After years of losing seasons and disappointments, the Portland State women’s basketball team is poised to get a Big Sky Tournament bid for the first time in five years.
For the first time in years the Vikings are not just the team to rollover on in the Big Sky. Tied for fifth place with Eastern Washington in conference standings, the Viks also have a 1.5-game lead on Sacramento State and a two-game lead on Montana State for the final playoff berth. The Vikings have a tenacious defense and great young offense that can really look spectacular at times. At the beginning of the year the tournament was the goal of the season and head coach Charity Elliott never expected anything less.
“I think that what we just talked about as a team is there are a couple of things that can happen: we can not go, we can squeak our way in or we can win our way in and prove that we deserve to be there,” Elliott said. “I think that we need to understand that all three of those are very real possibilities. It depends on our mentality coming out each night. We haven’t won on a Thursday night; we haven’t even won two in a row so it depends on us.”
With the men’s team disappointing, it looks like the women might be the only ones to cheer for in the coming post-season. The team needs to ride on the win over Weber and carry it over into this weekend’s road trip to Montana State (3-19) and Montana (18-5).
“Well we’ve been coming back from losses really well but we haven’t been transferring over from wins. So we need to take the win against Weber as a huge win and make that build up confidence you know, into the following game,” junior guard Heather Arns said. “We just need to take what we can do and create enough confidence.”
The Vikings have gone through many struggles to get this close to a post-season berth. They have had to endure all the difficulties a team could afford in a single season and for the most part have looked pretty good.
“That’s been the story of our conference the whole year, anybody can beat anybody on any given night, and nothing determines a win,” said freshman Jenni Ritter. “We’ve overcome a bunch already, I mean being young, having one senior, one junior and playing with just nine players. We just gotta keep pushing through and not let up.”
This underdog ideal can be as good as it can be devastating. As a young and inexperienced team, inconsistency has been the reason some of the close games were lost.
“We’ve got to find a way to get a win on the road. We’ve only won one on the road. All the rest we’ve only had one game where we were really blown out and that was at Weber, besides that they were all just close. We’ve just gotta find that extra push on the road and pick up those wins.” Arns said.
When watching the Vikings you can’t help but love their style of play. They hustle up and down the court forcing the pace of the game. They pressure the ball so well that teams should just give them the ball. They ride on momentum and can flip a losing situation into a spectacular game.
“I think we’ve got to come out with confidence and not put too much pressure on ourselves, cause when we come out with those thoughts, that we have to win, you know do-or-die, we don’t do well. When we come out and just play like we know how to we play we do really well,” said senior point guard Sharon Wahinekapu.
This is Wahinekapu’s last chance to taste glory as she soon will leave the basketball court behind in exchange for a college degree.
“After this I am done, so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” Wahinekapu said.
Wahinekapu’s teammates value their starting point guard and are dedicated to ending the season on a positive note.
“I think that’s the way we all feel, not only for our team, not only because we haven’t been in the tournament in five years, but because it is Sharon’s last season, you know our lone senior, we want the end to be good. I’ve appreciated how much she’s led us all year,” Arns said.
The Vikings juggernaut is a good mix of freshmen and veteran players. An extremely talented recruited class of freshman that has been able to make an immediate impact combined with veteran leadership that looks to have a ticket on reserve to the tournament.
Freshman forward Kelsey Kahle is playing far and beyond her expected potential. She stands strong at third in the nation in points per game as a freshman, tied for third in the nation in 20-point games as a freshman, and leads the Big Sky in rebounds. Ritter is also making a splash as the second true freshman in the starting line-up. She is fourth in the nation in steals as a freshman and first in the Big Sky, also ranks fifth in the Big Sky for three-pointers made.
Yet without the exceptional leadership from the veterans the team would be sunk. Arns, Wahinekapu, sophomore’s guard Delaney Conway and center Brianna Thompson are the talent that helps guide the younger in the right direction. Arns sits happily right behind her teammate Ritter in Big Sky steals. Wahinekapu’s ability to move the ball and run the offense is key to the Viking success. Conway is sixth-man of the year hands down, coming of the bench and performing regularly.
This perfect mix of women could very well send the Vikings to the Big Sky Tournament.
“I’m proud but I don’t want it to end, I don’t want to say four games and then we are done, I want to keep going. If we don’t get to the tournament I don’t feel like we’ve reached our potential and as a coach you always want to reach your potential,” said Elliott. “So I want to get to that tournament and I don’t want to just sneak in I want to be there.”