By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
The Master’s University turned the page on a busy weekend and now finds itself in the midst of a crucial week.
Fresh off a strong turnout for its annual home cross country meet, an event that featured more than 1,000 athletes, some from UCLA and USC, Master’s will send its women’s volleyball team to Costa Mesa on Tuesday for an NAIA Top 25 showdown at Vanguard University.
Then, its men’s and women’s soccer teams will attempt to set a positive trajectory in Golden State Athletic Conference play on the road later in the week — with only six games remaining.
First, there’s volleyball.
The Mustangs will surely move up from their No. 14 position when the NAIA releases a new coaches’ poll Tuesday. It comes just in time for a matchup with another conference title contender.
No. 21-ranked Vanguard (17-3, 5-2 in GSAC) is in the midst of its best start since at least 1992, and it features three of the conference’s best attackers.
Master’s (18-3, 7-0) has won its first seven GSAC matches behind an impressive collective effort. No Mustang has won conference player of the week honors to this point, but TMU has managed to drop only two sets during its run to sole possession of first place.
Middle blocker Jane Cisar leads the club with 188 kills and is 12th nationally in hitting percentage. Kayla Sims has made an impressive transition from the team’s only setter to an all-around-contributor in a 6-2 system. She now plays as an outside hitter in addition to leading the team in assists.
In a 3-0 win over Menlo College on Friday, she led the Mustangs with 10 kills and only one error.
Master’s hasn’t beaten Vanguard since Sept. 14, 2016, but a win Tuesday would further solidify TMU as the front-runner in the GSAC. Master’s will play at home on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.) this week.
As for soccer, the Mustangs’ men and women find themselves in similar places.
Both of TMU’s soccer teams went 1-1 in the first two games of conference play last week. The men opened with an impressive win over No. 12 Vanguard on Thursday, a 2-1 victory keyed by Brayden Campos’ golden goal in the 107th minute. Valencia High graduate Luis Garcia Sosa scored TMU’s first goal early in the second half. It was the junior’s fourth goal of the season.
He also has six assists.
The Mustang women went the opposite way. They lost in what could have been crushing fashion to No. 6 Vanguard on Thursday, but bounced back to rout Arizona Christian, 6-0, on Saturday. Kellian Ahearn scored two goals for the Mustangs, who, like the men’s team, will be on the road at William Jessup University in Rocklin on Thursday and Menlo in Atherton on Saturday looking to secure a spot near the top of the conference standings before the stretch run.
After this week, four conference games remain.
For the men, the regular season GSAC champion will receive an automatic bid to the round of 16 of the NAIA national tournament in Orange County because the conference receives a bid as host. A lot is at stake.
You’d think the same was true of The Master’s University XC Invitational, held Saturday at Central Park in Saugus, just by the sheer number and quality of participants on hand.
USC’s Amber Gore won the women’s collegiate 5K with a time of 17 minutes, 45.8 seconds, but Mustang Mikala Fairchild, a Hart High grad, was close behind. Fairchild finished in third place in one of the best races coach Zach Schroeder has seen her run at Master’s. Her time was 17:51.1.
“It was an All-American run for sure,” Schroeder said.
The Mustang men, winners of eight straight GSAC titles, felt the afternoon was a wake-up call. Master’s finished eighth collectively, two spots behind conference rival Westmont College.
TMU beat Westmont by one point at the GSAC championship last season, and it knows a repeat of the feat will take serious preparation.
“The focus was definitely to beat Westmont today. And they beat us,” said TMU’s Wesley Methum, who finished 13th overall in the men’s collegiate 8K. “I feel like we’ll take the next weeks of practice very seriously. It’s no joke anymore. They beat us by a pretty good amount. If we want to take this ninth straight conference win, we’re going to have to be much more serious out there during practice.”
Master’s will host this year’s GSAC Championship for the men and women on Nov. 3 at Central Park.
For more info on The Master’s University Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com, or follow us on Instagram: tmuathletics.