Viks face Big Sky road test��

After getting off to a slow start this season, the Portland State women’s soccer team has begun to show confidence and this could not have come at a better time, as conference play is heating up.

After getting off to a slow start this season, the Portland State women’s soccer team has begun to show confidence and this could not have come at a better time, as conference play is heating up.

Prior to last weekend, the team held a losing record, but it seems that the Viks learned some lessons during that time. PSU has since seen success and ended a five-game winless streak: The Viks began conference action with two wins last weekend and carry a perfect 2-0 Big Sky record into this weekend’s games.

Portland State (6-7-1, 2-0-0 Big Sky) begins a two-game road trip tonight when they face the Northern Colorado Bears in Greeley. The Vikings then head south to take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks for another conference match-up on Sunday.

Both games should prove to have their own challenges as the Bears and the Lumberjacks currently have the top two spots for overall records in the Big Sky conference.

“We need to be disciplined on defense and aggressive and unrelenting on the attack,” head coach Laura Schott said. “The unique challenges this weekend will be the extended travel and playing at high altitudes.”

Northern Colorado (8-3-2, 1-0-1 Big Sky) was handed their second tie of the season last week by Weber State. Portland State defeated Northern Colorado 3-2 at home last year and has not lost to the Bears in the last five years. Nevertheless, this weekend’s match will be on Northern Colorado’s pitch, which will prove to be tough for the Vikings as they try to keep their success against UNC going.

Senior midfielder Frankie Ross and sophomore forward Megan Martin both played large roles in last year’s victory over UNC, each scoring goals to help fend off a Bears comeback in the late minutes of the game.

A large part of Northern Colorado’s success this year has been thanks to players Arielle Cook and Danielle Birdsall. Those two alone account for 13 of UNC’s 25 points scored this year, and they will be the players the Viks must try to shut down in order to succeed this weekend.

Northern Arizona (6-3-3, 1-0-1 Big Sky) has proven to be trouble for the Vikings over the last few years, and during last year’s Big Sky Championship semifinals PSU suffered a shootout loss to the Lumberjacks in Portland. After the teams finished a second overtime, locked in a 1-1 tie, Northern Arizona won the shootout 4-3 and ended Portland State’s postseason run.

The Jacks have handed Portland State either losses or ties over the last three seasons. In last year’s regular season match-up, the Vikings lost a heartbreaker to Northern Arizona, 1-0, off a game-winning goal scored by a header from NAU’s Jenna Samora with only five minutes remaining on the clock.

Sunday’s meeting with the Lumberjacks will likely prove to be the biggest problem the Viks face this weekend; this should be a great, hard-fought game. Northern Arizona has one standout player on their squad that PSU will need to cover up: Kristi Andreassen has accounted for six of the team’s 18 goals this season, and she will be looking to add to that number on Sunday.  

The Vikings are currently tied with Sacramento State for first place in the Big Sky standings. They also face the challenge of defending the Big Sky Conference regular season title, which they won last year with a 4-1-2 record in-conference.

Schott has not taken the upcoming games lightly and knows what kind of challenge remains for the team this weekend.

“Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona have both done very well in non-conference games and they are both very good teams,” Schott said. “Having them on the road is a challenge, but we are up for it.”

PSU is still riding on the success of last weekend’s games and should be happy with their performances across the board. Notably, Ross and junior midfielder Melissa Trammell have scored four goals each so far this season, leading the Vikings’ attack statistics.

The ball has been distributed well enough that nine different players have scored so far this season, and others seem to be making efforts to assist. This selflessness with the ball is something that Schott seems to take pride in.

“The great thing about this year is that we’ve had different players step up and play well at different times,” Schott said. “We are not dangerous because of one or two players. We have a lot of good players that make us a good team.”

Schott also said she has been impressed with her team’s backline and the performance of her goal keepers, senior Rachel Jarvis and sophomore Lainey Hulsizer, who have been splitting tending duties.

This could be the toughest weekend in Portland State’s 2010 conference schedule. After this weekend, things should slow down a bit for the Viks as they face Idaho State and Weber State next week—two teams that are winless so far in conference play.

The Vikings face Northern Colorado at 7 p.m. today, and Northern Arizona at noon on Sunday. Live stats will not be available for the Northern Colorado game, but will be available on Sunday at ?