Looking back at a shining season

The 2010 women’s volleyball season began with a slow start, but through a nearly perfect (21-9, 14-2 Big Sky) season, the team earned a Big Sky Championship title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The 2010 women’s volleyball season began with a slow start, but through a nearly perfect (21-9, 14-2 Big Sky) season, the team earned a Big Sky Championship title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

A Vikings team headed by fourth-year head coach Michael Seemann fought hard to push past Northern Colorado, who led the Big Sky for much of the regular season. The Vikings played for the Big Sky tournament title on Park Block soil thanks to their 2009 Big Sky regular season victory. After two five-set victories over Montana and Northern Colorado, they earned the Big Sky crown.

Prior to Christmas Break, the Viks headed to Seattle for the NCAA Tournament and took on No. 15-in-the-nation-Hawaii. The first set looked promising for the underdogs, as Portland State held steady, resulting in just a three-point deficit at 25-23. From there, the Vikings were unable to hold any lead and suffered a loss to Hawaii in a shutout, 3-0.

Senior outside hitter Whitney Phillips said that even in matches that end with lopsided results, playing high-ranking teams like Hawaii gives the returning players a goal to work towards during spring and summer training.

“It just gives you chance, especially for the players returning, to see the competition and just to see what it takes to win that first round.”

The defeat by Hawaii was a disappointment, but a learning experience. In a statement given to the school, Seemann said, “We all left there feeling a little disappointed. We gave ourselves a chance to win that first set. With a struggling team like Hawaii at that point it might have changed the complexity of the match. We chalked it up to a learning experience for our younger kids, and we want to get back there again.”

The road to the NCAA tourney was long and uncertain at times. The Vikings opened the season with six non-conference losses, but after regular season conference play began, the team began to show its true colors.

The Vikings began with four conference victories, until they were stopped in a heartbreaking loss to Sacramento State 3-2. The Vikings only suffered one other conference match to fourth-ranked Idaho State, where they fell to the Bengals on the road after winning four consecutive matches at home.

In the Big Sky Tournament the Vikings stayed calm and patient and enabled themselves to garner a Big Sky Title. But in the opening match against Montana, the outcome looked grim after the Lady Griz easily grabbed the opening frames 25-18 both times.

Phillips said the Montana match was a great example of learning to stay calm, even when the match was not in their favor. She said, “It reminds us it’s never over until it’s over.”

And that is exactly what happened. The Viks came back to beat Montana and headed to the deciding victory over Northern Colorado the following evening. In this match it looked like the Viks would have no problem beating the Bears after they came out swinging winning the opening frames. But the second-ranked team was not done yet; they won the next two sets sending the match into a fifth frame. The Vikings pulled off a three-point victory 15-12.

According to Phillips, the transition from a poor pre-season to a successful regular season and successful post season was in part due to two aspects of the team, “Our younger players settled down once they found their roles and really worked hard at them, and our defense was a huge reason that we were able to turn it.”

One of the most noted underclassmen players of the year was freshman setter Garyn Schlatter. Schlatter was named Outstanding Freshman of the Year. The freshman dominated the team in assists with an 8.86 average per set.

In a statement for the school, Seemann said that in the NCAA tournament Schlatter was a player who remained calm even when the match began to fall apart. Phillips also said that Schlatter is someone that will hold a leadership role on the team next year.

Younger players like Schlatter will all need to step up to fill the shoes that the dismissing seniors held. Portland State had four impressive senior starters on the roster this season—Phillips, outside hitter Christie Hamilton, middle blocker Lana Zielke and libero Diana Villalpando.

Phillips was named to the First Team All Big Sky and topped the Viks in kills with an impressive 556.

Hamilton was a solid leader throughout her four years with Portland State and finished off this season named Honorable Mention All Big Sky.

Zielke was named to the second team All Big Sky and led the Viks in blocking with 114.

Villalpando came in at the defense position for libero Nicole Bateman after the junior went out with an injury. Villalpando stepped up in the position leading the Viks with 424 digs.

With top seniors leaving but a solid group of underclassmen coming up, Portland State will remain a key competitor in Big Sky play. Seemann said in a statement for the school that maintaining their leadership role is something to take “one year at a time.”

“Consistently being competitive is the goal for this program, and we want to keep this program where it’s at and be tournament-bound every year,” he said. ?