively scored goals for Redlands, while Haley Fredden had one for Chapman, which was paced by goalkeeper Kristin Kleinow’s 10 saves.
Chapman makes a strong case for the SCIAC having more of a presence nationally. They defeated the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington, 2-1. Then, they upset BR-44 Hardin-Simmons at home, 2-1. Claremont Mudd Scripps beat Chapman, 4-1, while Occidental earned a 1-0 conference win over the Orange.
Hardin-Simmons out shot Chapman 17-3. However Chapman proved to more accurate, capitalizing on their only two shots on goal with Rosie Kerstetter and Olivia Do each hitting net for the Orange. Kerstetter is a returning all-SCIAC pick after a banner freshman season. Junior Haley Fedden was also all-SCIAC a year for a team that returns 21 players this season.