India Watne led the Big Sky in assists in 2011
Aug. 9, 2012
The trusting among us would point to the fickle nature of the sport of soccer and the razor-thin line between winning and losing. The more cynical would say the Big Sky Conference coaches have better things to do with their time in early August than worry about putting together a well-researched preseason poll.
In either case, the Big Sky preseason soccer poll was released Thursday afternoon and if history tells us anything, it's that the poll will have little correlation with how things actually play out in September and October.
The good news for Portland State: The Vikings were picked atop the 2012 coaches' poll. The bad news: Since 2004, six of the eight preseason favorites have not even made the league's four-team postseason tournament.
Only Northern Arizona in 2010 and Sacramento State in 2007 -- both preseason favorites, both regular-season champions -- have shouldered the burden of expectations and won anyway. And only the Hornets in '07 also won the tournament and advanced to the NCAAs.
It is a positive development for Montana, which despite winning the tournament title last November and returning 11 starters and 19 letterwinners was picked third in the poll behind Portland State and 2011 regular-season champion Northern Colorado.
It's the highest preseason ranking for Montana since being picked second in both 2005 and 2007. Both of those teams ended up finishing in last place in accordance with poll protocol.
The Grizzlies were picked sixth last year and finished fourth in the regular season standings at 3-3-1. Montana upset No. 1 Northern Colorado and No. 3 Weber State at the Big Sky tournament at Greeley, Colo., both in shootouts, and advanced to the program's first NCAA tournament since 2000.
This year's poll almost mirrors last season's final standings, with newcomers North Dakota and Southern Utah thrown in at the bottom, all of it providing fodder for those who believe the coaches disdain the polling process and just copy and paste last year's standings as a way of being done with it.
Half the league's teams -- five of the now 10 -- received at least one first-place vote. Portland State received two, Northern Colorado four, Montana two and Weber State and Northern Arizona one each.
WSU was picked fourth, and NAU and Sac State tied for fifth. Idaho State was seventh, Eastern Washington eighth, and the two newcomers tied for ninth.
Last year's tournament had three matches all decided in shootouts. No. 3 Weber State and No. 2 Portland State played to a 0-0 draw before the Wildcats won 4-3 in the shootout.
Montana played Northern Colorado to a 1-1 draw in the semifinals and Weber State to a 1-1 tie in the title match. The Grizzlies won the semifinal shootout 3-2 and the championship match 4-3.
Portland State was a safe choice for the top spot. The Vikings tied Northern Colorado for last fall's regular-season title at 4-1-2 and had the league's top overall record of 8-7-3.
PSU returns the league's Offensive MVP in senior Megan Martin, the same player who scored twice in the second half to rally the Vikings from a two-goal hole to a 2-2 draw in PSU's match at Montana last October, plus two other All-Big Sky Conference selections.
Northern Colorado picked up a league-high four of the 10 first-place votes despite taking more personnel hits than any other team. Gone are Defensive MVP Aundreaha Martinez and Goalkeeper of the Year Kirstin Salminen, plus two other All-Big Sky performers.
Montana suffered the fewest losses of any team, and no one would have been surprised had the Grizzlies finished atop the poll. Montana did not lose a starter or letterwinner from last year's team and returns the players who scored 26 of team's 27 goals last fall and accounted for all 21 assists. The keepers who played all 2,097 minutes in goal also return.
Montana had three first-team All-Big Sky Conference selections a year ago, a total that was second only to Northern Colorado's five. All three -- forward Erin Craig, midfielder India Watne and defender Lauren Costa -- return, as do honorable-mention selections Tyler Adair and Lauren McCreath, both midfielders.
Weber State was picked fourth and will be this season's wild card according to one league coach. The Wildcats signed a 14-player freshman class last spring, all from northern Utah. Thirteen of those players have played on the same club team, LaRoca FC, since the age of eight, and they won their last four Utah age-group state club championships.
The twist: The club coach for that team has been Tim Crompton, Weber State's ninth-year coach. Call it the Grand Experiment, especially if they go with a prominently (or all?) freshman lineup from day one.
The Big Sky Conference will start league games on Friday, Sept. 21, and this year the teams will have nine conference games in which to sort themselves out.
Montana will be attempting to win its first regular-season crown since 2000. And if the Grizzlies fall short but still make the tournament, all is not lost. A team other than the regular-season champion and host has won the last four tournaments.
2012 Big Sky Conference coaches' poll
1. Portland State (2) ... 68
2. Northern Colorado (4) ... 66
3. Montana (2) ... 64
4. Weber State (1) ... 58
5. Northern Arizona (1) ... 50
5. Sacramento State ... 50
7. Idaho State ... 39
8. Eastern Washington ... 23
9. North Dakota ... 16
9. Southern Utah ... 16
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