The University of Portland women’s basketball team saw their season come to a close when they lost 76-69 against the University of San Francisco Dons in Las Vegas on March 7. The game was the period on the up and down season.
The Pilots completed their fifth year and final year under head coach Cheryl Sorenson. UP announced on March 12 that Sorenson will not return as head coach next year. Sorenson navigated Portland to an overall record of 13-17 during the 2018-19 campaign.
Portland played well in their preseason matches, playing themselves into an 8-4 record heading into conference play. This was attributed to good play from some of the team’s younger players, as well as two reliable seniors in forward Julie Spencer and guard Darian Slaga. Both became the most recent additions to the 1,000-point club this season.
The establishment of a solid rotation took some time for Portland to get down. For the majority of the year, Sorenson found a groove with implementing junior guard Kate Andersen, a starter from last season, off the bench. This move allowed for freshman guard Haylee Andrews to firmly plant her feet in the starting lineup.
Andrews went on to have a productive year at the starting guard position. She averaged 11.8 points per game while seeing the court for an average of 28.5 minutes per night. These numbers were a product of good shooting, something that the team struggled with all season. Andrews shot a solid 47 percent from the field, an above average mark for the team.
Andrews was not the only young player Portland saw consistent production from. Sophomore guard Maddie Muhlheim saw an improvement in shooting during her bump in playing time. The Portland native started 15 games for the Pilots this season, an increase from her five starts the previous year, adding a real deep threat. Muhlheim knocked down 69 three point shots during her season, including nine against conference foe San Diego. Muhlheim’s performance against San Diego set a single game program record for most made three-pointers.
Even though Portland only racked up five conference wins, it was the most during the Sorenson era. The team did consistently show effort to buy into the program under coach Sorenson, but results seem to still be lacking. During the Sorenson era, the team has consistently done well during the preseason but has failed to win consistently during the conference portion of their schedule.
Portland got good production from their younger players, which bodes well for the future of the program. These young core members of the team saw growth this season and should be able to compete if the new coach can find a solid rotation.
Portland will be entering next season with a new head coach. The athletic department said in a press release that they will begin the search for Soreson’s replacement immediately. The new coach will be facing the issue of finding a consistent rotation of the players who stay in the program. After releasing the coach that recruited all the players currently on the team, some members may decide to transfer.
Five wins in conference play this year was not the goal. Even though this mark is an improvement, it was not what Pilot fans were hoping for.
Even though there was production from younger players as they stepped into bigger roles, the team will be parting ways from their two best players. Slaga and Spencer will both be graduating and moving on at the end of this year.
Spencer scored hit the 1,000 point mark earlier in the season. Spencer added a solid presence down low who usually offered a solid scoring option on offense. Spencer was leaned on down the stretch, averaging 30 minutes per game throughout the entire season. A lack of solid options at the forward position was a reason why Spencer saw so much time on the floor. Spencer led the team with 15.7 points per game.
Slaga will also be absent next year. A floor general who offered a certain spark to the team at times, Slaga was one of the clear leaders of the team. Slaga offered a boost on the defensive side of the ball, with 32 steals on the year. Another 1,000-point scorer, Slaga will leave the team with good guards behind her. Junior Kate Andersen will most likely have to pick up the slack in bringing that uptempo energy to the court.
The biggest thorn in the side of Portland’s season was bad shooting. Throughout the season Portland would do a good job of finding the open shooter, but failed to convert. The team shot 41 percent on the year from the field, under the 43 percent average of their opponents. Sorenson continually pointed to the confidence aspect when it comes to shooting when the team turned cold later in the game.
When Portland did find a groove offensively, the defense could not keep up the intensity. A large contributor was the average 16.2 turnovers per game, leading to an average of just over 17 points a game for the other team. When the opposing team did set up their offense, Portland had trouble sticking with players off of screens and rotations.
Shooting was not the only aspect in which Portland lacked behind their opponents. The Pilots compared unfavorably to their opponents in points per game, rebounding averages and turnovers among other aspects of the game.
It is tough to win games, especially close ones, when you cannot win the small aspects of the game. To take care of the little things will have to be a big focus moving forward for the team. Even though some of the statistic categories are close to their opponents, when you lose in every aspect, it is tough to win the actual game.
Portland showed stretches when they were able to control the game with good shooting and hard play on defense, but failed to be consistent enough to win. These stretches also usually came too late as many times the team was already facing a large deficit. Taking care of the little aspects of the game will have to become a top priority, especially in middle of the game when energy can start to lull away.
An early look at next season
After another disappointing conference outcome, the University of Portland decided to look in a new direction with head coach Cheryl Sorenson’s and she will not return next season. However, there is a solid group of players who will moving into their college prime.
With Slaga and Spencer both gone, Portland will have to find someone to step into two large leadership roles. This may come from rising sophomore Haylee Andrews who, like Slaga, seemed to have good control over the offensive side of the ball.
Spencer leaves a major hole to fill at the forward position. With fellow senior forward Lisa Kaempf also graduating, Portland will have to turn to other options. Sophomore forward Jayce Gorzeman may be the answer for Portland. Gorzeman saw an increase in minutes throughout the year and made a considerable jump from her freshman year. Standing at a height of six foot, Gorzeman most likely will play the power forward position.
Another option at the center position would be six-foot-five-inch sophomore center Lauren Walker. Walker would need an intensive off season as she only averaged six minutes a game during the 2018-19 year, a decrease from her freshman year. However, at six foot five Walker would have a height advantage over many players at her position in the league.
The focus for Portland must shift from the whole season to taking it quarter by quarter with a younger group. The talent is present on the roster, but the biggest question will remain if Portland can take care of the little things and carry their success from preseason to conference play.
Whoever takes the reigns next year will have a good team to work with. The new coach will have the challenge of figuring out a solid rotation.
Jamison White is a sports reporter at The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com