Welcome back, Pilots! I hope you all had a wonderful, relaxing fall break where all responsibilities were appropriately shunned so you could have some much-deserved downtime.
If you’re like me, you shut yourself off from the outside world while you watched excessive amounts of football and Netflix. If you’re more fun than me (you probably are), then you possibly went out and did something exciting with your week off. Either way, you would be forgiven for not knowing exactly what happened with the University of Portland athletics this past week.
In case you weren’t paying attention, here’s what you may have missed over fall break.
Soccer teams could be doing better in conference play
Men’s soccer started conference play over break while women’s soccer got into their second week of WCC matches. It was a winless break for both teams, with men’s soccer dropping games to the Pacific Tigers and the Loyola Marymount Lions while the women’s team tied games against the Saint Mary’s Gaels and the Santa Clara Broncos.
The losses put the men’s team at 6-5-1 on the year. They have more losses than last year already (12-4-3) in six less games. They’re seventh in the conference (only eight of the ten WCC teams have men’s soccer programs) and are the only team without a conference win besides the University of San Francisco Dons.
The men’s team had an impressive 2-1 victory against the University of California-Berkely Bears on Tuesday and have a home match against Santa Clara on Saturday, Oct. 26. If they can escape this week without a loss, then, in theory, they should be able to roll into victories against Gonzaga and San Francisco, the two weakest teams in the conference. But theory is different from practice, and the Pilots have to start playing like the team they were slated to be if they want to make the postseason.
The women’s team hasn’t fared much better, though expectations were lower for them than the men’s. They sit at eighth in the WCC standings with two points thanks to those fall break ties. They did well to earn a 1-1 draw against a top-tier squad, the 20th-ranked Santa Clara. It put them at an aesthetically pleasing 4-4-4 (Isn’t that just nice to look at?).
Their schedule doesn’t get any easier in a strong WCC. Their next match on Oct. 23 is against Bringham Young University, who’s 13-0-1 this year and has dominated almost everyone they’ve played with a 50-6 goal differential, by far the best in the conference. The Pilots also have to play San Francisco on Oct. 26 before ending the season with some much easier matchups.
Volleyball has echoes of 2018
This season mirrors what has happened in the past for volleyball. After finishing the non-conference slate with an 8-3 record, the Pilots have gone 2-6 in the gauntlet that is the West Coast Conference. It's very similar to last season, which saw the team get off to a historic 12-0 start only to finish 6-12 in conference play and 20-13 overall.
The schedule hasn’t been kind to the Pilots. They started conference play against the four best teams in the conference (San Diego, BYU, LMU and Pepperdine), dropping all of those games. When they finally played conference teams with a similar record to them, they went 2-2, the victories coming in dramatic fashion against Pacific and San Francisco and the losses being close matches against Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s.
This team is about right where they were expected to be this season. They were able to get their wins non-conference but continue to struggle against conference opponents. Lucky for them, their next game is against a very beatable Gonzaga squad on Saturday, Oct. 26. A win against the Bulldogs would give them some breathing room in a fight to climb back to .500.
Cross Country performs well in biggest regular season meet
This is a slight exaggeration, but most of the early cross country races don’t really matter. Most of the time the best runners aren’t competing in them and it’s more of a chance for the runners who don’t usually get as much opportunity to put some work in. They aren’t indicative of how good the teams actually are. But now that it’s October, both cross country teams are finally competing in races that matter.
On Oct. 18, both teams competed in the Nuttycombe Invitational, one of the premier events of the season and a good barometer for teams to compare themselves to on a national level. The men finished ninth overall as a team while the women finished 24th. Both teams also raced at the Warner Pacific Cross Country Classic, which is less noteworthy but still resulted in a team win for the men and a second-place finish for the women.
The men’s team might not be as strong as the past two seasons, but they certainly aren’t rebuilding. They’re 12th in the nation and just had a ninth-place finish at the most important regular-season meet. They aren’t expected to be a top-three team like the past two seasons, but they are far from bad.
Earlier this year, head coach Rob Conner compared this season to 2015, the year after a podium finish where they lost five of their top seven runners. In 2015, the team missed Nationals. The difference between this squad and that one, however, is that this season’s team is not in danger of missing anything, and their ninth-place finish showed that.
Meanwhile, the women’s team put together a nice outing with a 24th place finish. They’ve tried their best to make up for the loss of Taryn Rawlings and Lauren LaRocco and have performed admirably. They haven’t been as successful, but they’ve done well with team wins at the Linfield Harrier Classic and the Wester Oregon University Sundowner. Head coach Ian Solof and runners have preached the importance of trusting the process. With the homestretch underway, they’ll now see whether the process can lead them back to Nationals.
The next big race for the Pilots is Nov. 1 at the WCC Championships. Both teams had strong finishes in the conference last year, each placing second. Will they be able to repeat their success from last season?
Stay tuned for the next Pilot Roundup.
Kyle Garcia is the Sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.