Fearless Vikings reach for Big Sky
PSU women's soccer squad looks for fast start to tough season
What a difference 12 months have made for the Portland State women's soccer program.
Last August, the Vikings had a boatload full of untested players, a second-year coach with just one win to her credit and only a faint belief that they would be noticed by anyone outside PGE Park.
That was then.
This season, the Vikings fully expect to win the Big Sky Conference title and reach the NCAA College Cup for the first time. All it took was the nation's biggest turnaround among women's teams, going from one victory to a 13-5-4 record.
Coaches in the Big Sky picked the Vikings, who began fall practice on Wednesday, to finish second to Idaho State. PSU lost to Idaho State 1-0 in overtime in the Big Sky tournament final last November.
'We're very excited, and we're not worried about the increased expectations,' coach Tara Erickson says. 'We ended last season with a lot of confidence, and we just want to get back together and get the season going.
'I can't believe how fast the summer has come and gone.'
The Vikings play host to Gonzaga in their season opener Aug. 29 at PGE Park.
Eight PSU players spent their summers in the Seattle area and frequently worked out together. Junior midfielder Katie Miyake spent the summer in Portland working with redshirt freshman forward Jamie Blakesley, who graduated from Centennial High in 2002.
'Katie is more of a tactical player than I am, so that's helping me,' Blakesley says. 'I'm more of a tempo player myself.
'It's a big jump from high school, especially with the speed. But I'm still going to try and do the same thing I did in high school keep the tempo up and score goals.'
PSU set a team record for goals in a season last year with 45, nearly double its previous best of 23. And most of the Vikings' top players, including all five first-team Big Sky picks, were freshmen and sophomores. Miyake was the conference co-MVP.
Erickson hopes the team will start the way it did last year the Vikings scored their first goal in 2002 after just four minutes and won their first two games with shutouts.
Repeating the success of last season will be difficult, partially because of the schedule. The Vikings have three games against West Coast Conference teams, including an Oct. 8 showdown at the University of Portland, and two games against Pacific-10 Conference teams, including an Oct. 3 march in Seattle against Washington, Erickson's alma mater.
PSU is at home against Idaho State on Oct. 24.
Erickson welcomes the challenge of a tough schedule because that's one of the perks of having a good record. And it's a step on the road to success in the playoffs.
'We're really going into the season with no fear,' Erickson says. 'That's one of the things you can do when you're still a young team.'
UP SOCCER: The Pilot women, who had their first workout Thursday, are the defending national champion. Portland is at least temporarily without standout forward Christine Sinclair, who is training for the Women's World Cup with the Canadian national team.
Sinclair is enrolled in classes at UP and probably won't make a decision on whether to redshirt this season until after Canada's run in the World Cup ends.
'If Canada is upset in pool play or even loses in the quarterfinals, she'll be done in early October, and that's only about five weeks of classes she'll be missing,' Pilot assistant coach Garrett Smith says. 'She could probably make that up. If Canada makes it to the semis or even the final, that would be another week and that might cause her to redshirt.
'Plus, she'll be wanting to just enjoy the success of her national team.'
The Portland men, picked to win the West Coast Conference, begin their first workouts today.