The biggest surprise

The Portland State women’s basketball team was supposed to improve on a 3-23 season last year, but no one predicted the Vikings’ surprising 3-1 start that included a historic win over SEC team Arkansas on Nov. 26.

After suffering through that difficult season, second-year head coach Charity Elliott brought in some young firepower to bolster an anemic Viking offense that averaged just 55 points a contest in 2004-05. The emphasis now is clearly on talented guards and forwards who have Northwest roots.

Freshmen Jenni Ritter and Kelsey Kahle have come in to fill key offensive roles for the Vikings. Ritter has the handles to play point at times and she has the ability to stretch the floor with her outside shot. Kahle has not been afraid to step up in the clutch, hitting big shots in the second half of the Vikings’ 65-61 home opening win over Nevada Friday before an absolutely dominating performance against Arkansas on Saturday. Kahle abused the Razorbacks for 24 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks, filling out the stat sheet like few Vikings have.

But the real difference to this hot start is the players who were there last year, during that 3-23 hell. Senior point guard Sharon Wahinekapu has come into her own this year, calmly running the motion offense while being a mature, vocal leader in her second year starting. Wahinekapu took over a recent game against the University of Portland, scoring eight straight points to finish the Pilots off in a come from behind win.

Sophomore Brianna Thompson has come out of her redshirt season to give the Vikings a true post presence for the first time since Sarah Hedgepath graduated at the end of the 2003-04 season. Thompson won Big Sky Player of the Week honors in her first week of action and continues to impress with her play in the post.

The heart of the Vikings young squad, junior guard/forward Heather Arns provides everything the team needs early in the season – leadership, strong defense, energy and buckets, though she is quick to note she doesn’t need to look for her shot nearly as much.

Sophomore forward Delaney Conway has admirably stepped into the role of sixth man, show surprising toughness inside and a reliable outside stroke.

This is a much-improved team this year. They still haven’t been tested – that will happen in December with four games in a row and seven of eight away from the Park Blocks – but the Vikings will win some big games this year. They are, without a doubt, the surprise of the young basketball season.