Soccer season over

    In a season that has seen its fair share of losses, Saturday night’s 1-0 defeat to the Sacramento State Hornets may have been the toughest for the young women’s soccer team.

    A win would’ve ensured Portland State’s entry to the Big Sky Conference playoffs, but instead, Sacramento State secured their birth and celebrated riotously in the face of many tearful Vikings.

    ”We just didn’t play well,” said Viking Coach Tim Bennett after the game. “It wasn’t anything [Sacramento State] did.”

    The match’s lone goal was scored in the 30th minute on a header from Sacramento State freshman forward Kim Kemper.

    The Hornets controlled the tempo for much of the game, and when Portland State did take the ball into Sacramento territory, their attack was timid and ineffective. “We were afraid to go to the goal, which is surprising considering what we have been doing lately,” Coach Bennett said.

    Still, Bennett found a few performances on which to tip his hat. “I thought [freshman defender] Suzanne Hinton played well in the back. She was very solid and so was [junior defender] Juli Edwards.”    

    Edwards’ play anchored the PSU defense, as it so often does, but late in the game a vicious slide tackle led to her frustration.

    ”We defended as much as we could, but [our offense] couldn’t relieve that pressure,” Bennett explained.

    Despite PSU’s loss, a win from regular season conference champs Idaho State would’ve punched the Vikings’ playoff tickets, but the Bengals were upset 2-1 in their final game at Weber State.

    It is somewhat surprising that the Vikings were in playoff contention despite posting the conference’s worst overall record (4-13-1), but when it came to conference games PSU really turned up their intensity. PSU finished fifth with a record of 4-3 in the Big Sky.

    Looking back at many of the Vikings’ early losses, Bennett paints a picture of close games and a lot of learning that the stat sheets fail to convey. “It wasn’t as if we were losing badly. I think if there’s a good way to frame it, we were losing well at times.”

    ”Like at Long Beach State we missed a penalty and we gave up a penalty. At Oregon State we were up one-nothing with two minutes left to go, and a freshman makes a mistake. We were tied, 0-0, at Oregon with two minutes left and with an unfortunate miss-call, and it’s over.”

    Most of those games came towards the beginning of the season, and it was “baptism by fire” for the team’s many freshman players, according to Bennett.

    ”We had five, six or even seven freshmen on the field at times,” he said. “But the upperclassmen did a great job of keeping everyone focused on the conference.”

    Considering that PSU, after losing their first 11 games, won four of their final seven games certainly shows that the Vikings are growing up. The turnaround is even more admirable after looking deeply at the Vikings schedule, and their home field and financial situations.    

    ”[We played] the 50th ranked toughest schedule in the country – tougher than a lot of Pac-10, SEC, and ACC teams,” Bennett said. And of their 18 games, only seven of them were played at home.

    But home field advantage isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be for the Vikings, who played home games in three different venues this season. “It’s hard for us because we don’t really have a home,” the coach said. “We have a home field advantage, but I don’t think it’s a great home field advantage.”

    This season the Vikings played games at PGE Park, Strasser Field, and at the Nike World Campus. And that wasn’t all.

    ”During preseason we had three games [at the Stott Center field on campus]. There were about 250 people just lined up and I think if we had a facility there it would make campus a destination,” Bennett said.

    But the Stott field is five yards short of the NCAA minimum standards and can’t be extended due to fire code issues. Bennett and company also face a stacked deck while competing against programs that outspend PSU in other areas.

    ”We’re also the least funded team in the Big Sky. Everyone else has 14 scholarships and we have nine. It makes a big difference when you go into a fistfight with one hand tied behind your back,” Bennett said.

    Still, looking ahead to next season Bennett sees nowhere to look but up. Despite the challenges facing he and his team, Bennett is ready and proud. “We have shown that we can overcome all those obstacles.”