There’s been an interesting contrast between the fall and winter sports teams this season at the University of Portland.
The fall sports season was a very successful one that saw the men’s cross country team finish third in the nation, men’s soccer make it the second round of the NCAA tournament, women’s soccer more than double their win total from last year, and women’s cross country have one of their best finishes at nationals as a program. The third place finish from cross country and the second round appearance from men’s soccer even put UP in the top 25 of the most recent Capital One Cup Men’s Standings. It was one of the best fall sports seasons in recent memory and it shows in that ranking.
Winter sports has yet to find that kind of success. Women’s basketball has improved but men’s basketball has struggled up to this point. They have a combined 2-14 in conference play. Both of those wins came from the women’s team. Track and field has been a lone bright spot so far, with multiple runners breaking records in some early races during the indoor season, but that’s about it. Tennis has also struggled to start the season. It’s been a tough stretch recently.
Can the Pilots turn it around? Let’s take a look at what happened last week and what’s in the store for the Pilots.
Men’s basketball still winless in conference play
The losing streak for men’s basketball grew to eight last week, with Portland losing on the road against USF last Thursday, 83-61, and Pacific last Saturday, 74-70. It dropped the Pilots to 7-15 overall and 0-7 in conference play. At this point in the season last year, the Pilots were 8-14, also without a win in conference. They are the only team in the WCC without a conference win.
The tough season continues on The Bluff. Portland ranks firmly at the bottom of the conference in nearly every statistical category. They’re last in scoring offense (68.3) and second to last in scoring defense (75.2). They’re last in field goal percentage (43 percent), scoring margin (-7) and rebounding margin (-5.7). Their offensive and defensive rebounding percentages sit last in the conference. If they aren’t last, they’re second to last or bottom three in the category. The only category where they sit towards the top is blocked shots, where they rank second.
The WCC has continued to get better, but the Pilots haven’t followed suit. They’re the only team that has yet to reach at least ten total wins this year. Every team has at least two conference wins, while Portland has zero (Pacific is the team with only two, both against UP). Before USF lost this past Saturday to San Diego, one could argue that the WCC was a three-bid team for March Madness. Unfortunately for the conference, it looks like Gonzaga will get the lone bid once again; but it’s still impressive how much the conference has improved as a whole.
But Portland struggles to keep up.
This weekend is the Pilots’ best chance to snap the losing streak. They play Pepperdine at home on Thursday and Santa Clara on the road on Saturday. Pepperdine is 3-4 in conference and is one of those WCC teams moving in the right direction under the leadership of head coach Lorenzo Romar. But they still slip up occasionally, and this a textbook trap game for them. Travelling to Portland and losing to an hungry Pilots squad searching for their first win is not out of the question. Santa Clara is 3-5 in conference play and has done well considering the team is down to only eight scholarship players; but they lost both of their games last week and could easily fall again to the Pilots.
Both of Portland’s games this week are winnable, but they have to execute. Dropping two more games could be a bad omen for what’s already been a tough season.
Women’s basketball goes 1-1
Women’s basketball finally nabbed their second victory in conference this weekend against San Francisco. Unfortunately, they also lost to Santa Clara last Thursday. However, going 1-1 for the week is preferable to dropping both games and going into freefall.
It’s hard to complain about this team when you look at where they stood last year. They’re 10-10 record marks the first time they’ve hit double-digit victories since the 2013-2014 season, when they finished 14-16. They have a chance to finish above last place for the first time since Cheryl Sorenson took over as head coach in 2014. They’re 2-7 record in conference play could be a lot better, but there are still plenty of games left and opportunities for them to improve. The fact that they are .500 at this point in the year is pretty impressive considering the past few seasons.
One Pilot in particular hit a special milestone against Santa Clara as senior Julie Spencer hit 1000 career points. She’s the 26th Pilot in program history to do so. Spencer also had 25 points for the game, just one point shy of her career high. She continues to be arguably the most valuable player on the floor for the Pilots. She leads the team in points per game and rebounds with 15.8 and 7.9, respectively. She’s second in total blocks this season for Portland as well.
Tied with Spencer for the team lead in points is senior Darian Slaga, who also hit the 1000 point mark earlier this season and put up 25 against San Francisco on Saturday. Slaga continues to dominate on the offensive side of the ball for the Pilots. She’s one of the best shooters on the team at 33 percent from long range. Slaga makes the Pilots dangerous on offense.
But they have tough road trip ahead of them. They play Saint Mary’s on Thursday and Pacific on Saturday. Both of those teams are 6-3 in conference and boast efficient teams on both sides of the ball. Portland is solid on offense but has struggled defensively. They’re third in scoring offense in the WCC, but only ninth in scoring defense. This will be a real test for them, but sneaking out of California with even one win would mean a solid week for Portland.
Both the men’s and women’s track and field teams had a respectable showing at the University of Washington Invite this past weekend.
On the men’s side, redshirt senior Logan Orndorff, who ran a sub-four minute mile earlier this season, posted an impressive time of 7:52.33 in the 3000m. The time was good for sixth in his heat as well as second all-time in program history for the indoor 3000m. Junior Emmanuel Roudolff ran a solid race as well, with a time of 7:55.05.
Also for the men’s team, junior Caleb Webb and sophomore Evert Silva finished first and second, respectively in their heats, and 20th and 21st overall. Webb ran the 3000m in 8:04.73 while Silva ran it in 8:04.91.
For the women’s team, redshirt senior Taryn Rawlings was the highlight, breaking her previous time in the indoor mile of 4:40.78 with a 4:36.92 performance. In doing so, she broke her own record for the indoor mile race.
Both teams will compete at the Husky Classic on Feb. 8-9, with a select men’s team travelling to Iowa to compete at the Iowa State Classic.
Tennis went a combined 0-4 this past weekend. The men’s team dropped both of their matches to NAU and UNLV in Las Vegas while the women’s team lost to UW and EWU in Seattle.
Men’s tennis dropped a nail-biter to Northern Arizona, 4-3, with the experience of a Lumberjacks squad featuring four seniors proving too much for the young Pilots to handle. The UNLV match was also a close one, with the Pilots losing 4-3 in that one as well, dropping them to 1-3 on the season. They’ll play again this Friday in Eugene against Nevada and this Sunday against San Diego in their first conference matchup at home.
The Washington Huskies swept the women’s tennis team 7-0 on Friday, dominating right from the start. The Pilots lost every doubles and singles matchup they faced. They then lost to the Eastern Washington Eagles in a much closer 4-3 victory for EWU. That drops the Pilots to 1-2 on the season, with their next match taking them back to Seattle to face off against the Seattle University Redhawks.
Men’s basketball plays one at home and one on the road this week. On Thursday they’ll take on the Pepperdine Waves at Chiles Center at 7 p.m. and on Saturday they’ll travel to Santa Clara to take on the Broncos at 6 p.m.
Women’s basketball travels to California this week. On Thursday they play the Saint Mary’s Gaels at 6:30 p.m. and on Saturday they’ll battle against the Pacific Tigers at 4 p.m.
Men’s tennis plays a match against the Nevada Wolfpack on Friday at 9 a.m. and their first conference game at home at the Louisiana Pacific Tennis Center versus San Diego at 10 a.m.
Both track and field squads and women’s tennis are off until next weekend. Track and field will go to Seattle for the Husky Invite on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, with a select men’s team travelling to Iowa for the Iowa State Classic on the same days. Women’s tennis also plays their next match on Feb. 8 against the Seattle University Redhawks.
Stay tuned for the next Pilot Roundup.
Kyle Garcia is the sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.