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College women's soccer: Off the hardwood and onto the pitch

PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
Sonoma State University will host the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship West Sub-Regional this weekend:

FRIDAY
No. 4 Cal Poly Pomona (10-5-3) vs. No. 5 Western Washington (17-3-0), 2 p.m.
SUNDAY
No. 1 Sonoma State (16-2-2) vs. Friday winner, 1 p.m.

By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For Sonoma native Sarah Semenero, a senior at Cal Poly Pomona, going from the Broncos women’s basketball team to the women’s soccer team was a natural transition.

After four years of playing basketball for the Broncos, Semenero’s eligibility for the hoops team expired, but she had one year left of her five-year athletic eligibility, and joining the soccer team seemed logical. Semenero, who played soccer since she was 6-years-old, said she missed playing the game during her tenure on the basketball team.

While having a casual conversation with soccer assistant coach Jim Barlow, Semenero mentioned that she used to play soccer. The rest is history.

“We invited Sarah for a tryout and we were like, ‘Wow, she can play,’” Broncos head coach Isabelle Harvey said. “She is a great athlete.”

Semenero’s soccer skills will be on display in the first round of the West Regional of the NCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship playoffs at 2 p.m. Friday at Sonoma State as No. 4 Cal Poly Pomona (10-5-3) plays against No. 5 Western Washington (17-3). If the Broncos (California Collegiate Athletic Association) win, they move on to play host Sonoma State (16-2-2) on Sunday in the second round. The Seawolves received a first-round bye.

A 2008 graduate of Sonoma Valley High, Semenero was a four-year player on the girls’ basketball team. She earned Sonoma County League MVP and All-Empire League First Team honors her senior season while leading the Dragons to an SCL title. She also played three years on the Dragons girls’ soccer team and earned MVP honors and All-Empire Honorable Mention accolades her senior season.

While Semenero was recruited by Chico State and SSU to play basketball, she said she decided to attend Cal Poly Pomona on an athletic scholarship to get away from home.

“Going to Cal Poly was definitely the right choice,” Semenero said. “The teams I’ve played on and the friends I’ve made, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

One transition Semenero has made between sports is her role on each respective team. She went from being a primary scorer on the basketball team to being a central defensive player on the soccer team. As a shooting guard she averaged 13.5 points per game in 2011-12 basketball season. Conversely, in 17 games during her current and only year on the soccer team as a defensive midfielder, Semenero has netted only one goal due to her playing in the backfield.

“As a defensive player sometimes you don’t get the glory but she has saved many goals,” Harvey said. “Sarah has a different role for us than on the basketball team but it is a valuable role.”

With her 5-foot-9 frame, Semenero is able to win many balls contested in the air and said that is her biggest strength on the soccer field.

“Defensively, Sarah owns her area and she wins the ball in the air.” Harvey said.

Eventually, Semenero’s presence and ability in the Broncos defensive backfield led to her promotion from the bench to a starter midway through the season.

“Sarah worked her way into the starting lineup. She is a hard worker, has a lot of confidence and dedication,” Harvey said. “Her experience on the basketball team and winning has definitely helped our team. Her experience has been very valuable.”

Semenero had to overcome adversity her sophomore year after she tore her ACL in her right knee in the seventh game of the season. After surgery she was out for 10 months in a long rehabilitation.

“Recovery was hard. It was a life lesson, not to take things for granted,” Semenero said. “It was frustrating as an athlete and hard to watch my teammates and not play with them.”

Semenero eventually made a full recovery and said her right knee is now stronger than her left knee.

“I was more determined to come back and play as hard as I can,” she said.

One week shy of turning 22, Semenero said she accepts that her formal athletic career is about to end and is gearing up for the next phase of her life. She said she plans to move back in with her parents in Sonoma after she graduates in the spring.

“It is definitely going to be weird not playing anymore because sports have been a part of my life for my entire life,” Semenero said. “But my body definitely needs a break.”

A Communication/Public Relations major, Semenero said she wants to forge a career in sports journalism, sports public relations or something similar in the line of sports.

When asked which sport — basketball or soccer — she prefers, Semenero paused for a few moments.

“That is a hard question to answer. I think it’s pretty much even,” she said. “I am happy I chose basketball, but I’m really happy I got the chance to do both in college.”