San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Soccer teams start seasons with clear goals: Compete for championships

Women’s soccer looks to build off last year with experience and depth, while men’s soccer adds veteran transfers to an exciting young core
Isabella Biunno
Current SDSU sophomore defender Tristan Viviani (left) and junior defender Trinity Coker in action during the 2022 season at the Sports Deck in San Diego, Calif. (Isabella Biunno)

The sounds of whistles, thumping strikes and the occasional shouted appeals to the official coming from above parking lot 7 can mean only one thing: it’s soccer season again at San Diego State.

Action begins on Thursday, Aug. 17 when the women’s soccer team hosts Sacred Heart at 7 p.m. Men’s soccer gets into the action on Thursday, Aug. 24 at University of Denver, then hosts Cal State Bakersfield on Monday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.

“We have a lot of dreams for what we want to do and accomplish and they’re all on board.”

The fire in redshirt senior Kiera Utush’s eyes matched the scorching temperature atop of SDSU’s Sports Deck as she detailed the team’s preparations and goals for this season.

“This past spring, we definitely worked hard and put a lot of time in ourselves and with the team just focusing on the end goal, which is this season and coming out with the championship this year,” Utush said.

Last year the Aztecs earned just two draws in their final four conference matches and fell two points shy of a regular season championship. Then, after surviving 22 rounds of penalty kicks against Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal, their season ended with a semifinal loss to Wyoming.

“We made huge strides in terms of every player committing to doing what they need to do to be their best selves,” women’s team head coach Mike Friesen said.

Among those strides are a renewed commitment to defending as an 11-player unit, as well as looking to extend the bench and utilize more of their depth. The squad has 13 players that have at least three years of college experience, which has helped hone the focus.

“You can see the leadership on the field and it’s starting to gradually progress to our younger players and they’re starting to become little leaders as well,” Utush said. “I think it just really makes a cohesiveness among all of us and there’s just one unit instead of separate individuals trying to do their own thing.”

Four Aztecs earned all-conference honors last year, as redshirt junior Emma Gaines-Ramos and junior Denise Castro were first-team selections. Utush was second-team, and sophomore defender Grace Goins was voted newcomer of the year.

While Gaines-Ramos and Castro finished first and second in the team for goals, assists and points last year, they have additional new scoring support up top. Kali Trevithick, a graduate transfer from UCLA who was part of multiple Pac-12 title-winning and NCAA tournament-qualifying teams. Bekah Brooks, a community college transfer from College of the Canyons, tied for fifth in California last year with 21 goals in 18 matches.

“I feel like our attack this year, every side of the ball is just lethal,” Gaines-Ramos said. “We’re all connected, we’re possessing up more in the front and I feel like in terms of spring too. We worked a lot on our finishing and just getting it on the technical side.”

What has stood out most to Friesen is how cohesive and unified the team feels.

“What I’m seeing in this team is that they’re all about each other,” Friesen said. “We have a lot of dreams for what we want to do and accomplish and they’re all on board. I like how this group sets up, they’re super fun to be around, they’re high energy and we have a lot of good players.”

Progress in growing culture and competitive results set men’s team up for a breakout year

Despite earning three results in six matches against teams ranked in the top seven nationally last season — including a 2-1 home win over then No. 6 Denver —  two of the biggest numbers for the men’s team came after tying for fifth place in the Pac-12.

Two players were drafted in the MLS SuperDraft — the most of any Pac-12 team. Five players moved on to sign professional contracts, which is believed to be the most in SDSU program history, including three of their top five scorers as well as starting goalkeeper.

For men’s soccer head coach Ryan Hopkins, it meant dipping into the transfer portal to fill out an incoming class that ranked 14th in the nation. A year removed from the top incoming class overall, the Aztecs have 19 players returning from their spring roster.

“This was the first spring to really hammer home our principles of play, the identity of how we want to play and how we want to look when we’re out there,” Hopkins said.

Amongst the transfers is senior forward Alexander Levengood, who scored 24 goals with 14 assists over four years at the College of William & Mary. Junior forward Terence Okoeguale, senior midfielder Seth Clark and senior defender Reid Sproat also come with honors from their previous teams as well as international experience.

The newcomers have supplemented a roster that has some returning veteran experience such as senior midfielder and captain Henry Smith-Hastie, but also 16 players with one year or less of college experience.

That mix of old guys with experience like myself and a few of the transfers, but also having that youth of guys who are hungry has caused a really good positive vibe among the team so far,” Smith-Hastie said. “I can confidently say it’s the most positive team culture that I’ve seen in my three seasons here so far.”

Amongst the underclassmen to watch are Top Drawer Soccer’s Pac-12 Breakout Player sophomore midfielder Beto Apolinar, as well as fellow sophomores midfielder Tristan Viviani, defender Nolan Crétier, forward Rommee Jaridly and redshirt-freshman defender Reid Fisher.

“I’m really happy with the progress we made in growing the culture and growing the competitive results and yeah, I think this can be a really big breakout year,” Hopkins said.

Snapdragon Stadium showdowns set against crosstown rivals

Both programs will host a game at Snapdragon Stadium for the second straight season, and for the first time, both games will be crosstown derbies.

The women’s team will host the University of San Diego on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. and the men’s team will welcome the Toreros on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re really excited for that game,” Gaines-Ramos said. “I feel like that game will be a different type of energy, too, considering that it’s going to be our second game at Snapdragon.”

Last year the women’s team earned a clean sheet against Mountain West Tournament champion San José State 2-0 on a pair of second-half goals at Snapdragon Stadium. The men’s team dropped a 2-0 decision to then national No. 2 Washington, with both games drawing crowds of more than 2,500.

The crosstown derby with USD has been a regular fixture in Aztecs soccer schedules for over three decades. The women’s team are continuing a stretch of playing the Toreros in every full season since 2013, while this will be the 26th meeting all time between the two men’s sides.

To do it this year in a crosstown derby is going to be electric,” Smith-Hastie said. “USD always comes at us and gives us a really good game. Playing in a venue like (SnapDragon Stadium) is gonna make (the rivalry) 10 times more intense.”

About the Contributors
Eric Evelhoch
Eric Evelhoch, '23-24 Sports Editor
Eric Evelhoch (he/him/his) is a senior media studies major who was born outside of Detroit, Michigan, and lived in Ventura County, California, for a decade-plus. He is a returning college student and transfer from Santa Barbara City College, where he served as Sports Editor for The Channels. Evelhoch is also a Sports Director for KCR College Radio, where he restarted play-by-play coverage post-pandemic. Currently, he serves as the play-by-play broadcaster for the SDSU ACHA DI hockey team and has filled in on the call for Aztecs sports on the Mountain West Network. His prior freelance experience includes print, digital, online video and audio-only, and broadcast radio formats covering football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and volleyball.
Isabella Biunno
Isabella Biunno, '24-25 Managing Editor, '23-24 Photo Editor
Isabella Biunno (she/her/hers) is a photographer for The Daily Aztec. She is originally from Las Vegas, Nevada where she was a part of yearbook and publications for nearly six years. She is a first-year Psychology major with an emphasis in neuroscience, and she plans to go to graduate school for Occupational Therapy. She loves photography, editing, and creating, and she can’t wait to continue shooting content for the DA. One thing she is passionate about outside of photojournalism is being involved in the disability/Autism community. She is a part of SDSU’s Adapted Athletics club, and she worked as an Instructor at a company back home called Inclusion Fusion where she was able to work with people with disabilities. Although her career-related passions fall in the healthcare field, she enjoys taking pictures and covering photo events just as much. She looks forward to expanding her experience as a photographer as well as capturing some astounding shots this year.