Her commentating keeps Cori Alexander and her teammates alert
With an offense that scores a lot and a defense that keeps the ball away from her, University of Portland goalkeeper Cori Alexander could get lost or let down mentally when the Pilots play.
That's why she talks during games. And she talks a lot.
'It's easy to stay focused when you're talking,' says Alexander, a 5-11 freshman who has started every game. 'I'm kind of like a commentator back there, calling out where the ball is all the time.
'It makes sense that I should talk a lot because I'm the only player on my team who can see the whole field.'
Alexander's vocal abilities are one reason the Pilots, who have 10 freshmen on their 20-player roster, hope to defend their NCAA women's soccer title.
Portland (16-3-1) plays Denver (18-3) in the first round at 1 p.m. today in the second game of a doubleheader at Merlo Field. Washington (11-6-3) and Nebraska (12-7-1) play in the first game. Today's winners will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at Merlo Field for a spot in the third round of the 64-team tourney.
'Cori is having a phenomenal year,' says Pilot coach Garrett Smith. 'But all our freshmen are having phenomenal years. They've stepped up big, which is why we're back in the playoffs.
'The best thing about Cori and the rest of the freshmen is thinking about having them around for three more years.'
Alexander, from Martinez, Calif., was fortunate in that most of the experienced returning players, notably junior Imani Dorsey and junior Kristen Rogers, play on defense. But her play has been solid enough to record 14 shutouts in 20 games, good for second on the all-time single-season list at Portland.
She has allowed just 12 goals, including four in a 4-3 loss to Denver in the second game of the season in late August.
That loss helped Alexander, who had 21 shutouts in 25 games as a high school senior, adjust to the college game.
'I learned you have to stay focused for 90 minutes,' she says of the loss to Denver, in which the Pilots gave up a 3-1 lead. 'Every goal is the fault of the goalkeeper, and I kind of felt that I let the team down in that game.'
The Pilots' other losses were in two overtimes, 3-2 to Connecticut in September and 2-1 to Santa Clara, another title contender, on Nov. 2.
'Those losses have made us stronger,' Smith says. 'Cori became a lot more vocal after the Denver loss, and that helped the defense out tremendously.'
Denver, which won the Sun Belt Conference title for the third straight year, is on a three-game win streak, having outscored teams 7-0 in its conference tournament. The Pioneers have 12 shutouts. They lost 3-0 to Colorado, which is seeded 10th in the playoffs, one week after beating the Pilots. É Washington, which finished fifth in the Pac-10 standings, is in the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in 10 years. No. 4 seed UCLA, USC, Arizona and Stanford also received tournament spots from the Pac-10. É Nebraska finished fourth in the Big 12.