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COURTESY: STEVE GIBBONS/UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Senior midfielder Allison Wetherington enters the 2016 season as one of the leaders on the  Portland Pilots women's soccer team.Portland Pilots women’s soccer coach Garrett Smith knows collegiate soccer is always changing. Seniors graduate, players suffer injuries, and inexperience takes its toll.


The Pilots were 8-11-0 (4-5-0 in the West Coast Conference) last season, but Smith says they could have won 14 games had a few things gone their way.

This year, Smith has just 21 players on his roster, and staying healthy will be a major factor as the Pilots try to qualify for the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2013.

“We just concentrate on the little things that we can control — get people healthy as quick as you can and continue to learn the game as quick as you can,” Smith says. “I like the team we have again this year, just like I did last year, and hopefully we can maintain some health and get some wins more than anything.”

Smith says he expects all seven of the Pilots’ freshmen to contribute. He checks three criteria to determine if a player is right for the Pilots: good student, good player, good person.

“We’re trying to bring in the best athletes we can, and I think this year’s seven freshmen meet all three of our important criteria,” Smith says. “This is an awesome, awesome class.”

Five of the seven freshmen are products of local club FC Portland. Determining each newcomer’s role will be an important part of preseason training.

“They’re trying to adjust to the speed of collegiate soccer versus youth soccer,” Smith says. “They’re each trying to figure out how their strengths and weaknesses mesh into the group we have. It’ll be an ever-changing process for our entire team, not just the freshmen this year.”

COURTESY: STEVE GIBBONS/UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Ellie Boon, a senior defender, provides punch for the University of Portland from her left back position.While the freshmen find their roles in the team, senior midfielder Allison Wetherington and senior defender Ellie Boon are the Pilots’ clear leaders entering the season.

The 5-4 Wetherington, from Acworth, Georgia, was named second-team all-WCC in 2015 and has played on the U.S. U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Boon, 5-8, from Washougal, Washington, is a four-year starter at left back for the Pilots.

“She anchors our defensive line but also has the responsibility of generating a lot of our offense,” Smith says.

Smith says the Pilots need more than Wetherington and Boon to produce this season.

“This is going to be a contribution by committee,” he says. “Everybody has to bring something that’s going to make us a little bit better.”

The Pilots will open on Friday, Aug. 19, when they play host to Washington at Merlo Field at 7 p.m.

UP’s nine-game WCC slate starts Sept. 30 at home against Pepperdine.

Smith says Santa Clara and BYU are the “front two runners” in the WCC this season, but that doesn’t mean one of those schools will win the conference.

“I don’t think there’s a game you can overlook,” he says.

The Pilots’ goal is to make the playoffs — and then hope to catch fire at the right time.

“I’m a firm believer that anybody that gets into the playoffs has a good shot of advancing and now it’s just a matter of how far do you advance,” Smith says. “You’ve got to have a little bit of luck on your side in the playoffs, and you’ve got to have health.”

Smith says there hasn’t been much difference between the years the Pilots won national championships (2002, 2005) and the years they lost in the second round (2010-13).

“You’ve got to have a lot of things that aren’t in your control go your way to be successful,” he says. “So our goal is to get back into the playoffs and see what can happen from there.”

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