From Indians to Pilots
Michelle French believes her second Portland Pilots women's soccer team will enter the season with
a strong defensive foundation.
And among the reasons for her confidence are a pair of former Scappoose Indians.
Natalie Muth and Lucy Davidson are entering their senior year at Portland, and they are looking to end what feels like a quick four years on a high note.
Actually a fast decade.
"I've been playing with Lucy since I was probably 10 years old. It's weird to think that this might be our last season playing together," Muth said.
A returning team captain, Muth is one of six players who came to Portland together in 2016 to play for longtime Pilots coach Garrett Smith.
"It's definitely awesome that no one from our class has left. We've all stuck together and been playing together for years. That's pretty cool and exciting," Muth said.
Davidson and Muth were teammates on two Class 4A championship teams at Scappoose High. They would have played together more at Portland had a series of injures not limited Davidson's time on the field.
In her first three seasons, Davidson has played in 33 games. That she has started 28 of those (including 13 times as a junior) speaks to her importance for the Pilots.
A computer science major, Davidson was healthy for the spring training sessions and games and is expected to be a significant contributor as a senior.
"I'm excited to have her back," Muth said about Davidson. "She's such a great player. She's so calm and makes everything look so easy. It's going to be so nice having her back."
Muth said Davidson has handled her injuries "like a champ," putting in countless hours of extra workouts and rehabilitation.
"You never hear her complain. She's definitely inspiring and she's tenacious," Muth said.
When it comes to inspiration, Muth points to teammates who supported her while she learned how to be an effective team captain.
"My whole team has been so supportive of me through this learning process," Muth said. "It would be hard without my friends on the team being so awesome and supportive."
The program was on stronger footing this spring than a year ago, when French was new and much of the focus during the 2018 spring developmental season was on player fitness. The 2019 spring session, which included a series of scrimmages, was smoother because players knew what to expect from the coaching staff, Muth said.
In three seasons with the Pilots, Muth has played in 52 matches, starting 48 of them. She missed four games last season with a broken hand. Garrett Smith, who recruited her and coached her as a youth with FC Portland, Muth played outside back in her freshman season at UP. In that role, she scored three goals. She has only one goal since, but has developed into a key player.
Last season, the first under French, she was deployed mostly as a defense-first central midfielder — the first line of defense. She expects to play a similar role this season and said her individual focus during the spring on connecting passes and getting better possessing the ball paid dividends.
"As I'm going through my years here I'm learning how to be a calmer player. There's definitely a lot more maturity (added to) my game during my years in college soccer," Muth said.
This summer has been busy for Muth, who is on track to graduate in May with a degree in civil engineering. She is taking one summer school class and working for the Portland nonprofit Girls Build, which teaches girls to use power tools.
In just over two weeks, Muth and her teammates will begin training for what she anticipates will be a successful season. The first exhibition game is on Aug. 14 at home against British Columbia. The first counting match comes Aug. 23 at Washington.
The Pilots were 11-9 last season and are 25-29-4 over the last three years (9-17-1 in the West Coast Conference). Improved depth (with 28 players on the roster), more experienced players and a few transfers who fit well into the culture and tactics at Portland are among Muth's reasons for optimism.
"I'm excited going into the fall," she said, "because I feel like we are finally piecing some things together."
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