Taking it one week at a time

Lately the Portland State volleyball team has been on a tear, winning five straight matches. After completing the first half of conference play they find themselves residing in second place in the Big Sky Conference standings with an overall record of 15-5 and a conference mark of 5-2.


Prior to this season the team conjured up a maximum of 14 wins since joining the Big Sky in 1996. Currently they have 15 victories and are looking to increase that number in upcoming matches. Also coming into this season Portland State had never defeated Eastern Washington or Sacramento State in conference play, but this all changed recently when the Viks handed the Hornets their only conference loss of the season and swept Eastern Washington in just three games last Saturday. Another first is a Big Sky road sweep over Montana and Montana State.


These feats are impressive but, like any sport, it is all about wins. Wins, wins and more wins not only secure a team’s place in the conference tournament but also assist in configuring which opponents that team plays. The Vikings still have eight matches remaining before the conference tournament, including seven against conference opponents. It is imperative that none of these matches are overlooked.


“Our primary goal is to get to the conference tournament,” head coach Jeff Mozzochi said. “It is going to take more wins to do that. It is hard to project how many wins it going to take because it varies each year. I do know that we need to be one of the top six teams at the end of the season.”


Each of the remaining teams on the schedule poses a different type of challenge for the Vikings. Being a Big Sky team the Viks are accustomed to taking on challenges. Currently the Big Sky has five teams that have double-digit overall win totals. This creates the potential for a very competitive and evenly matched opponent each night.


“Every team in this conference has a chance to win every night. Teams in this conference have had a lot of five game matches meaning that there is a lot of good talented on each team. This conference is just very evenly matched,” Mozzochi said.


The Vikings have a few matches in particular that possess addition importance. These matches include the contest against Sacramento State on Oct. 29, Oregon on Nov. 8 and Eastern Washington on Nov. 13. The Vikings have defeated each of these teams this season, yet each win occurred at home. The Vikings had the luxury of playing at the Stott Center in front of their home crowd and now must go on the road and replicate their home success.


They will not be playing in Portland but rather in Sacramento, Eugene and Cheney, in front the opposing team’s rapid fans. Playing away from home makes preparation for the upcoming games even more vital.     


“We have the ability to come out of this stretch with nine wins,” senior setter Stephanie Lavigne said. “Playing these teams away from home presents a new challenge. They are going to be fired up at home. We are going to want those wins though so we are going to come prepared.”

Though the Hornets, Ducks and Eagles aren’t the only teams remaining on the Viking’s schedule, considering the standings and level of difficulty, they are the most significant. Each team creates a new obstacle for the Viks to overcome.


“Going on the road is always a challenge,” Mozzochi said. “We know what we do well. It isn’t like we are going to come up with a whole new system over this stretch. It isn’t really a matter of what we do; it is a matter of how we do it.”


Sacramento State is on their own impressive streak, winning six straight matches after dropping their only conference match to Portland State. Overall they have a 16-7 and have recorded a 6-1 conference mark. The team averages an impressive 3.1 blocks per game. Junior Liberto Kristen Lutes has tallied an exceptional .931 serving percentage, including 23 aces. Another player to watch is Junior Outside Hitter Atlee Hubbard, currently she is averaging 3.67 kills per game.


The University of Oregon is on a slide dropping their last seven matches, though many of these matches were against ranked top 25 opponents. They possess an overall record of 10-8 with five of those wins in Eugene. Freshman Middle Blocker Mira Rjuric and Senior Outside Hitter Kelly Russell are averaging 4.35 and 4.03 kills per game respectively.


Last Saturday the Vikings swept the Eagles. In the final match before the conference tournament the Eagles will have their opportunity for revenge. Presently Eastern Washington has a 14-6 overall record and is 4-3 in conference play. Seniors Lizzy Mellor and Christina Albers are doing a spectacular job leading this team this season. Mellor is an outside hitter averaging 4.10 kills per game and Albers is averaging 10.72 assists per game from the setter position.


There is so much to look forward to in the upcoming weeks. So much potential rests in the final matches prior to the Big Sky Conference tournament. The whole season will be decided on how the Viks play in these pivotal weeks. They could be a regular season champion or absent from the tournament.


How far they ascend or descend is up to the Vikings. However both coach Mozzochi and team leader Lavigne believe in the tactic that matches should be looked at one at a time. They believe that a team should never stray from the idea only looking as far as the next match, never peeping at matches a few weeks down the road. Right now it looks as though it is working. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.


“Right now no game stands out. We can’t put our focus on just one team. Everyone is different and changes need to be made for each match,” Mozzochi said. “Our big challenge is this week.”