After a flawless start to conference play, the Portland State volleyball team will find out exactly how good they really are. They take the floor this week against archrival and the preseason favorite, Sacramento State, to take the Big Sky crown at the Hornet’s Nest on Saturday.
When the Vikings and Hornets begin their match on Saturday, the Viks will be hoping for a little deja vu. The match falls on Sept. 30, which just so happens to be exactly a year to the day of one of the most monumental victories in the program’s history. On this day last year, the Viks triumphed over the Hornets in a hotly contested five-game match that not only jump-started their season, but more importantly ended a 17-year winless drought against the Hornets.
Based on their performances so far this season, this year’s version of the Vikings and Hornets match may be even better than the remarkable one they played a year ago. Coming into the match, both the Vikings and Hornets have accumulated perfect records in conference play and thereby sit atop the conference standings, with Portland State occupying first place at 9-4 (4-0) and Sacramento State sitting in third place at 14-2 (2-0).
A definite key to the match will be which of last week’s Big Sky players of the week has the best all-around match. Jessica Brodie, the Vikings’ senior outside hitter and number seven in the nation in kills per game, won the award for the second week in a row, and third time in her career. She averaged 6.36 kills and 3.45 digs per game in the team’s three matches last week. As for the Hornets’ spectacular player from last week, junior middle blocker Michelle Franz earned the award with 2.50 blocks and 2.60 kills per game in Sacramento State’s three matches.
The two Big Sky-recognized players, Brodie and Franz, headline the most crucial match-up of the game, Portland State’s top-ranked offense against Sacramento State’s daunting defense. If the high-flying Brodie and her fellow outside hitters consistently soar above the Sacramento State front line for forceful kill shots, look for the Vikings to return home victorious. However, if Franz and her frontline mates continue their outstanding blocking antics, the Hornets should put a halt to the Viks’ potent offensive and ultimately win the match.
Another major key to the match will be whether senior middle blocker Michelle Robertson is completely healthy after suffering from an ankle injury against Eastern Washington two weeks prior. In the two matches last week Robertson saw limited playing time as she was recovering from the ankle injury, only appearing briefly against Northern Arizona. With their best middle blocker sidelined, the Viks had trouble controlling the middle of the floor in their matches last week, suffering a loss in the team-blocking category in each game.
Aside from the vital Viking-offense-versus-Hornet-defense battle and Robertson solidifying the Vikings’ front line, how the young setters of these teams set the tone may be the most important factor in determining the winner of this rivalry match. So far this season, freshman setter Dominique Fradella has been nothing less than spectacular. She comes into the game atop the Big Sky with 12.77 assists per game, including six 50-plus assist matches with a career-high 67 assists adding to the total in the Viks’ last game against Northern Arizona. Hornet sophomore setter Rose Burke is enjoying a stellar season herself, currently ranking third in the conference with 9.18 assists per game.
Just like every match between these rivals, Saturday’s contest should be a hard-fought, heated affair, but the added incentives of preserving a perfect conference record and regaining team pride will make it a match for the ages.