Complete Season Preview Notes (PDF)
PORTLAND, Ore. — The smile on Portland State head women's soccer coach Laura Schott's face may take some people by surprise.
After all, the Vikings were plagued by injuries last season, leading them to a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Big Sky Conference at 3-7-0, and the Vikings lost two-time All-Big Sky first-team selection Cori Bianchini and starting goalkeeper Angela Haluska – leaders on both side of the field – to graduation. Big Sky coaches picked the Vikings to finish eighth in the conference this season as a result, out of the potential six-team Big Sky tournament field.
And yet, Schott – winner of four Big Sky regular-season titles in her previous eight years at Portland State – can't help but like her team's chances in 2016.
"Our goal, as always, will be to win a championship, and the group we have gives us a great start to building toward that goal," PSU head coach Laura Schott said. "I saw we were ranked eighth in the preseason poll. What I like to remember about preseason polls is that we are almost always not ranked at the top, but we end up there a lot. The best thing about preseason polls is that there are postseason rankings."
Schott's optimism has merit, even as the Vikings will have 18 underclassmen on their 26-player roster for a second straight season, and third year in the past four. The Vikings also had 18 underclassmen in 2013, but went 8-0-1 in Big Sky play, giving Schott her fourth Big Sky regular-season title as well as her third straight at the time.
Some of the Vikings' leaders in 2016 were freshmen on that undefeated 2013 team, including former All-Big Sky selections Aurora Bodenhamer and Kristin Moyer.
Bodenhamer returns to the Vikings after leading the team in scoring with five goals scored last season, all of which came in Big Sky play.
"Ro is motivated. When her first touch is on, she is a handful," Schott said. "If she holds the ball too long it can hurt our momentum. I know she is looking forward to scoring more than last year and she can."
Bodenhamer was a bright spot for the Vikings last season, when the team struggled to score at times. Bodenhamer's five goals accounted for nearly half of the team's season total of 13, the lowest total of any team under Schott.
Injuries handcuffed the Vikings' attack more than any other aspect of the team's game, as multiple attacking players were forced to move to the defense as injuries mounted during the season. Tamia Hasan, for instance, led the Vikings in goals scored in 2014, but got pushed to the team's back line once potential defensive starter Maxine Nagramada went down with an injury in the team's exhibition match.
"Attack takes repetition in front of goal and we had to move some of our best attackers to the back line [last season]," Schott said. "It wasn't ideal, but the players persevered through the challenge well. This year we have different attackers, more experience and savvy talent. Our attack will improve."
Sophomore Morgan Matthews will also be a key returner in the Vikings' attack, after she ranked third on the team with six points on two goals and two assists as a freshman last season. Matthews really emerged over the latter half of the season, as all six of her points came in Big Sky play.
Offense was not what led the Vikings to their most recent Big Sky title in 2013, however, as well as the team's second-place finish in 2014. Defense led those teams, as the Vikings allowed only three goals – two on PKs – to Big Sky opponents in 2013, and just seven goals during the Big Sky regular season in 2014.
Moyer – who was an All-Big Sky second-team selection on the Vikings' title-winning 2013 team, and did not miss a minute of action the Vikings' Iron Woman last season – will anchor the team's defense this season, which will undoubtedly be the youngest group for the Vikings in recent memory.
Moyer could start the season as the Vikings' lone returning starter on the back line, which will play in front of a goalkeeper who has not started a match before in her Portland State career.
Moyer's fellow Iron Woman, Katie Forsee – who only missed 45 minutes of action last season – could also help out the defense, either on the back line next to Moyer, or as a holding midfielder. Forsee started the season as the Vikings' holding midfielder last season, but moved around in the Vikings' lineup due to injuries to other players and eventually spent time at every position on the field except goalkeeper.
"[Moyer and Forsee] are two leaders day in and day out," Schott said of the two players. "I love watching them play. We are thrilled to have them both for two more years and lean on them to lead the group, among others."
Sophomore Laura Gougeon could also take over Forsee's responsibilities at the holding center midfielder position after seeing time at the spot as a freshman, which would free up Forsee to move forward where she was effective last season. Forsee tied Matthews for the team lead with two assists last season, and scored the goal of the year on a high-arch shot against North Dakota.
The Vikings will still need to lean on some young faces on their back line, but again, Schott remains optimistic about her young players. Schott said that more than half of the team's freshmen could see playing time right away, with several of those players supporting the Vikings' backline.
The Vikings are also guaranteed to start a fresh face in goal, as none of the Vikings' four goalkeepers – Abbie Faingold, Ashton Blanksma, Shannon Peth and Hanalyn Sypher – have started a match in goal for the Vikings. Schott's faced that situation before, though, including in the Vikings' unbeaten 2013 season. Goalkeeper Caitlin Plese started that season without a start to her name, but went on to earn back-to-back Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2013 and 2014.
The team's youth defensively could certainly lead to tough moments in the early season, but Schott hopes the team will push through the tough moments and improve by the time Big Sky play starts at the end of September.
"I expect our group to see the season as a marathon, and we need to be strongest over the last 10 miles. We need to be prepared for the last 10 miles and run them better than the other 10 teams," Schott said.
"Defense is grit and intelligence. It's not always pretty. Our players have to be willing to get dirty and play hard."
The Vikings will need grit in Big Sky play this season, as they face a tough road schedule that will take them on two massive road trips. The Vikings will open Big Sky play by traveling to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where the Vikings will play back-to-back matches at 7,000 and 5,000 feet of elevation, respectively, in the span of 36 hours. The Vikings will also make the massive road trip to Northern Colorado and North Dakota on Oct. 14 and 16, traveling more than 3,500 miles over the weekend.
"That's where the grit needs to come in and leadership needs to step up," Schott said of the long road trips. "18 people haven't been on those trips and they are a grind, and every year we rise to the occasion. We will need big-time players to lead us through those heavy travel trips."
The Vikings will also catch some breaks with their schedule, as the Vikings play three of the top four teams in the Big Sky preseason poll at home in Idaho, Eastern Washington and Montana.
Before that, however, the Vikings will get the season started with an exhibition against the University of Oregon in Eugene this Friday at 6 p.m. (PT). The Vikings will open the counting season a week later against CSUN, as the Matadors come to Hillsboro Stadium, Aug. 19, at 1 p.m. (PT).
If coach Schott remains smiling after that, then her optimism will have been warranted.
Usain Bolt spends more time on the track – which isn't much – than Kristin Moyer and Katie Forsee spent on the bench last season. Moyer did not miss a single minute of any match during the season, and Forsee only missed 45 total minutes. Moyer saw all of her time on the back line, but Forsee saw time at every position on the field, except goalkeeper. Forsee was named an All-Big Sky honorable mention after the season for her efforts, while Moyer was a second-team All-Big Sky selection in 2013.
TOUGH ROAD SCHEDULE:
The Vikings face a tough road schedule in 2016, as they play four of their five Big Sky road matches at 4,000 feet of elevation or above. The Vikings will open Big Sky play on their toughest road trip of the season, playing at Northern Arizona (7,000 feet above sea level) and Southern Utah (5,000 fee above sea level) within 36 hours. The Vikings will also travel more than 3,500 miles as they play at Northern Colorado and North Dakota on Oct. 14 and 16, respectively.
BY THE HAMMER OF BODEN:
Senior midfielder/forward Aurora Bodenhamer returns to the Vikings after leading the team with five goals scored last season. Bodenhamer's five goals all came in Big Sky play, and ranked one off the single-season record for conference goals by a Viking. Bodenhamer scored two goals in two different matches last season, including both goals in the Vikings' 2-1, overtime win over Southern Utah. Bodenhamer was named an All-Big Sky honorable mention after the season, the first all-conference honor of her career.
The Vikings brought in 10 true freshmen during the offseason, and added a transfer from South Carolina in sophomore forward/midfielder Jacky Huchler. The Vikings will rely on their young players frequently during the season, as freshmen or sophomores make up 18 of the team's 26-player roster. Additionally, all four of the Vikings' goalkeepers are freshmen or sophomores, and none of them have ever started a match for the Vikings. Redshirt sophomore Abbie Faingold is the only goalkeeper to have seen action for the Vikings, as she made her Portland State debut last season while playing the final 27:07 in the Vikings' match at Weber State.
2015 SEASON RECAP:
Injuries and inexperience led the Vikings to a disappointing 2015 campaign that saw their seven-year streak of making the Big Sky tournament snapped. The Vikings finished the season 5-13-0 overall and 3-7-0 in Big Sky play. Goal scoring was an issue all season, as the Vikings scored only 13 goals, the lowest total of any season under head coach Laura Schott. The Vikings also only shut out two opponents during the season, and had the highest goals-against average (1.65) of any Viking team under Schott.