Pilot Roundup: A semester recap for UP sports

By Kyle Garcia | December 5, 2018 6:14pm
A playoff victory for men's soccer is just one of the highlights from the semester.
Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Well, it’s almost the end of the semester, which means three things: studying for finals, finishing papers and doing everything you can to avoid both of those first two activities. One popular method of avoidance: sports!

Speaking of sports, it has been an interesting (and pretty successful) semester for UP athletics. Two fall sports teams, volleyball and men’s soccer, made the postseason. Women’s soccer had a successful year under the leadership of new head coach and former Pilot Michelle French. Both cross country teams performed well at nationals, with the men finishing third and the women 12th. On top of that, both basketball teams have winning records going into the break (at least as of writing this article).

So, before we go off to enjoy our winter break, let’s take a look at how the Pilots have fared so far.

Fall sports finds success

Fall sports got off to their hottest start ever this year. By mid-September, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer started the year with a combined record of 22-4-2. It was the second best win percentage in the nation at the time (.821) and the best amongst all mid-majors. They were also one of only seven schools to have four or more teams nationally ranked or receiving votes at the same time.

Volleyball had the most successful season they’ve ever had. They got off to their best start in program history, going 12-0 to start the season. Once they entered conference play, however, the team struggled to keep up in a tough West Coast Conference. The team went 6-12 in conference play, finishing eighth in the conference. It was similar to last season, where they started off strong only to struggle when conference play rolled around.

Despite their struggles they still finished 18-12, the most wins in program history. Their previous best had been 17 wins, which occured in 2016. Katie Barker also made All-WCC honorable mention.

More importantly, the team made the postseason for the first time, playing in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC). The tournament featured 32 teams from both mid-major and power five conferences. The Pilots have advanced to the Elite Eight as of right now.

Volleyball wasn’t the only program to experience success this season. Both soccer programs did exceptionally well this fall.

Men’s soccer also had one of their best seasons in recent memory. They also experienced a hot start, going 10-0-3 before being upset by USF 2-1. They’d go on to lose two more games against Pacific and St. Mary’s, struggling with injuries to key players such as juniors Benji Michel and Rey Ortiz.

Despite these late season setbacks, however, the men’s team still managed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years, hosting their first home playoff game since 2002 against UCLA. After beating UCLA 1-0 to move on to the second round for the first time since 2009, they would get pummelled by a tough Kentucky team 4-0. Kentucky had only lost one game going into the match and had dominated offensively all season.

Even though it might have been a tough end for the men’s team, there is still a lot to be impressed by. Seven Pilots earned All-WCC honors, including first team honors for Michel and junior Gio Magana-Rivera. Rey Ortiz also earned second team honors despite battling injuries for the majority of the season.

Women’s soccer also looks rejuvenated after a tough couple years. Under the leadership of Michelle French, Portland looked significantly better than in years past. They’re 11-9 record means they more than doubled their win total from last year. They also scored 30 goals this year while allowing only 21. Last year they only scored 11 goals while giving up 27.

The offense in large part came with the help of breakout star Taryn Ries. The sophomore scored 15 goals this year, more than the Pilots did as a team last season. She ranked seventh nationally in goals scored and game winners (six). She also had two hat tricks this year; the WCC only had three total, including hers. She had the best offensive season of any Pilot player since 2009, when Danielle Foxhoven scored 25 goals. 

Ries earned All-WCC first team honors for her performance this season. Other Pilots to earn All-WCC honors include sophomore Olivia Dendinger, who made second team, and Kimberly Hazlett, who made honorable mention.

It looks like Michelle French is helping steer the women’s team in the right direction. Whether they can continue this upward trend remains to be seen in future years.

Last but not least, cross country put up exceptional performances this season. The men’s team followed their stellar second place finish at Nationals last season with a third place finish this year. Meanwhile, the women’s team finished a program best 12th place.

After sweeping the individual and team title at Regionals, the men’s team went on to get another podium finish at Nationals in Wisconsin. Three Pilots earned All-American honors this year, tying the program record sit last year. Junior Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse, senior Logan Orndorff and redshirt senior Nick Hauger were the All-Americans this year, finishing 21st, 25th and 40th respectively.

Redshirt senior Lauren LaRocco had the best finish of any women’s runner at Nationals in UP history, finishing 13th and earning All-American honors. Redshirt senior Taryn Rawlings also got All-American honors after finishing 26th, passing 24 runners in the final 2k.

Rowing also competed in three races during the fall. During the American Fall Classic on Oct. 14 they claimed three first place finishes. The varsity eight, second eight and varsity four all won their races to dominate the competition.

Rowing also raced at the Portland Fall Classic on Oct. 28 where the varsity eight claimed another first place finish while the second eight finished third. Portland’s A and B varsity four boats finished fifth and sixth respectively out of six boats.

Their last race of the fall came at the Head of the Lake races in Seattle on Nov. 4. Portland’s varsity eight finished fourth, their second eight third and their third eight second. This was the final race for the Pilots and they will start back up again in the spring with the Sacramento Invite and PLU Invite in March.

Overall it was a solid fall sports season for the Portland Pilots.

Basketball just getting started

Now that the sports season is starting to wrap up (volleyball still has a game this Thursday at 7 p.m.), Pilot sports fans now have basketball to look forward to.

The men’s team is off to an okay start so far. They’re 5-4 so far, but most of those wins have come against pretty easy teams. In the only meaningful Division 1 games they’ve played they’ve lost by more than 10 each time. They lost to Hawaii (82-64), Texas State (91-68) and Colorado (93-69) all by significant margins. The only close game was against North Texas, where they lost 78-73.

Despite this, there are some things to be impressed by. Jojo Walker has played well so far and looks to be thriving in the starting role alongside last season’s leading scorer Marcus Shaver Jr., who is currently averaging 14.4 points per game while Walker is averaging 12.6. 

Redshirt junior Josh McSwiggan currently leads Portland in scoring at 15.8 points per game. He’s the biggest threat from deep for the Pilots as well as an extremely athletic player who can rock the rim. He scored a career high 37 points earlier this year against Multnomah in a game where he could get seemingly anything he wanted inside. He’s shooting well again this year from three (40.8 percent) after being one of the best shooters last year from outside in the WCC.

One player who has also impressed this year is freshman Theo Akwuba. Akwuba has done well in a starting role at center for Portland. He’s scoring 6.7 points per game as well as grabbing eight rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He has great instincts on the defensive end of the floor, especially for a freshman who’s only played basketball for about four years now. Akwuba works hard on both ends of the floor and has solidified himself as the most reliable big man in the rotation. He’s certainly a player to look out for in the years to come.

While these bright spots are nice, it doesn’t look like the team is going to be good enough to finish in the top five of the conference like Shaver Jr. said after an exhibition game against Westmont on Nov. 3. Right now the WCC is looking a lot tougher than in recent years, even with past juggernauts like St. Mary’s struggling through a rebuilding phase. The only team it sees they could convincingly beat in conference is Santa Clara, who looks really bad right now, and that’s about it. Otherwise, it looks like another year of rebuilding for Portland.

While the men’s team still looks like they have some kinks to work out, the women’s team is off to a solid start at 5-2. They had been off to their best six game start since the 2001 to 2002 season until they dropped a game to Portland State this past Saturday. Otherwise they look vastly better at least to start the year compared to last season.

What stands out also is their ability to win on the road. They’ve played a tough schedule so far playing four road games but have come out of it 3-1. That’s a significant improvement over the zero wins they had on the road all of last year. This Pilot team looks a lot tougher, earning big wins over teams like Utah State and Hawaii.

They’re led by two players mostly: seniors Julie Spencer and Darian Slaga. Slaga is the biggest scoring threat for Portland, averaging 17 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from three. Spencer, meanwhile, is a versatile two-way player who averages 15.8 points per game along with 8.3 three rebounds. They’ve also had lifts from their supporting cast, including big performances from players like Josie Matz, who scored 15 points alone in the fourth quarter to give the Pilots a victory over Utah State.

Whether they can keep up this solid play for the remainder of the season and into conference play remains to be seen, but for now the Pilots look to have improved vastly since last year.

What’s up next?

While everyone else is gone on break, both basketball teams will be putting in some more time on the court.

This week, the men’s team will travel all the way to downtown Portland to take on Portland State at 7 p.m. on Wednesday Dec. 5. They also play Sacramento State on Saturday Dec. 8 at home in the Chiles Center at 7 p.m.

The women’s team plays Warner Pacific this Friday Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Chiles Center as well as Willamette on Sunday Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.

On top of this on Thursday the volleyball team plays their third round game in the NIVC against UNLV. The game will be played at the Chiles Center at 7 p.m.

Thanks for tuning in, and see you next year!