By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Warning: Fall sports at The Master’s University are closer than they appear.
With games roughly a month away, here’s a brief look at the top returners and storylines for each of TMU’s athletic teams hoping to reach NAIA nationals by the end of the calendar year.
Top Returner(s): The Mustangs are set to return NAIA All-American Jane Cisar and all-conference pick Madi Fay, a Hart grad, from last year’s groundbreaking group.
Cisar, a 6-foot-1 rising senior, ranked 15th nationally in hitting percentage (.345) as a junior. She led the Mustangs in kills with 332. Fay, a 5-11 rising junior, was second on the team with 292 kills.
Top Storyline: Can they do it again? The Mustangs went 29-8 and won the first Golden State Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles in program history in 2018, and this fall, they will look to make back-to-back NAIA national tournament appearances for the first time since 2012 and 2013. Master’s finished 17th in the NAIA’s 2018 postseason top 25.
Top Returner(s): Valencia High graduates Luis Garcia Sosa and Justin Ikeora will be back for their fourth seasons at TMU, with Garcia Sosa playing a crucial role in the midfield, and Ikeora doing the same on the back line. Both were All-GSAC selections in 2018.
Garcia Sosa was 17th nationally last season with five game-winning goals and 19th nationally in assists (11). Ikeora helped Master’s record five shutouts on the way to a 14-5 record and a berth in the GSAC tournament semifinals.
Top Storyline: Who takes the mantle from Benji Tembo as the team’s go-to playmaker? Tembo, a midfielder, won his second consecutive GSAC Player of the Year honor as a senior in 2018.
Top Returner(s): The Mustangs’ most established unit heading into the fall will be their back line.
Master’s returns seniors Kayla Peterson, a three-time All-GSAC pick, and Laura English from a team that posted 10 shutouts in 2018, the program’s most since at least 2007.
Top Storyline: Kayla Sims, a two-time All-American in volleyball at Master’s, has transitioned from the gym to the soccer field.
As a senior at South Anchorage High, Sims scored 22 goals with 11 assists, leading her team to its second straight Alaska state title. After four seasons with the Mustang women’s volleyball team – in which she racked up 2,773 assists, second most all-time at TMU – she retains eligibility in soccer, where she figures to be one of the team’s leading scorers.
Men’s Cross Country
Top Returner(s): The Mustangs are expected to return all seven of their top athletes from a year ago, and they added a handful of high-level recruits, including NCAA Division 1 transfer Wes Provost, to the mix.
Rising senior Stephen Pacheco finished third overall at GSAC Championships in 2018, with teammate Wesley Methum, a rising junior, coming in fourth.
Top Storyline: Master’s will be chasing its 10th straight GSAC title in 2019, and it will feature one of the deepest rosters it has ever had.
Women’s Cross Country
Top Returner(s): Arianna Ghiorso, a rising sophomore who finished third at GSAC Championships last year, will take over as the team’s leading runner in 2019, after the graduation of the conference’s individual champion, Mikala Tockstein, a Hart grad.
Top Storyline: Ghiorso, who advanced to NAIA nationals as an individual in 2018, will be joined this fall by a full team that could contend for the program’s second-ever GSAC title and a trip to nationals.