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COLLEGE SOCCER: Pilot women get No. 3 seed, home game vs. Seattle

by: COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Senior Ellen Parker and the Portland Pilots will open the NCAA playoffs at home Saturday night against Seattle.It is what it is, again, for the Portland Pilots women's soccer team.

The Pilots received a No. 3 seed Monday into the NCAA Division I playoffs, giving them one home game — 7 p.m. Saturday at Merlo Field against Seattle University.

If Portland wins, it would travel to Lincoln, Neb., and play Illinois or Washington State on Nov. 22.

"It's fair," UP coach Garrett Smith said. "We're thankful to have the first-round game here. To showcase our fans is something special."

The Pilots, ranked 12th in the nation by the coaches and 14-2-1 overall, closed with 13 wins in their last 14 games. Included in that was a 3-1 home victory over Santa Clara last week that helped Portland join the Broncos and BYU in a three-way tie atop the West Coast Conference standings.

Seattle is just as hot. The Redhawks have won 15 in a row, raising their record to 17-2-2, with losses of 5-0 to Washington and 3-1 to Washington State in their season opener.

Seattle has outscored its opponents 55-17, with an edge in shots per game of 14.6 to 8.0

"They play an attractive style of soccer," Smith said. "They're scoring a ton of goals, and they only gave up three in their (Western Athletic) conference play. And they're a true champion, because they won both the regular season and conference tournament."

Seattle was 73rd in the NCAA RPI. Portland was No. 21.

The Redhawks have two main scorers: 5-6 junior forward Stephanie Verdoia (15 goals, 12 assists) and 5-5 redshirt freshman Natasha Howe (10, 3), but among their other threats is former Lake Oswego High standout Jacqui Wallis, a 5-6 senior who has five goals and two assists this season in mostly reserve duty.

The Seattle goalkeeper is a sophomore, 5-10 Brianna Smallidge.

Portland beat Washington 3-0, the only game against a common opponent.

The Pilots have a mix of freshmen and seniors and others. Smith said the frosh have had enough experience now "that we consider them upperclassmen," but he notes that the playoffs are different from the regular season.

"The intensity is definitely different," he said. "Seattle U is going to come in here with nothing to lose. You leave it all on the field. That may get lost on a rainy night in midseason, but on Saturday it won't matter what the weather is."

The Pilots got fired up emotionally last week for Santa Clara, then wrapped up their conference schedule with a less-emotional but workmanlike 1-0 home win over San Francisco.

Santa Clara was 15th in RPI and No. 8 in the coaches poll, but wound up with a No. 4 NCAA seed and will open against a formidable foe from Pac-12, California.

"That was a huge win over Santa Clara," Smith said. "It was a night to remember, and it showed that our team is capable of beating anybody at any time."