Women’s soccer, fueled by veterans and new players alike, opens the 2010- 11 season undefeated.
A team stacked with experienced veterans and young talent should have high expectations after being only one goal short of reaching the NCAA championship. UP's women's soccer has taken those expectations to heart, starting the season perfectly in terms of their record.
Coaches have taken notice as the Pilots remain undefeated at 4-0 and are ranked fifth in the nation, according to the AP coaches' poll.
The most recent wins met with a packed house at Merlo Field and featured a 2-0 victory over Southern Methodist as well as a nail-biting 1-0 win against No. 21 Oklahoma State, decided by senior Keelin Winters' goal in the 89th minute.
The Pilots lost three starters from last year's 21-2 team, including All-American striker Michelle Enyeart and three-year starting goalkeeper Kelsey Davis.
A new eight-player class has joined the fold to replace them, including starting freshman goalkeeper Erin Dees.
Dees earned three shutout games in her four starts after winning the job from fellow freshman Nichole Downing and junior Hailee DeYoung.
Dees' outstanding athleticism and 5'10" height give her a great advantage as a goalkeeper.
She showed it off, making several excellent diving stops against both Southern Methodist and Oklahoma State and allowing only one goal in her short career.
"She's ready to play. She's earned it and the sooner Erin is playing and gaining college game experience, the better she will be in the future," Head Coach Garrett Smith said.
Along with Dees, the Pilots also gained highly rated midfield recruits Michelle Cruz, Ellen Parker and local Portland product Sarah Bridges. They provide talented depth for senior starters Sophie Schmidt, Winters and Kendra Chandhoke (recovering from offseason surgery). Sophomore Kendall Johnson rounds out the starters after being named WCC Freshman of the Year last year.
The forwards are led by star junior striker Danielle Foxhoven, who led the nation in points per game with 2.82 and is ranked second nationally in goals per game with 1.1.
Foxhoven is already in the UP top ten for career points with 103.
Freshman Micaela Capelle is already showing why she was also highly ranked as a recruit from Gresham, Ore. with her team-leading two goals and four points this season.
Junior Halley Kreminski also returns as starter after scoring ten goals last season. Kreminski's height (5'9''), aggressiveness and shooter mentality gives Coach Smith more offensive options for the team.
Freshman Amanda Frisbie also figures to work her way into the playing rotation with her being a natural left-footed scorer.
UP also features two of the best outside back defenders in the conference in seniors Elli Reed and Jessica Tsao. Their defensive aggressiveness is also a huge reason why opponents have only scored one goal this season. The central defender is led by junior Michelle Olivier as she shares time with talented backups senior Kristen Kelly, junior Kassi McCluskie and sophomore Cloee Colohan, all starting at times in their careers.
The win against SMU featured several hundred freshmen in attendance following orientation, and they received a defensive battle as the Pilots largely controlled the game in the first half despite not scoring.
The first goal came from Capelle off a re-directed hit in the 58th minute followed shortly by Foxhoven's goal to seal it in the 74th minute. The highly anticipated top-25 matchup between UP and OSU stayed in a defensive deadlock all the way until the final minute of play when Winters' shot broke the tie. Both teams' goalkeepers kept the game even despite some close calls and missed opportunities from both sides.
"I think we need to be patient with this team's performance in terms of offensive production. Our fitness is coming around and our defense is there, so it's only a matter of time before it all comes together," Smith said following the close win against OSU.
While the fans in the stands were feeling tense in the final minutes of the tied game, the players remained confident that they'd find a way.
"I knew we were going to get one (goal), it was just a matter of time. I just knew Keelin wouldn't let us lose," Schmidt said following her game-winning assist to Winters.
Winters agreed that winning was never a doubt.
"I was never worried. This program's mindset is that we can get anything done, but I was disappointed because I felt we should have beaten them by more instead of the last minute," Winters said after her game-winning goal."It's important to put these early games away in the beginning of the game."
The Pilots retooled the offense approach this offseason to compensate for Enyeart graduating, giving the team more opportunities to score after depending on Enyeart many times last year.
"Losing Enyeart's speed hurts in that we don't have a player that can get goals whenever like she could sometimes," Winters said. "Now we need to be more creative and work as a team to find efficient ways to score and score earlier."
The win against a tough and talented OSU team helps show that UP belongs in the national discussion for best team in the country, but the real test is still to come.
The Pilots face Wisconsin and Syracuse in the Husky Invitational in Seattle on Sept. 3 and 5.
Next, the Pilots compete against Rutgers and Penn State in the Nike Invitational at Merlo Field in Portland on Sept 10 and 12.
UP will get a shot at redemption against Texas A&M at home on September 17, Texas A&M being the only team to beat the Pilots last year in the regular season.
Schmidt believes that the team will be ready for whatever challenges come its way.
"We just need to do things simply and stay focused until we get the win," she said. "We can't get worried about future games, just the one we're playing."
Despite all the honors and growth UP women's soccer has gained over the years, Winters believes that there is still room for improvement.
"We're not happy or satisfied with our performance yet," Winters said.