Not bad for the new kids!
The Sunbirds flew into full membership in the NCAA Division II in September of 2015, earning the right to participate in post-season play. Saturday night the men’s soccer team means to take advantage of that perk, taking on the Dixie State Red Storm for the Pacific West Conference Championship—presenting the possibility of Fresno Pacific University bringing home its first title as an NCAA member, and perhaps advancing in postseason competition, only two months after gaining full membership.
The two teams meet at the Ramirez Field midfield line at 7:30 p.m. on the FPU main campus. This will be the third game between the two squads, whose record is even at 1-1. Each team has won at home: FPU’s 2013 victory came 3-1, while DSU’s 2014 winning score was 4-1.
Title on the line
Going into the game the Sunbirds hold a three-point lead over Dixie State in the PacWest standings. If the game ends in a draw after two overtime periods, FPU will be crowned champion by virtue of points. The Sunbirds are looking for their second conference championship in the last three years, while the Red Storm is in search of its first title. FPU is 7-1-1 at home this season, while DSU is unbeaten at 4-0-3 away from St. George, UT, and 10-1-4 overall (8-0-4 PacWest). The match also gives the Sunbirds the opportunity to hand head coach Jaime Ramirez his 300th career win in front of the home fans.
In the most recent NCAA West Region rankings, released Wednesday, November 4, FPU was tabbed at #6 ahead of DSU at #7. The top six teams in the region will advance to the postseason, hosted by the region’s two top teams. Full rankings can be found at ncaa.com/rankings/soccer-men/d2
Prior to Saturday’s game, FPU will honor nine seniors preparing to make their final appearance at Ramirez Field: Andrew Luis, Dallas Whitlow, Renato Bustamante, Nick Starr, Alvaro Nogales, Emmanuel Ochoa, Eli Gallegos, Chris Rosas and Martin Kams.
On October 27 FPU made its way into the national Top 25 for the first time since joining NCAA Division II. The Sunbirds sit at #15 in the nation in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll. FPU debuted at #16 and had been receiving votes the previous four weeks in the poll.
Sunbirds flying high on offense
The Sunbirds boast the highest-scoring offense in the PacWest and in the West Region in terms of goals per game at 3.18, which ranks eighth nationally in Division II. FPU is second in the nation in total assists with 52 and fourth in total points with 160. The Sunbirds scored a season-high nine goals their last time out in a 9-2 win over Concordia. The scoring output ranks fourth in DII this season and was the highest mark in program history since 2004. FPU also dished out 12 assists in the win, second in the nation for a single game. The Sunbirds have also scored seven goals this season on two occasions: 7-2 over Dominican and 7-3 against Holy Names.
Renato Bustamante was named the NSCAA Division II Player of the Week on Tuesday, September 5, the first such distinction in program history. The Sunbirds received the PacWest Player of the Week honor six times in 2015, as Bustamante earned the award three times, and Joey Belzil, Jorge Chedraui and Alvaro Nogales once each. Andrew Luis earned the PacWest Defender of the Week this season as well.
About the Red Storm
Dixie State, under first-year head coach Josh Pittman, marks its first winning season in DII play in 2015. DSU has found success through tremendous goalkeeper play and a stout defense. The Red Storm sports the nation’s second-ranked defense in terms of goals against average (0.44), while goalkeeper Bradley Trella ranks first in Division II in save percentage (.904) and third in goals against average (0.441). Meanwhile, the offense ranks ninth in the PacWest in scoring average at 1.33. Santiago Alejandro leads in points (16), goals (six) and assists (four).
Many thanks to Matt Mazzoni, FPU assistant director of athletics communications in the preparation of this article.