Before we begin, please watch the following video about my response to being back at it with The Beacon.
WHAT IT DO BABYYYYY!!!!! The Beacon is back and ready to provide more quality sports coverage. It’s a bittersweet time with the excitement of a new school year shadowed by the unfortunate end of summer. But lucky for you, that means it’s time for the fall season to begin here at the University of Portland.
I’ll give you a very quick rundown of what to look out for this fall sports season. But first, a quick shout out.
UP represented at the World Cup.
A column of this nature cannot go without mentioning the success that University of Portland alumni had at the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer.
The event featured three former Pilots: Canada’s Christine Sinclair, who won two national championships and is the all time goal scoring leader at UP (110 goals); Sophie Schmidt, another Canadian superstar who has won two bronze medals in her time with Canada; and of course, the illustrious Megan Rapinoe, who took home the Golden Ball and Golden Boot award as the top player and scorer (six goals) of the tournament. Rapinoe also won the national championship at UP with Sinclair in 2005.
Women’s soccer head coach Michelle French has talked to plenty of local media outlets about what it was like to watch the U.S. Women dominate yet again. French, another Pilot alumna who led the team to three NCAA Final Four appearances and was a national player of the year finalist in 1998, was a full-time assistant with the 2015 national team that took first in the World Cup. Both French and Pilot players noted how special this summer was for both women’s soccer and the University of Portland.
“I grew up watching Megan Rapinoe and those kind of players play here,” junior center back Olivia Dendinger said in a story with KGW. “We had season tickets. As a little girl, it was always a dream of mine to be at this school playing here.”
“They’re inspiring a generation of young little girls and I think even boys as well,” French said in the same article.
Their impact goes beyond their work on the field. Rapinoe has led the charge in the national team’s quest for equal pay. Although talks broke down recently, Rapinoe has still been vocal saying the team “won’t accept anything less than equal pay.” And from the looks of it, the efforts of both Rapinoe and the rest of the team have resonated with fans, including when they chanted equal pay during the World Cup Final.
The United States Women’s National Team had the most successful summer of any other team, professional or national, in the country. With a UP alumna as their voice, they have inspired many with their work both on and off the field, including current Pilots.
Now, we let’s shift our attention towards UP athletics for the fall. It was a historic fall in 2018 and every team hopes to improve on it in 2019. With more in-depth previews coming soon, here are the cliff notes on what you should know for every team this season.
Year two of the French Era is underway
The French Revolution was successful in year one. They went 11-9 in 2018, more than doubling their win total from 2017. Comparatively, that 2017 squad finished 5-13-1 and scored only 11 goals all year. The 2018 squad scored 30. And the expectations are higher for year two.
The biggest reason for their scoring explosion was the emergence of Taryn Ries. The now-junior striker had 15 goals and six game-winners last season, both good for seventh in the nation. Her 15 goals were the most by a Pilot since 2009. She also registered two hat tricks and led the league in points with 33 en route to All-WCC and All-West Region First Team honors. She was also the lone Pilot to earn All-WCC preseason recognition.
Ries doesn’t seem to have lost a step, scoring two goals in their exhibition against the University of British Columbia in a 3-2 victory. And they’ve got plenty of other players coming back, with eight starters and 17 letter winners returning.
Along with Ries, 2018 All-WCC selections Olivia Dendinger and Kimberly Hazlett both return. Dendinger was central to the Pilots defense that allowed only 21 goals last season. Hazlett enters her senior year having earned all-conference recognition every season, including second team last season. She was second on the team in points with five goals and six assists.
Now, it’s a matter of whether they can diversify their scoring. French discussed with Paul Danzer of the Portland Tribune how one of the goals for the Pilots this season is to allow Ries to flourish while creating opportunities for others offensively.
Defensively, they’ll have to replace goalkeeper Rachel Lusby, who put together eight clean sheets over 20 games in her last season for Portland. Freshman Jenny Wahlen got the start in their exhibition against UBC, but whether she will start full-time over junior Madison Zamora remains to be seen.
French has said this team could look really different this year, with as many as five new starters. They have 11 newcomers to integrate as well. Last year was good, but the pressure is on to keep the momentum going.
Men’s soccer has a big hole to fill but looks capable of doing it
Last year was one of the best in recent memory for the men’s soccer team. They hosted their first playoff game since 2002 and beat UCLA — head coach Nick Carlin-Voigt’s old team — 1-0 to advance to the second round for the first time since 2009. It was their second playoff appearance in three years. Now, the 20th ranked Pilots have to show that they can do it again.
One challenge they must overcome is replacing top striker Benji Michel, who signed a homegrown contract with Orlando City SC last winter and is now scoring goals in a different shade of purple. Michel was the team’s leading scorer all three seasons he was on The Bluff, with 31 goals, eight assists, 70 points, and 12 game-winners during his time in Portland. Last season he battled injuries but still cobbled together 11 goals and an All-WCC and All-West Region First Team finish. He was also the first Pilot to be named an All-American (Second Team) since Nate Jaqua in 2002.
Even without Michel, Carlin-Voigt should have the talent to make up for it. He brought in the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the nation according to TopDrawerSoccer while returning seven starters from last year’s squad.
Two of those starters include senior midfielders Rey Ortiz and Gio Magaña-Rivera, who both earned All-West Region honors last season.
Ortiz, who is on the 2019 MAC Hermann Trophy Player of the Year watch list, battled injuries most of last season but still put together three goals and three assists and an All-WCC Second Team finish.
Magaña-Rivera was a first-team selection after scoring two goals and a team-leading five assists. Both players will be instrumental if the Pilots want to repeat their success of last year. They’re off to a good start as well, with a 3-0 win in a friendly against No. 22 Oregon State on Aug. 18. Now the question is whether they can continue their momentum into the regular season.
Volleyball needs to adjust
Last year was certainly an all-around success for volleyball, with their best record ever (20-13), and their first ever postseason appearance at the National Invitational Volleyball Championships. But even with a 12-match win streak to start the season, it was a tale of two seasons for Portland. The team started 12-0 in non-conference but finished only 6-12 in conference play.
Jeff Baxter had a successful year one at the helm for the Pilots, but now he has to figure it out without several key players. Cali Thompson and Izzy Guzik both transferred from the team last school year, with Thompson headed to UCLA and Guzik to Ole Miss. Thompson led assists with 1,326 over the season while Guzik was third on the team in points with 375.5. They also graduated Reghan Pukis, who led the team in points and kills.
But they aren’t bereft of talent. Seniors Katie Barker and Shayla Hoeft will both return, with Barker coming off a record-breaking 2018 season with more block assists than any other Pilot in a single season (128). Hoeft was third on the team in kills with 321.
They also return juniors Liz Reich and Carey Williams. Reich was third in kills for the Pilots last year while Williams led the WCC in digs at 534.
Even with those starters in place, Baxter still has to work without important pieces from last year. He’ll have to find new ones to replace them with if they want to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult WCC that already boasts the No. 9 team in the country at BYU.
Men’s cross country is still really good
There’s no other way to put it. Men’s cross country has by far had the most success recently among all UP sports. That’s not really a hot take, considering that they’ve finished in the top three nationally the past two years. They were ranked in the top three the majority of 2018 and secured the individual and team title at the 2018 West Regional meet before their third-place finish at Nationals.
Two runners graduated that hurt the Pilots’ depth. Nick Hauger, their individual champion at the West Regional and a two-time All-American, graduated along with Logan Orndorf, another All-American who made the news for being the first Pilot to break four minutes in the mile. Hauger also won the WCC Championships individual title, where the team placed second behind only perennial powerhouse BYU.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a talented roster. Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse, who was the top finisher for the Pilots at Nationals and was ranked in the top 25 all season long. He’s a two-time All-American and the 2018 NCAA West Region Runner of the Year. They also return runners Riley Osen, Caleb Webb, Reuben Kiprono and more, who all had strong performances throughout last year.
Six-time West Region coach of the year Rob Conner certainly isn’t lacking talent. Expect cross country to put together another quality season.
Women’s cross country has spots to fill
Women’s cross country put together a quality, record-breaking season in 2018. They finished a program-best 12th at Nationals after entering the race ranked 23rd.
Seniors Lauren LaRocco and Taryn Rawlings were superstars all year, with both earning All-American honors. LaRocco became the first runner in program history to earn two All-American awards in cross country — she had six overall in her career. She also broke the record in the 6k with a 13th-place finish at Nationals with a time of 20:05. She even earned a nomination for NCAA Woman of the Year.
Rawlings’s All-American honors were the first she ever received, and she did so in dramatic fashion. She passed 24 runners in the final 2,000 meters of the 2018 National meet to finish 26th and earn her award.
There’s one problem the team faces in 2019, however. Both LaRocco and Rawlings have graduated. Now, they have to repeat their success without two All-Americans. They aren’t totally without hope, but it will surely be difficult.
Congratulations! You now know enough about the upcoming fall sports season to convince your friends and family that you know what you’re talking about. Want to be really on top of things? Stay tuned for more in-depth sports coverage on all things related to UP athletics.
Kyle Garcia is the sports editor at The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.