PORTLAND — Going off to college doesn’t always mean moving across the country.
Plus, if you’re a soccer player, you don’t have to look far to find a storied program.
At least that was the case for Rylee Seekins, Taryn Ries and Ellie Walker. Once prep standouts in Clark County, the trio are teammates for University of Portland’s women’s soccer team.
Ries was a two-time 2A Greater St. Helens’ League co-offensive MVP for Ridgefield, sharing the honor with Seekins, from Hockinson, in 2015 and Walker, who played for Columbia River, in 2016. Walker led the Chieftains to a 2A state title last fall and was named to the all-state team in consecutive years.
Now, they want to be a part of a soccer resurgence at UP.
“We may not have the record we wanted coming in, but I think we’re definitely on a very good track for where we’re going to be,” Ries said of the Pilots (4-10-1, 1-4 West Coast Conference). “We’re getting better as a team — definitely way better than the start of the season.”
The three smirk when they look back at the times they faced off in high school.
“It always made it a little more competitive, because we never wanted to take it easy on each other on the field,” Seekins said.
It takes a team effort to win, but they enjoyed the moments in the game where they could get the best of each other.
“It was really competitive, but then, say, Rylee gets a yellow card and we would just laugh,” Ries said.
Walker added: “We’re all kind of, like, best friends outside of soccer.”
That’s a key contributor to why on the Bluff, they have enjoyed being teammates.
And on the field, they’re making a difference for the Pilots, who have just four seniors.
Walker has started every game in UP’s back line. Ries has appeared in every game, and started in nine. Seekins appeared in six games — starting in three — as a freshman, and this season started five games before tearing her anterior cruciate ligament. Luckily, she said, she is using a medical redshirt to preserve her year of eligibility.
On Saturday, Ries provided the Pilots with some late-game heroics.
Tied in the 104th minute — double overtime — at Loyola Marymount, she scored the game-winning goal to lift UP to its first conference win of the season.
The Pilots are amid one of their worst seasons since head coach Garrett Smith took over the program in 2003. Smith has overseen 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, two national championships (2003, 2005), while coaching some of the biggest names in women’s soccer, such as Portland Thorns and Canada women’s national team standout Christine Sinclair, and U.S. women’s national team standout Megan Rapinoe.
The Northeast Portland campus was familiar ground for the trio of Clark County natives. They played on the same team at F.C. Portland, and occasionally trained on the Pilots’ practice field.
They all played for Smith, also a club coach with F.C. Portland. It’s a familiarity that contributed to them committing to UP.
It also helped foster chemistry on the field.
“We knew certain players’ strengths coming in,” Ries said.
Seekins, Ries and Walker voiced the team’s frustration for the team’s record, but are determined to be a part of a program turnaround.
And they’ve seen a lot to be optimistic about.
“We don’t have the record we want, but everyone’s been super positive and it’s been good to see that everyone has still been working hard,” Seekins said.
It’s not uncommon, they said, to see players working on their game outside of practice hours. Walker said the team is still searching for a rhythm, but they’ve seen bits and pieces of what they’re capable of.
“We’re a really young team,” Seekins said, “We knew that coming in. We’re playing well together. In that sense, we’re meshing as a team, but not finishing some of our chances.”
As for school, Ries and Walker feel like it didn’t take long for them to adjust.
They arrived shortly after graduating from high school in June, which gave them two-month jump start on the rest of their freshmen class. Now, two months into the school year, they can readily give directions to others on campus.
As for the travel that accompanies a Division-I schedule, the trio said they were used to it because of club soccer.
But no matter how much they heard about playing a home game a Merlo Field, nothing could replicate playing their first game in front of thousands of fans and to the cadence of the Villa Drum Squad — the school’s student section.
“Being able to be out on the field while we’re warming up and hearing the drums coming from across campus and see purple smoke,” Seekins said, detailing the Drum Squad’s pregame routine, “it’s a really cool experience.”
In high school, Ries said it felt like those in attendance were mostly close friends and family. But at UP, “people you don’t even know want to come cheer because it’s such a fun sport and everybody loves it here,” she said.