After parting ways with their senior classes, the Sacramento State men’s and women’s soccer teams signed a combined 12 high school seniors to National Letters of Intent by Feb. 7.
The men’s program lost 10 seniors — including Alex Bettencourt, Ivan Ramirez and Nate Nugen, the team’s three top scorers — after winning its first Big West Tournament match and ultimately losing to Cal State Northridge in the semifinal round on Nov. 9.
In addition to the four transfers who joined the Hornets, coach Michael Linenberger and the men’s team signed five players — all from Northern California. The Hornets added defenders Antonio Andres, Tyler Moss and Ivan Oseguera, as well as forward Justin Bedig and midfielder RJ Moorhouse.
“We feel we know the guys pretty well (now) that we’ve been talking to them (and) watching them for a long time,” Linenberger said. “We think all five of them will come in and help us right away as freshmen.”
Coming off a surprise season that landed the women’s program a No. 2 conference seed and eventually a semifinal loss to Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Tournament, the Hornets parted ways with 13 seniors this winter, including leading scorer Jennifer Lum and 2016 Big Sky Defensive MVP Rachel Leonard.
Coach Randy Dedini, who won 2016 Big Sky Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year, signed seven newcomers to the program (who were unavailable for comment), with three players from the Sacramento area and four from Hawaii.
Sac State recruited two forwards and two midfielders — Kylee Kim-Bustillos, Skylar Littlefield, Ariana Nino and Shailyn Valenzano, along with defenders Jessica Mann and Christina Lazar, and goalkeeper Aaliyah Fesili.
Dedini said this fall will mark the Hornets’ first season with Hawaiian players since he began recruiting from the islands a few years back.
“There’s a lot of talent there that just sort of gets overlooked by a lot of mainland schools because they’re in Hawaii and you might see them in a tournament, but then you don’t see them for another six months until they come back for another,” Dedini said.
For the men’s program, three of the Hornets’ five recruits have already had experience with Linenberger prior to college, as Moss, Moorhouse and Andres have played under him with the Sacramento United soccer club.
“It’s nice to know what I’m going to be put into next year,” Moss said after spending a year with Linenberger and 10 years with the club as a Sacramento native. “I’m already going to know formation, play style, (and) how certain situations are going to be in the game and how I need to face those.”
Linenberger said Moss brings speed while Andres provides size and athletic ability, and Moorhouse brings precision kicks as a dead-ball specialist.
Moorhouse, who scored four goals in a game on the same day he committed to Sac State, also played football as a kicker for three years at Cosumnes Oak High School and was a Capital Valley all-conference selection in 2015 and 2016, as well as a Sacramento Bee first-team selection in 2016.
“(Moorhouse) could be the best free-kick taker we’ve ever had here in my 28 years (of coaching),” Linenberger said.
The women’s program will fill newly vacated roles on defense with players like Mann, who started at center when Bella Vista High School won consecutive Capital Valley Conference championships in 2016 and 2017, while earning a 4.0 GPA in the classroom.
One of the Hawaiian recruits is Mililani native Kylee Kim-Bustillos, who was named the 2016 NSCAA High School State Player of the Year and the Interscholastic League of Hawaii (ILH) Offensive Player of the Year in 2015-16 while helping ‘Iolani School win two ILH championships.
“Any time (Kim-Bustillos is) in the game she’s one of the best offensive attacking players that I’ve ever recruited,” Dedini said.
Despite losing so many players after last season, both soccer programs plan to return to the postseason rather than cutting losses and rebuilding.
Among the 16 players returning to the men’s team from last season are junior goalkeeper James Del Curto, junior midfielder Trevor Jackson, and junior defender Cylus Sandoval — who will play alongside the newcomers against Sacramento Republic FC in this year’s friendly match on March 1 at Hornet Field.
Dedini and the women’s soccer team will see 14 returners, including sophomores Caitlin Prothe (midfielder) and Destiny Butcher (goalkeeper) who were both all-Big Sky honorable mentions this season, and midfielder Mikayla Reed, last year’s co-Big Sky Top Newcomer.
“With having lost so many starters I think it’s exciting because there’s nobody that won’t be competing for a spot,” Dedini said. “We’re going to surprise a lot of teams that think we’re going to be down in experience.”
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