San Diego Sea Lions kick off 2014 season at Cathedral Catholic High School in Carmel Valley

The San Diego Sea Lions will open their 2014 season on May 17, coming off last year’s Women’s Premier Soccer League championship. Courtesy photo

By Karen Billing

The San Diego Sea Lions soccer team will kick off a new season on May 17 in Carmel Valley, coming off a national championship season last year. The championship was the Women’s Premier Soccer League team’s first title since 2000 and capped an undefeated season in dramatic fashion — the Sea Lions have high hopes that they can defend that championship this year.

“We’re working very hard to make sure that we do,” said Amie Becker, Sea Lions general manager.

The home opener will be held at 4 p.m. on May 17 at Cathedral Catholic High School against Del Rey City SC. Cathedral Catholic has been the Sea Lions’ home turf for the last nine seasons.

The WPSL has been in operation since 1998 and has 75 pro-am teams, making it the largest women’s soccer league in the world. The league prides itself on bringing affordable family entertainment to the community, displaying positive role models and serving as a stepping stone for aspiring professional and international-level players.

Becker, originally from New York City, has been in San Diego since 2003. Her first job was with the San Diego Spirit of the Women’s United Soccer Association. The Sea Lions’ current coach, Jen Lalor-Nielson, was a member of that Spirit team.

“Jen is a homegrown hero,” said Becker of the Sea Lions coach, who was raised in Chula Vista and went on to play for the U.S. Women’s World Cup team in 1995, and also played professionally in Europe.

“This is Jen’s fifth season with us and she’s definitely responsible for getting us to the championship,” said Becker. “Since she’s come on, the team has changed dramatically. Each year we got a little bit better and we finally won it all.”

For the most part, last year’s championship team is returning this season, with the exception of Nikki Krzysik, who left to play for FC Kansas City in the two-year-old National Women’s Soccer League, the top women’s league in the U.S. after Women’s Professional Soccer folded in 2012.

The Sea Lions have several standout players with local roots, including midfielder Elissa “Elie” Magracia who played at Chula Vista and is the current assistant coach at University of San Diego, and midfielder Rosie Tantillo, a La Jolla High graduate who went on to play for USC.

Her sister Maddie Tantillo is also on the squad, known locally as a coach for Rancho Santa Fe Attack.

Goalkeeper Kaycee Gunion, from Santee, played at Cal State San Marcos and last month was inducted into the college’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

“She is definitely one of the best goalkeepers I’ve ever seen,” said Becker of last year’s WPSL West Region Goalkeeper of the Year. “She’s unbelievable.”

Becker said the games have a very professional atmosphere with the usual vendors and concessions. One of the unique features of their home games is they invite local youth teams to come out and participate in the high five line with Sea Lions players and play exhibition matches during pre-game and halftime.

“The team is very interactive and the girls are always out signing autographs,” Becker said. “The players are very accessible, they make great role models and they play top-quality soccer.”

Becker encouraged the community to come out and support the local squad this season. One of the Sea Lions’ biggest rivals is Beach FC from Long Beach, whom they will play at home on June 1 at 2 p.m. The season runs through July 12 and tickets for games are $5 for kids and $7 for adults. For tickets or more information, visit sealionsoccer.com


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