An underestimated venue

The majority of Portland State student athletes walk through the Peter W. Stott Center’s main gymnasium unimpressed. It is small, seating a maximum of 1,500, and the student section is often bare. In short, the Stott Center is not a typical university arena.

The majority of Portland State student athletes walk through the Peter W. Stott Center’s main gymnasium unimpressed. It is small, seating a maximum of 1,500, and the student section is often bare. In short, the Stott Center is not a typical university arena.

In terms of historical appeal, the Stott Center pales in comparison to the University of Oregon’s MacArthur Court. And the Stott is considerably smaller and more outdated than the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. Even several recently built high school gymnasiums dwarf the outdated and undersized Stott Center.

Possibly because of apathy or a lack of connection with the teams, students often neglect to attend games. This leads to a quiet, placid atmosphere, which does not always bode well for a team in search of a home-court advantage.

“I didn’t feel like there was a lot of energy in the building tonight, and we had to create our own enthusiasm,” said men’s head basketball coach Ken Bone following a recent game against Weber State.

In spite of all these chinks in its armor and criticisms directed at the Stott Center, a trio of Viking athletic teams has produced one of the most remarkable winning traditions in the nation inside the much-maligned arena.

Portland State’s volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams have combined for a 31-1 record at home this year, giving fans reason for excitement.

For the first time as Big Sky clubs, both Portland State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are two wins away from completing 20-win seasons.

But it was the Portland State volleyball team that created the blueprint for this immense success inside the Stott Center. While most fans this fall paid more attention to the football team’s lackluster season under first-year head coach Jerry Glanville, Portland State volleyball was simply winning match after match.

Despite a slow start and an inexperienced roster, the Vikings claimed their first ever Big Sky regular-season volleyball championship, capping off the year with a dramatic four-game victory over perennial powerhouse Sacramento State inside the Stott Center.

That victory stretched their home winning streak to 17 games, dating back to September 2006. Portland State’s home winning streak against conference foes is even more impressive, as it currently sits at 23 games.

Many sports fans underestimate the Stott Center due to its small size and less-than-flattering appearance, but the records show Portland State squads are successful playing at home.

“We are very comfortable playing at home,” said head women’s basketball coach Sherri Murrell. “I am not sure what it is about being here, but we are able to get wins [here] that we don’t get other places.”

Despite being picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky, Portland State women’s basketball has undergone a resurrection, transforming itself into a contender. While their season has included impressive victories against Idaho State, the University of Portland and Hawaii away from the Stott Center, their most extraordinary performances all seem to have occurred within the so-called “middle school gymnasium.”

With a win Thursday night, the Vikings ran their home winning streak to 12 games (including a 2-0 record while playing home games at Concordia University). The streak includes notable victories over Gonzaga, a likely NCAA Tournament team, Idaho State and Utah State.

“It was a fun environment. It’s nice to be back at home,” Murrell said after defeating Weber State. “I think the players are more comfortable here, and we seem to overcome slow starts when we are playing in our home gym.”

Equally impressive has been the men’s hoop team, which has reeled off nine straight overall victories. The Vikings have lost just one game in the Stott Center this season, an overtime defeat against San Jose State.

Barring an unprecedented collapse, Portland State will host the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the first time in four years. Senior center Scott Morrison, who was on the 2005 team that hosted the tournament, has seen it all during his time at Portland State.

“The home court advantage is nice, but if you have fans that are active and things like that, it’s huge,” Morrison said.

With all this, an outsider may wonder what great advantage the home team carries inside the Stott Center.

In most college arenas, winning streaks are accumulated through a loud and intimidating home-court environment, or a capacity crowd that enthusiastically cheers their home squad in hopes of terrifying the opposition.

However, neither of those factors that create the usual home-court advantage exists in the Stott Center, increasing the significance of the success each of these three squads has experienced.

The sometimes-sluggish environment inside the Stott Center has added pressure upon each Portland State team to create its own excitement and momentum. And with a 31-1 combined mark, each team seems to be generating something more important than just excitement and momentum. Each team is generating plenty of wins.

Top five wins at the Stott Center this season

1. Nov. 17, 2007. Volleyball vs. Sacramento State

After dropping the first game of the match, the Vikings took three straight from the Hornets, claiming the regular-season conference championship on Senior Night in the Stott.

2. Feb. 16, 2008. Men’s basketball vs. Weber State

Playing in front of a sellout crowd, the Vikings snapped a four-game losing streak against the Wildcats and extended their own winning streak to eight games.

3. Nov. 25, 2007. Women’s basketball vs. Gonzaga

The Vikings improved their record to 5-0 after recording a close victory against a likely NCAA Tournament-bound squad.

4. Jan. 19, 2008. Men’s basketball vs. Northern Colorado

This thrilling victory earned coach Bone his 300th all-time victory. Dominguez secured the victory by hitting seven of eight free throws in the final 36 seconds.

5. Jan. 12, 2007. Women’s basketball vs. Idaho State

The Vikings picked apart the then-conference-leading Bengals, easily winning 97-57.