GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The new-look Big Sky Conference looks all the same at the top of the standings. For the third-straight season, Portland State has been picked to take the crown as league champions in the 2014 Big Sky Conference soccer coaches preseason poll released Wednesday.
The conference added long-time former member Idaho back into the mix, which expands the conference to 11 teams. With the addition of Idaho, the 2014 Big Sky Conference Tournament also gets a makeover as now six teams qualify for the tournament compared to the previous four.
North Dakota received 12 votes and was picked to finish 11th this season. UND was 2-16-1 last season with a 1-8 conference record. Head Coach Matt Kellogg will return for his second season at North Dakota. His first win at UND came against rival North Dakota State on Sept. 11. UND returns six starters this season, including senior goalkeeper Kristi Hestdalen who led the Big Sky in saves in 2013 and set a new UND single-season record with her 131 saves.
Both Portland State and Weber State each received five first-place votes, with the Vikings receiving 93 votes, placing them one ahead of the Wildcats for first.
After finishing tied for third during the regular season with a 5-2-2 conference record, Weber State went on to win the 2013 Big Sky Tournament with a penalty-kick victory over Portland State; before falling in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament to then No. 19 BYU. The Wildcats are returning nine starters this season including the 2013 Big Sky Offensive MVP, Mackenzie Harrison.
Portland State won their third-straight Big Sky regular-season title last year, and their fifth overall, with an 8-0-1 record in conference play. Portland State will carry an active 13-game unbeaten streak into 2014, which ties Weber State’s mark in 1998 for the Big Sky record. 2013 Big Sky Coach of the Year, Laura Schott will return 10 starters this season including the 2013 Big Sky Defensive MVP, Kayla Henningsen and the 2013 Big Sky co-Goalkeeper of the Year, Caitlin Plese.
UND opens the regular season Aug. 22 at rival North Dakota State.