New coach, new confidence

After being rained out for most of Monday morning, the women’s soccer team took the field for the first time under new head coach Tim Bennett. Bennett was hired to replace Tara Erickson, who accepted the head coaching position at the University of Oregon in February.

Bennett comes to Portland State from the University of North Dakota, where his tenure as head coach of the Fighting Sioux lasted only seven months. Despite his short stay, the team’s success was undeniable as they went 14-5-2, good for a second place finish in the North Central Conference.

Prior to his tenure at North Dakota, Bennett was an assistant coach with the University of Kentucky men and women’s teams. Kentucky prospered with Bennett as an assistant. In three years, Bennett helped lead the Wildcats to their first NCAA tourney appearance. As an assistant with the women, Kentucky went 60-35-7 on its way to three NCAA tournament runs.

"I’ve been a little bit of everywhere," Bennett said. "I’ve done recruiting all across the country for Kentucky and UND." The path all across the country has led Bennett straight to a surging PSU program that is coming off of an 8-8-2 season that included a 4-1-1 mark in the Big Sky that gave the Vikings the regular season championship.

"Three things brought me here," said Bennett. "The success these girls have already had, the great frosh class and the school itself. Portland State has undergone a huge transformation in the last five or six years." Northern Arizona head coach Andre Luciano, a close friend of Bennett’s, pressured him to take the Portland State job.

Now that he’s here, Bennett already has a list of things he wants the Vikings to improve on. "There are some big things to stress. This team still has a lot of untapped potential," Bennett said. The newly minted head coach wants to improve on the technical and mental aspects of the game to give his players the confidence to close out games, something the Viks struggled with at times early last season.

Senior defender/midfielder Amy Orr is excited to have a new voice in the program. "Soccer is never one-dimensional. It’s healthy to get that new perspective," Orr said. She will be just one of a strong core of talented senior leadership.

"Leadership is the most important thing for us. That’s just what we need right now," Orr said.

To balance the senior leadership, Bennett will rely on some standout freshman and sophomore players. Last season sophomore forward Jamie Blakesly earned Big Sky All-Conference honors and also took the Golden Boot, given to the player who led the conference in total points. It was only the second time a Viking player has earned the honor, yet it is Erickson’s second recruit. Katie Miyake came through with the honor in 2002.

The excitement surrounding the recent Viking success has drawn younger players to the Park Blocks. "I was really excited to see people so dedicated to win and improve," said freshman defender Juli Edwards.

The Vikings now have two weeks to improve and integrate with their new coach before they face rival University of Portland in two weeks. However an even more meaningful game for the Viking players looms in the future.

"We are all looking forward to playing UO. It’s a huge game," said Orr. "We would like to prove that what we have as a team has led to our success, even though Tara (Erickson) was a huge part of it."

Playing Oregon and coaching against the woman he replaced is far from Bennett’s mind. "Every game is important, every game is going to be essential," Bennett said. "I think we have the chance to make a good team great."