Entering this weekend’s two Big Sky Conference matches against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona, the Vikings found themselves with the rare opportunity to wipe the slate clean. “Big Sky play is a whole different story,” said head coach Laura Schott, who said she encouraged her players to look beyond their disappointing nonconference record (1-9-2) and bring a fresh, positive attitude into their final stretch of the season. It seems Schott’s encouragement did not fall on deaf ears.
Best foot forward
Entering this weekend’s two Big Sky Conference matches against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona, the Vikings found themselves with the rare opportunity to wipe the slate clean.
“Big Sky play is a whole different story,” said head coach Laura Schott, who said she encouraged her players to look beyond their disappointing nonconference record (1-9-2) and bring a fresh, positive attitude into their final stretch of the season.
It seems Schott’s encouragement did not fall on deaf ears.
The Vikings opened up the abbreviated conference season, just seven games long, by earning a win on Friday while visiting Northern Colorado, and then returning home and fighting Northern Arizona to a scoreless draw on Sunday.
The team’s conference record now stands at 1-0-1, and the Vikings sit in a tie for second place in the conference after the first weekend of action.
The old adage that quality is more important than quantity was certainly true in Friday’s game. Despite being outshot by Northern Colorado 23-8, Portland State was able to take down the Bears, 2-1.
Junior midfielder Dolly Enneking, who is among the Big Sky’s leaders in shots attempted per game, managed just two shots on the day but made good on each to push her team-leading season goal total to five. That total is the third best in the conference.
After the teams battled through a scoreless first half, Enneking connected on a cross from sophomore forward Iman Bearde, giving the Vikings a 1-0 advantage and earning Bearde the first assist of her career. But the celebration didn’t last long, as the Bears countered with a goal from freshman forward Ariel Cook just 19 seconds later.
Determined to carry her team to victory, Enneking would find the back of the net again at the 65-minute mark, on a score off an assist from junior defender Suzanne Hinton. The goal put the Vikings on top for good.
Schott believes the perseverance that her team showed in the win is a sign that they are headed in the right direction and that the difficult nonconference schedule may have been worth it.
“The Bears’ goal was potentially devastating for us. But the women showed composure and determination, and we were able to hold them off for the win,” Schott said.
Heading into their matchup with Northern Arizona on Sunday, the Vikings knew that defense would be the key to the game.
As the highest-scoring team in the conference, Northern Arizona looked to attack early and often. Their initial barrage of 13 shots in the first half tested the PSU defense and the skills of junior goalkeeper Cris Lewis.
“I thought we came out a little flat at the start,” Schott said. “And they were getting their shots in, but we were able to turn it around on them.”
In the second half, the Vikings were able to exert their will on the Lumberjacks and maintained pressure on the Northern Arizona defense the majority of the time.
But the Northern Arizona defense held, and as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard, the count remained locked at 0-0.
Conference rules call for two 10-minute overtime periods, and although the Vikings were able to control the tempo and the ball during most of the sudden-death extra time at the end of a marathon 110-minute game, the game remained scoreless.
The draw was the Vikings’ third of the season and the team’s first shutout of the year.
When the weekend was over, the Portland State defense had held the two highest-scoring teams in the Big Sky Conference to a combined total of one goal. The Vikings received strong defensive play in both games from freshman Amanda Howie and senior Kaci Mashburn.
Though pleased with her team’s performance thus far in their conference matchups, coach Schott said she is not surprised, nor satisfied, with the results.
“We can be the best team every time we play,” Schott said. “[Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona] are two very tough opponents, and this was a good start for us. Now we have to keep it up.”
The Vikings will get their chance to build on their success this week when they return to the pitch and host Montana on Friday and Eastern Washington on Sunday.