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Pilots hope soccer success carries over to other sports

It's all quiet at UP as teams gear up for another season

The summer of '03 will go down as a quiet time for University of Portland Athletic Director Joe Etzel.

The Pilots don't have a football team, so they aren't heavily entrenched in season ticket sales for that sport. As a private school, they don't have to wait for the Oregon Legislature to pass a budget to know how much money they'll have for the coming year.

Things on the Bluff have been much calmer than at some Northwest schools, with the Pilots hiring only a head trainer and an assistant athletic director in the past month.

'Our coaching staffs are all the same, so it's been a less hectic summer,' Etzel says. 'We've had very little turnover here. It's been a good place to work.'

Much of the excitement off the field relates to the school's marquee soccer programs. Soccer America magazine ranked the Pilot men's and women's recruiting classes in the top five in the nation.

The women's team is the reigning national champion, having won the school's first NCAA title in December. The men's team reached the second round of the NCAA playoffs before losing to eventual runner-up Stanford.

Etzel says the national title is helping the school sell more tickets to matches at Merlo Field, one of the top college soccer venues in the country. The Pilots averaged 1,584 fans for 11 home games last season, an increase of more than 100 per game from the previous year, when Portland reached the NCAA semifinals.

'The excitement of the national championship has perked some interest,' Etzel says. 'We're seeing a lot of new sales.'

The women's home schedule includes games against Washington, Connecticut, Oregon State and Portland State.

Portland returns much of its championship team, including standout forward Christine Sinclair.

The Final Four is set for the new SAS Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., in early December.

One of the Pilots' bigger distractions during the season may be the women's World Cup, which will include games in Portland. Sinclair is a key member of the Canadian team, which figures to be a title contender. The Pilots may have to move a game or two so as not to compete with the World Cup, Etzel says.

The Portland men's team also figures to be a player on the NCAA scene. The Pilots return Alejandro Salazar, a freshman All-American, and they have nine other sophomores on the roster.

The UP men's cross country team finished fourth in the West Regional last year and returns its top runner, Matt Harriman, who ran in the NCAA finals last fall. Both the men's and women's teams won West Coast Conference titles.

In basketball, the Pilot women, once a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament, finished fifth in the WCC last season. The men's team went 11-17 under second-year coach Michael Holton.

'With the competition we get for players in the state, it's a difficult task to compete with Oregon and Oregon State,' Etzel says. 'But we're happy with the direction in which the men's program is going, and we think we have a real good recruiting class in the women's program.

'Things really have fallen into place for our soccer teams. I wish it were that easy with some of the other sports.'