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Strong core portends big season for Viks

Women's experienced defense, goalkeeper likely to limit scoring


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Kayla Henningsen is one of 10 returning starters for a Portland State womens soccer team that finished first in the Big Sky regular season last year.The Portland State women’s soccer team was dominant for most of the Big Sky Conference last season. The Vikings went undefeated in league play and made the Big Sky tournament championship match.

Portland State came up just short, though. After taking Weber State to a 0-0 draw at the end of regulation, things fell apart for the Vikings in the shootout, and Weber State defeated them 3-0, earning the league’s sole berth in the NCAA playoffs.

Portland State coach Laura Schott is expecting another big season from her squad, which is seeking its fourth consecutive regular-season league title.

“We have a lot of returners from last year, and they look good in practice,” Schott says. “Our freshmen look really good as well. We’re excited to have the group we have, and we’re looking forward to the year.”

Defense will be the Vikings’ strength. Last year, Portland State posted 12 shutouts and allowed just .76 goals per match.

“Our goalkeeper and our back line had a very good run last year in terms of holding teams to shutouts and low scores,” Schott says. “I really look forward to seeing those players back. They should be the anchor of our team. We expect that unit to keep teams to limited scoring

opportunities.”

The Vikings return 5-9 junior goalie Caitlin Plese, co-Big Sky goalkeeper of the year after setting a PSU record and tying the league mark with 11 shutouts in 2013.

“She looks really good,” Schott says.

The back line will be anchored by senior Kayla Henningsen, 5-9, from Westview High. She was the Big Sky defensive player of the year in 2013 and plays mostly at the left back position.

In an ideal world, Schott would love for the Vikings to be able to use their defensive presence to keep possession and play the ball through the midfield. In past years, the PSU midfield has not been quite up to that challenge. Schott, however, says she believes the midfielders are good enough to do that this season.

“Our midfield should be improved,” says Schott, a former Oregon high school state player of the year at Jesuit who is 31-7-8 in Big Sky games in six seasons with the Viks. “We like to keep the ball and advance the ball through our midfield. We haven’t done that as well as we wanted to in the past. This year, we’ll take a step forward in that area.”

Schott says the goals will come from a combination of players.

“We’ve done a good job of having players step into roles and create opportunities to score for us,” she says. “Every year, our scoring has been a bit by committee. We have a lot of scorers. We have people who score one or two, and then we have people who break out and have good years. It will be more of the same this year.

“We have periods where in four games we have six different people score and then we have periods when someone really sticks their neck out and starts to score a lot.”

Some of the goals could come from 5-3 junior striker Tamia Hasan (Riverside, Calif.) and 5-7 junior midfielder/striker Cori Bianchini (Glencoe High). Bianchini had five goals and four assists last season; Hasan, who came off the bench most of the time, contributed three goals and one assist.

“Cori Bianchini is poised for a good year,” Schott says. “Tamia Hasan had some very good moments last year and could have a breakout year.”

The Vikings will have a challenging preseason this year with matches against Cal (Aug. 31, away), Oregon (1 p.m. Sept. 12, Hillsboro Stadium) and Texas Tech (Sept. 7, away).

The season starts Friday, when the PSU Tournament takes the stage at Hillsboro Stadium. The Vikings will meet Utah Valley at 6 p.m. Friday and Boise State at 1 p.m. Sunday. In other tourney games, Drake plays Boise State at 3 p.m. Friday and Utah Valley takes on Drake at 10 a.m. Sunday.

“We have a tough nonconference schedule,” Schott says. “The reason we schedule it that way is to face the best teams in the country and prepare for our conference games. And, if we are fortunate enough to make it to the NCAA tournament, we want to be prepared and know what those style of teams are like. It’ll be a very competitive schedule. I’m looking forward to it. The team will do very well with it.”

The preseason coaches poll forecast a close battle between PSU and Weber State. Each team got five first-place votes, and the Vikings wound up with 93 points to the Wildcats’ 92. Northern Arizona, with 86 points, was picked for third place.

Schott says the Big Sky is deeper than it has been in past years. That will make the conference tournament, which has been expanded to six teams, even more challenging.

“The last few years, the top half of the conference has been very competitive. And I feel like this year a few of the teams in the bottom half are going to make the jump,” Schott says.

“The conference tournament has always been very competitive. None of those games are gimmes. With the change in the tournament format and in our conference at large, it’s going to be very fun this year.”