Top five reasons to get excited

Portland State’s athletic program is used to being the butt of a lot of bad jokes. The painful thing is that much of the time, there’s a grain of truth to those one-liners.

Portland State’s athletic program is used to being the butt of a lot of bad jokes. The painful thing is that much of the time, there’s a grain of truth to those one-liners.

Yes, PSU is the ugly stepchild to Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.  Sure, when the Vikings football team plays rival Montana at PGE Park, half the crowd is rooting for the team that calls Missoula home.

And the most consistent, championship-winning team at PSU over the past few years is the women’s golf team. While they are to be commended, college golf is hardly a sport that encourages rabid fandom.
There are literally dozens of things that people slam PSU sports for, but there are hints that the Vikings might get the last laugh.

Take it from someone who has spent the entire summer 200 miles away from the friendly confines of the South Park Blocks: there is a buzz surrounding PSU sports, and it’s spreading.

Here are the top five reasons why this year may be the best year ever to be a Vikings fan.

1. Jerry Glanville
Did you really think it could be anyone else? Seems pretty obvious, but Glanville is the guy who has brought all sorts of attention to campus that Tim Walsh simply couldn’t dream of creating. Glanville is football’s “Man in Black,” a true character who finally brings the larger-than-life quality necessary to get old PGE Park rocking on Saturday nights.

Now this doesn’t mean that Glanville will have immediate success. In fact, if the Vikings’ 35-12 loss to McNeese State is any indication, Mouse Davis’ old run-and-shoot offense still needs some polish.
Even if the Vikings lose all their remaining games, around 4,000 season tickets have been sold, up from less than 1,000 last year, and each home game will be a spectacle. Is it true buzz surrounding the football team from all spectrums? Welcome to the new paradigm.

2. Torre Chisholm
Athletic directors have more of a hand in shaping the program’s success than most people realize. Former PSU Athletic Director Tom Burman had the vision to hire good coaches and let them do their jobs. Under his direction, PSU made the transition to Division I competition and started to win games, and eventually championships.

Unfortunately, even while there was some real success under Burman, few people were watching, and fewer still cared at all. Chisholm’s challenge isn’t so much to put a good product on the field, but rather to market the heck out of it.

Look for a resurgent Horde, the student group dedicated to getting rowdy at Viking games. Look for more merchandising, more coverage in local media outlets and most importantly, more butts in seats at home games. If all this starts to happen, you’ll know that Chisholm has hit his stride and is doing his job.

3. Men’s basketball
A reporter friend from The Oregonian recently mentioned to me that he thinks the men’s basketball team could run the table this season. I don’t see why not. Ken Bone is an excellent coach and he’s finally got the talent he needs to run his fast-paced offense the way he wants.

Big man Scott Morrison will be a senior and is coming off a strong performance at the FISU (International University Sport Federation) Games. Along with a strong recruiting class and some good players coming off their redshirt years, the Viks should win 20 games and improve on last year’s 19-13 record, which included a berth in the Big Sky tourney.

4. Legitimacy, baby
One look at The Oregonian’s recent football preview is all the proof Viking fans need to get over their inferiority complex. Portland State got equal, if not more prominent coverage than OSU and UO. A feature on Glanville here, an interview with senior Jordan Senn there—The Oregonian was all about covering our humble football team.

But more coverage in mainstream media is only one good thing about the new push towards legitimacy. I point your attention to the new website. I have high hopes that a much-improved website will be a big factor in getting fans interested in the team.

The real legitimacy is in wins, however fancy your new uniforms look—just ask last year’s Duck football team about that one. The question is whether PSU will finally field teams that put up and shut up the critics. For the sports that matter, especially football and basketball, three years of covering PSU athletics tells me this is the year that things finally start to happen. 

5. Sherri Murrell
Murrell takes over for the women’s basketball team for Charity Elliott, who resigned at the end of spring to take the head-coaching job at UC San Diego. Murrell was previously an assistant at PSU from 1996-98 and has strong ties to the Northwest, including a stint as head coach of George Fox University.

I don’t know very much about Murrell, to be honest. But what I do know is that having coaches with Northwest ties at this level is increasingly important. Portland State isn’t a powerhouse recruiting school, and it’s important to be able to snag good local talent. Recruiting good talent in PSU’s backyard is going to help the program immensely.

Elliott was already on the right track, and with star Kelsey Kahle going into her junior year, this team should finally be able to do some damage in the Big Sky, even with the disruption of Elliott’s departure. New coaches are always an adventure, and while Murrell will fly under the radar, she’s Chisholm’s first coaching hire and how she pans out will say a lot about the new athletic director.

There you have it, five good reasons to be stoked for the upcoming year of Viking athletics. The real fun this year should be going to the games, because I suspect we’re going to see higher attendance this year than any in recent memory.

Grab your foam finger and your best Nordic helmet, and enjoy the feeling of the culture changing, one win at a time.