By Malika Andrews |
It’s 2:15 p.m. Practice doesn’t start for another 15 minutes but the women’s soccer team is out on the field practicing, passing and taking shots on goal. Effort is not the problem, but their record 4-8-0 record says otherwise. After being defeated by No. 6 BYU 2-1 on Merlo, the Pilots are 0-2 in conference play.
Six wins. 540 minutes of winning play. That is what the Pilots women’s soccer team will need in order to make the NCAA playoffs this year. With seven games left, they must go 6-1 to not find themselves where they were last season: out of the Big Dance for the first time since 1999.
Going 6-1 on the rest of the season is improbable but not impossible. Portland has the second lowest record in the conference, but with only two games played, that is almost meaningless. The Pilots’ win percentage of .333 is tied with Gonzaga.
Junior Ellie Boon said that the team has adopted the mentality of “one weekend at a time” and says it is reasonable to think they could walk away with wins against St. Mary’s and Pacific this weekend.
“They are two teams that have been feisty in the past but we generally have better quality of play than them,” Boon said.
While it is true that the Pilots’ ability to produce high quality play still shines through, it hasn’t been enough. It wasn’t enough last game where Portland dominated BYU in shots on goal 19-1 and still left Merlo with a loss.
Not only that, but for the past 10 years, Portland has led the NCAA in attendance. After this year, they will have to hand that crown over to BYU who is averaging 4,192 fans per game.
“It’s more disappointing than anything,” redshirt junior Devlyn Jeter said. “Now we feel like not only are we not having a winning season, but we’re losing everything that our program has built up over the years.”
It would be easy to attribute this to the Pilots’ poor record, but that’s not the only factor. Traditionally, the opening game over freshmen orientation weekend is a women’s game. This year, 4,596 fans filled the stands at Merlo to watch the men play Michigan State while the women began their season with four games on the road.
Still, fans would show up if the team were winning. And this year, the players have been tested and supplemented, and “anemia” isn’t the problem. But health is playing a major factor.
Five starters are returning from injury.
In August, head coach Garrett Smith told Oregonian columnist Nick Daschal that he would be surprised if Hannah Armendariz didn’t score 8-10 goals during the season. Armendariz has only played 196 minutes after being sidelined with an ACL injury. She will not return this season.
Additionally, the team has had three players leave the team for various reasons since the end of last season.
“I can go fill the spot (on the roster), we can fill it with a body,” Smith said. “But I don’t think it’s a body that anybody is going to want to see playing on Merlo Field...Because we have players that have left, we have a diminished squad.”
Currently, Portland is playing with 19 players. Smith says ideally he would have 21 on the roster.
Winning six games seems daunting, but for a program that has gone to the playoffs 21 of the last 22 seasons, it is improbable but not impossible.
Malika Andrews is the Sports Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @malika_andrews