Friends, families and school spirit all gathered for senior day and a resounding victory last Saturday at Pritzlaff Field, where the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) women’s soccer team beat the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs 1-0.
All seven seniors — goalkeeper Athena Manthouli SC ’23, defenders Sam Ree CM ’22, Taylor Arakaki SC ’23 and Olivia Tuffli HM ’23, midfielders Lizzie Iwicki CM ’23 and Nicole Oberlag CM ’23 and forward Caelyn Smith CM ’23 — started the game on the field after a team celebration.
An annual tradition, senior day sees the CMS community come together to give its veteran athletes praise for the years of work they have given to the team, which Ree found quite moving.
“It was really touching to see the incredible support from our families and all of the alumni that made the trip out,” Ree said. “The upbeat atmosphere was another reminder to me of how much I love being able to play soccer with my team.”
With emotions running high, players such as Arakaki reflected on their careers and what the Athenas will look like once they have passed the torch.
“I am going to miss playing with everyone, and I want to thank the team for making my last year as an Athena so special,” Arakaki said. “The future is bright for the Athenas Soccer program, and I am excited to watch the team grow and dominate in the coming years.”
Still, there was a game to be played, and despite the potential to be overwhelmed, CMS was unfazed.
The Athenas set the tone early. Just 12 minutes into the game, UC Santa Cruz missed an opportunity to clear the ball from their defensive third, allowing it to roll to Cate Lewison HM ’26 at the top of the 18-yard box. Lewison knocked it just inside the left post to give CMS a quick 1-0 lead.
Just five minutes later, the Banana Slugs took control with a cross to a midfielder who was unmarked inside the box. Despite a wide open chance, her header missed, bouncing off the post and out of bounds, maintaining the Athenas’ lead.
After defenders Ree, Tuffli and Emma Fogg SC ’25 repeatedly thwarted the Banana Slugs’ subsequent attacks, UC Santa Cruz’s forwards looked disillusioned the rest of the first half.
There wasn’t much action on either side until, with just 15 seconds left, Nithya Yeluri HM ’25 looked poised to extend the CMS lead. Dribbling the ball up the left flank past multiple defenders, she managed to force the goalkeeper to come out, but her cross was just off target, falling out of bounds as the first half ended.
At the start of the second half, the Slugs went on the attack. A couple of minutes in, a long ball sent across the field to switch the point of attack landed at the feet of an open UC Santa Cruz forward, but failed to convert, sailing the ball high.
CMS responded when Kaitlyn Helfrich CM ’25 played a through ball behind the Slugs’ defense to Yeluri, who nearly chipped it in, but the goalkeeper came off her line to deny the goal.
Continuing to apply pressure, Riley Zitar CM ’26 led another rush by the Athenas in the 67th minute. Dribbling past multiple defenders up the center of the field, she sent a barely-heavy through ball to Lewison, who couldn’t quite catch up to it.
In the late stages of the game, both teams seemed to be struggling with sluggish legs. Neither team was able to hold possession for long, but the Banana Slugs seemed to find their footing with just three minutes left.
After a CMS handball just outside the box, Manthouli saved a UC Santa Cruz free kick, but the Slugs regained possession quickly and responded with a quick attack that led to a corner kick. Both teams were tense for the last two minutes of the game as UC Santa Cruz looked to find the equalizer, but the whistle blew at 90 minutes, with the Athenas sealing another victory.
Their seventh of the season, the win improves the Athenas’ record to 7-5-4. The shutout — jointly achieved by goalkeepers Manthouli and Sadie Brown CM ’26 — marked their ninth of the season.
Securing the victory was crucial not just for the team’s veterans, but also for its underclassmen.
“[The] win was very special because it was our senior game and a great way to celebrate our seniors who have put so much into the program and have worked so hard,” Ivy Doran SC ’26 said. “Everyone was playing for them, and it’s always nice to come out with a win.”
Head coach David Nolan said he hopes Saturday’s win will set the tone for the last few games of the season.
“Our goal is to get into the SCIAC playoffs for the first time in over five years,” Nolan said. “This game against UC Santa Cruz gives us good confidence and momentum going into our final two SCIAC regular season games.”