Welcome back, Pilots! Well, we’re all finally back on campus and trudging our way to classes in the cold and rain (with a little snow!). If you did your break right, you probably spent most of it disassociating yourself as much as possible from whatever was happening on The Bluff, treating yourself to Santa cookies, hot cocoa and cheesy Netflix Christmas movies (I highly recommend “A Christmas Prince”).
But while we were all doing this, there was plenty going on in the realm of UP athletics. So, what did you miss? Here’s what you need to know.
The nice thing about winter sports at the University of Portland is that basketball is the only thing you’re missing during the break. It’s been an interesting year for both teams, as the men’s team has already surpassed their win total from last year, both overall and in conference play, while the women’s team has almost already crept up on their total wins from last year.
Let’s start with the women’s team. Under the new head coach, Michael Meek, the team has put together a solid first 18 games. They’re 11-7 with a 4-3 conference record, their best start since the 2009-10 season. That’s good for third in a clogged West Coast Conference. Six teams have at least three wins in conference play and four teams have at least four. The Pilots are in the top four of the WCC in scoring offense, scoring defense and scoring margin. They rank consistently in the top five in most statistical categories among WCC teams.
A lot of this is thanks to the performance of freshman forward Alex Fowler. The Australia native has dominated right off the bat, averaging a conference-leading 17.4 points per game along with 7.9 rebounds. She earned WCC player of the week honors twice this year and scored a career-high 35 points on the road against Santa Clara this past Saturday. This helped Portland earn their first road sweep since the 2008-09 season.
However, she’s not the only baller from Townsville helping the Pilots out. Sophomore Haylee Andrews, who showed glimpses of the kind of player she could be last season as a freshman, has continued her stellar play. Despite dealing with injuries that kept her out of five games, the guard has put up 16.8 points per game — which would be good for second in the WCC but she doesn’t qualify since she’s played only 13 games — along with 5.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds.
Portland has a young dynamic duo and a coach with a winning pedigree. For the first time in a while, the future of women’s basketball at UP is looking bright.
The men’s basketball team hasn’t had quite the same success as the women’s but has exceeded last year’s performance already. Their 9-11 overall record and 1-4 WCC record is not impressive on paper, but it is an improvement from what they did last season. KenPom — one of the most commonly used tools for ranking and measuring teams — has them as the lowest-rated team in the conference still at 262nd, 45 spots behind the next closest team (Loyola Marymount at 219th with a 7-12 record).
The Pilots lost a key starter in Marcus Shaver Jr., who transferred to Boise State and was the leading scorer for Portland last season. They’ve been able to somewhat make up for his loss in Isaiah White, a graduate transfer who leads the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game. He’s one of three Pilots putting up double-digit scoring averages, with JoJo Walker and Malcolm Porter following at 10.6 and 10.3 points, respectively.
There have been some other bright spots this year, too, including a win over the San Francisco Dons that gave them their first WCC victory since 2018. They put up a fight against the San Diego Toreros this past weekend and even led the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs at the end of the first half in their conference opener. They wound up losing by 13, but even putting up a fight against one of the best teams in the nation is a silver lining in what most likely will be another tough year in conference play.
This men’s basketball squad still dwells at the bottom of the WCC power rankings. There have been some pockets of sunshine this year, and there’s a chance they can avoid finishing last for the first time during the Terry Porter era. But there’s obviously still some work to do.
Pilots going pro
A pair of men’s soccer players are officially moving on to the big leagues. Rey Ortiz was taken with the 29th pick by FC Cincinnati in MLS SuperDraft while Gio Magana-Rivera signed with USL 1 team FC Tuscon. It’s the third year in a row the Pilots have produced professional players, with Benji Michel heading to the pros in 2018, while Paul Christensen and Kris Reaves did so in 2017.
Both players were integral parts of Portland’s midfield these past four seasons. Ortiz twice was selected to MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List for the player of the year, earned All-American honors in 2017, was named All-WCC first team twice and second-team once. Magana-Rivera earned All-WCC recognition three of his four years on The Bluff, including All-WCC honorable mention in 2019 and first-team recognition in 2018.
Both were integral to the Pilots winning a conference championship in 2016 as well as advancing to the second round of the NCAA playoffs in 2018. As great as it was to have those players, head coach Nick Carlin-Voigt is now tasked with filling some big holes in his team.
That’s about all you need to know. Stay tuned for the next Pilot Roundup.
Kyle Garcia is the Sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.