SAN MARCOS — When Karly Dunning headed a free kick from teammate Jessica Harloe inside the right post to give Cal State San Marcos women’s soccer a 1-0 lead 11 minutes into an Aug. 31 game against Concordia University, a new era began.
Dunning’s goal was the first point for a Cal State San Marcos team as a National Collegiate Athletics Association Division II institution.
It was the realization of a decades-long process that technically completed July 9 when the NCAA notified the school it had completed its transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA membership.
The university celebrated its first Division II sporting events Aug. 31 before the women’s soccer team took to the field.
“A goal is a goal, and a point is a point, but this goal meant that finally the recognition and credibility that our department may have lacked is now finally there,” university Athletic Director Jennifer Milo said. “I think this goal carries more weight, not that it means more, but it puts an exclamation point on how hard we’ve worked to get here.”
“Getting here” dates back to before 2006, when the school began to build up its athletics department with the intent to move on from the NAIA, which is largely composed of smaller, parochial colleges.
Cal State San Marcos sought to join D-II to compete against schools of similar size and demographics. The move would also cut down on travel costs, as putting together a competitive national NAIA schedule required the school to schedule many of its athletic events out of state, including the Association of Independent Institutions conference tournaments, which are usually across the country.
The university officially began its Division 2 candidacy in 2014, which included a three-year probationary period during which it could compete against Division II programs starting in 2015, but could not participate in postseason tournaments.
“It’s been for the last two years the missing link, but I think being able to get used to a CCAA (California Collegiate Athletics Association) schedule without the stress or pressure of postseason is great for us,” Milo said. “We’ve been able to build a true foundation without championships in mind, and worked on team culture and foundation so that when we were able to compete for those honors, all the essentials were in place and the foundation was laid so we could trust the process, which is going to equate to CCAA and NCAA championships.”
The university also completed its 1,400-seat Sports Center, which houses its basketball and volleyball programs, last September. This was a critical part of the school’s transition and allowed for its teams to compete in front of true “home” crowds for the first time in program history.