Complete season preview (PDF)
PORTLAND, Ore. — Regroup. Reload. Relaunch.
That's the task ahead of the 2015 Portland State women's soccer team, which lost several starters on the defensive side of the field from the past two seasons. The Vikings enter 2015 with just four returning starters from a season ago, and have 18 underclassmen on their 26-player roster.
However, the Vikings have never had a problem reloading in the past, as the team has never finished lower than second in the Big Sky Conference in seven seasons under head coach Laura Schott. In fact, the Vikings made do with a similarly young group in 2013, when the team entered the season with 18 underclassmen on its 25-player roster and were without their top four goal scorers from a year ago. That team showed no signs of struggling to reload, though, as they cruised to the Big Sky regular-season title at 8-0-1 in conference play and finished the season on a 13-match unbeaten streak.
"Our goal is to get better," Schott said. "We want the players that we have to continue to get better and have a growth mentality and we want to keep recruiting good classes. Maybe it all comes together very quickly, or maybe it takes a little while to get going. The bottom line is that this group is going to be successful. I think that they have a bright future ahead of them, not just short term or in a month or a year, but I think that this group is a special group. They just want to learn, and they're committed to doing their best and so far they're a lot of fun to work with."
One area that the Vikings will be concerned with in the early season will be the team's defense, which lost two-time Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year Caitlin Plese, as well as 2013 Big Sky Defensive MVP Kayla Henningsen and fellow All-Big Sky honorees Kelsey Henningsen and Torie Morris. That group led the Vikings to Portland State single-season records for shutouts (12) and goals-against average (0.76) during the team's championship run in 2013.
"It's going to take time and everything's not going to be perfect. I think that that would be unrealistic," Schott said about rebuilding her defense. "We're going to play a lot of top 50 teams in our non-conference schedule and we always do and we like to challenge ourselves, but that's the fun of this group is that they want that challenge. So whether we're successful the majority of the time or if we have times where we need to sharpen up, it's still a lot of fun for everybody out here because we're still all on the same page. We know where we want to get to."
The cupboard will not be completely dry for the Vikings defensively, either, as redshirt sophomore Kristin Moyer returns to the fold this season after missing all of last year with an injury. Moyer was part of the Vikings' record-setting 2013 defense as a freshman, and earned All-Big Sky second-team honors after the season. Additionally, Moyer was named the College Sports Madness Big Sky Freshman of the Year in 2013, when she led the team in minutes played.
Redshirt senior goalkeeper Angela Haluska also stands as the favorite to take over as the Vikings' starting goalkeeper, giving the defense a veteran presence as she enters her fifth season within the soccer program. Haluska started the Vikings' first two matches of last season while Plese sat out with an early injury. Haluska performed well in place of Plese, earning her first career shutout in the Vikings' 1-0 win over Utah Valley while also making a couple big saves to preserve the Vikings' 1-1 draw with Boise State.
Additionally, defensive midfielder Katie Forsee returns after playing in all 19 matches last season, and Schott said redshirt sophomore defender Breanne Chilton-Eddy will factor into the Vikings' back line as well.
Five freshman should also challenge for playing time on the Vikings' defense, especially Rachel Ross and Maxine Nagramada, who have each earned reps with the first-team back line early on in fall camp. Besides them, freshmen Laura Gougeon, Zoe Ramer and Dallin Esmond will also factor in.
The Vikings defense will still be young in the early season, however, meaning the Vikings' offense could really help the team out with some strong performances in the team's early matches. Fortunately for the Vikings, the offense wasn't nearly as hurt by graduation as the defense, as several attacking players return from a season ago. Chief among the returners will be senior forward Tamia Hasan and senior midfielder/forward Cori Bianchini, who each tied for the team lead in points with nine each last season.
Hasan comes back to the Vikings after a somewhat frustrating year in 2014 that saw her miss six of the team's 10 Big Sky Conference matches due to an injury. Hasan still scored three goals in the four Big Sky regular-season matches she did play in, however, and was named an All-Big Sky honorable mention at the end of the season.
Bianchini, meanwhile, should lead a deep Viking midfield that will feature her, Forsee and regular 2014 starters Emma Cooney and Bianca Munoz. For her part, Bianchini led the Big Sky with five assists in conference play last season, when she earned her second straight All-Big Sky first-team selection.
Schott also said freshman Megan Myers has already impressed so far in fall camp. Schott remains hopeful that this group of offensive players will take more chances than last year, when the Vikings ranked towards the bottom of the Big Sky Conference with only 21 goals scored in 19 total matches.
"I hope that they get after it. I hope that they take chances and that they press and they're aggressive," Schott said. "We want them to make intelligent decisions, but when they make decisions we want them to be aggressive and commit to it. Sometimes that can be a bit slow with a young group because the speed of play can catch them off guard in the beginning, but, you know what, this is a really good group. We brought in some players that have played at a high level. I don't know that that's going to be too much of an adjustment for them. We have a lot of newcomers who are mixing in well with the group and I'm excited to see what they do."
Hasan, Bianchini, Cooney and Munoz have also taken on added leadership roles with the Vikings, and Schott says the fresh voices have helped the young team so far.
"It's been great," Schott said. "Our leadership in the past has been good, but now it's different. These players like to think, they like to process, they're a little bit more quiet. They lead in a different way. For a number of years, we've had very extroverted, vocal leaders, but these leaders are different. They like to come out and work and get things done and go. There's not a lot of question asking, there's not a lot of time killing, there's not any complaining. It's just, 'let's do stuff, let's do work, let's get better.' And like I said, I think that's a group anybody wants to coach."
The Vikings will need steady leadership in the early going this season, as they face a difficult schedule at the start of the year. The Vikings open the season on the road against Arizona State, which finished just outside of the preseason NSCAA Coaches' Top 25, and eliminated Big Sky tournament champion Northern Arizona from the NCAA tournament last season.
The Vikings' Big Sky Conference schedule should ease up some, however, at least compared to last season, when the Vikings played four of their five Big Sky road matches at over 4,400 feet of elevation. By contrast, none of the Vikings' five conference road matches will be played at that elevation this season, as the highest the Vikings will play at will be 4,300 feet in Ogden, Utah. Additionally, the Vikings avoid the 2,000-mile road trip that comes whenever the Vikings play at Northern Colorado and North Dakota in the same weekend, and skip the grueling combo of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, which play at 7,000 and 5,846 feet, respectively.
"Our travel years are hard," Schott said. "The travel is hard in this conference, bottom line. It's hard for everybody, but our split weekends are a team that plays at 7,000 feet and another team that plays at a mile high, and then it's no easy feat to fly from North Dakota to Denver on a split weekend. There's no doubt that our schedules are very different from year to year because of that home-away schedule."
The Vikings also get preseason favorite Northern Arizona at home, as well as fellow 2014 Big Sky tournament teams Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
The Vikings played a similar Big Sky schedule during their unbeaten run in 2013, when the young team overcame a rough early start to the year by going 11-1-3 over their final 15 matches.
This year's batch of young players will hope for a similar outcome, as they seek to become the eighth straight Viking team to finish second or better in the Big Sky Conference.
"It takes a lot commitment. It's going to take a lot of work, and I think we have a group that wants to do that, which is what you want," Schott said. "It is a young team. There's a lot of learning that needs to be done, but this group, so far, they just seem like sponges. They just want the information and they take it in and they listen and they process and they want to follow through, so it's actually quite fun to have a young group. It's a different challenge than having an experienced group, but it's a lot of fun to have a young group."
Portland State features writer John Wykoff contributed to this story
All Portland State home games this season will be free to the public. Fans in the Hillsboro Stadium area can take advantage of this offer all year, starting with the team's exhibition match against Fraser Valley on Aug. 18.
Despite the youth on the defensive side of the field, the Vikings still return a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, led by last year's co-leaders in points in senior forward Tamia Hasan and senior midfielder/forward Cori Bianchini. Hasan led the Vikings with four goals scored last season, while Bianchini led the Big Sky with five assists in conference play and made her second straight All-Big Sky first team. Besides them, senior Emma Cooney, junior Bianca Munoz and sophomore Katie Forsee return after starting most of last season at their respective positions. Munoz was an All-Big Sky second-team selection last season, when she started the final 11 matches of the season and ranked tied for second on the team with two assists. Outside of last year's starters, redshirt senior goalkeeper Angela Haluska, redshirt junior midfielder Whitney Hilde, junior midfielder Aurora Bodenhamer, sophomore forward Zoe Vincini, junior midfielder Nikia Evans, sophomore midfielder Dallas Malone, sophomore forward Rachel Michieli and sophomore midfielder Lauren Owens return after playing last season, while redshirt freshman goalkeeper Abbie Faingold and redshirt sophomore defenders Breanne Chilton-Eddy and Kristin Moyer return after sitting out last season.
The Vikings brought in 10 freshmen with their 2015 recruiting class, including five defenders who will help bolster the team's young defense. Head coach Laura Schott singled out Rachel Ross and Maxine Nagramada as two defenders who could contribute right away, while Laura Gougeon, Zoe Ramer and Dallin Esmond should all also factor into the Vikings' lineup. Outside of the team's new defenders, Ashton Blanksma gives the Vikings a third option at goalkeeper, while Megan Myers, Morgan Matthews, Kylie Long and Krystal de Ramos will all factor into the Vikings' attack.
A LOADED MIDFIELD:
The Vikings enter the 2015 season with a loaded crop of midfielders to choose from for a starting lineup. Senior midfielder/forward Cori Bianchini should lead the group, as she led the Big Sky with five assists in conference play last season. Besides her, senior Emma Cooney, junior Bianca Munoz and sophomore Katie Forsee all also return after starting the majority of the team's matches last season in the midfield. Additionally, redshirt junior Whitney Hilde made three starts in the midfield for the Vikings last season and was part of the Vikings' rotation all season.
2014 SEASON RECAP:
A senior-laden Vikings team surged over its final six matches of the regular season to finish second in the Big Sky last season, continuing the team's streak of finishing no worse than second in the Big Sky for the seventh straight season. The Vikings started Big Sky play just 1-2-1 after four matches, but then won five of their last six to finish at 6-2-2. Goalkeeper Caitlin Plese led the Vikings from the back, as she tied the Portland State career record for shutouts with 17 by the end of the season. Plese was also named the Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year for the second straight season, and made her second straight All-Big Sky first team along with senior defender Kayla Henningsen and then-junior Cori Bianchini. Senior Kelsey Henningsen also made the All-Big Sky second team as a member of the team's defense, as well as Torie Morris, who was an All-Big Sky honorable mention. The Vikings also set a Big Sky Conference record at the start of the 2014 non-conference schedule, as the team broke the record for longest unbeaten streak with a 1-0 win over Utah Valley in its season opener. That win extended the Vikings' unbeaten streak to a record 14 matches, and the team would stretch it to 16 before a loss to then-No. 21 California snapped it. The Vikings also pulled out a dramatic, 1-0 overtime win over in-state rival Oregon early in the season, giving the Vikings their first win over the Ducks since 2004.