The hardest working and smallest team in the Big Sky women’s basketball conference took an early exit from this year’s tournament after losing Thursday to Northern Arizona 80-68 in Pocatello, Idaho.
Portland State had to play a tough game against the third-seeded Lumberjacks. After a home blowout against the same team the week before, the Vikings wanted to come out strong. However, the Arizona women were the size of Lumberjacks and shot 54.5 percent compared to a stuttering Vikings offense that only managed 34.3 percent from the field.
The Lumberjacks went on a 19-4 run to start off the first half. Dominating post play led Northern Arizona to end the half up 43-24.
“We were ecstatic to be in the tournament, but we came out the first 20 minutes and we just weren’t ready to play. We played the first half like we had never been to a conference tournament, which we hadn’t,” said head coach Charity Elliott. “But we got down 20 points and had to come back like crazy and eventually we cut it to four and I was really proud the heart we showed. Just being there gave us some really good experience for next year.”
With the Lumberjacks leading 58-35, the Vikings made a raging comeback in their first tourney bid since 2002, outscoring NAU 31-12, and cutting the score to 70-66. Less then five minutes left in the game the Viks couldn’t keep up their comeback and were outscored 10-2 to close out the game 80-68.
The Vikings ended their season 12-16, quadrupling the wins of last season’s 3-23 record. It was a disappointing end for a surprisingly competitive team, led by youth and directed by fantastic coaching. Freshman forward Kelsey Kahle won the Co-Freshman of the Year after averaging 17 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game. Freshman shooting guard Jenni Ritter led the Big Sky in steals with 2.33 a game and was always an important contributor, especially behind the three-point arc.
“Even if we don’t get anybody else I am excited about the people returning. Kelsey had such a great year as a four and then maybe when we get her in a bigger lineup she might move around to the three hopefully being just as effective,” Elliott said.
The future looks very bright for the young team of potential stars. The next step is recruiting. The biggest off-season moves will be shoring up the holes at post and taking a look at some point guards to cope with the loss of the lone senior point guard Sharon Wahinekapu.
“Now we will take a couple of weeks to recoup and after spring break we will hit the gym and weight room. It’s going to be a big spring for us, its going to be a time for us to focus on improving as individuals,” Elliott said.
Freshman backup point guard Kailey Bostwick is expecting significant playing time but it will depend on what she does during the off-season to better herself.
“It’s hard to say, we are still recruiting around, so it depends on how this spring goes but Kailey will have the opportunity,” Elliott said.
The women’s team does not expect to have another losing season and with the leaps and bounds they have already made they shouldn’t expect to. Size was the biggest problem the Vikings had this year.
Elliott will be looking for some strong recruits to support the already talented team. She has already signed three other post players who will be able to provide some help in the paint. Although Brianna Thompson played very well for the Vikings at center, her natural position is forward and PSU will be searching for a good one-two punch underneath.
Kerstin Brosterhous transferred at the end of last year from Oregon State and has been working out with the team all year at the post position. She will be an immediate impact player and will dominate for the Vikings. This spring will be about hard work and drastic individual improvements. Elliott will have specialized drills for each player to better them at all different skill sets. Ball handling will be very important for coach to decide the Vikings’ future point guard.
“Obviously we are very excited, we took huge steps this year. Our players got the taste of success and everybody understands what we are trying to do. I think we just gotta keep building and getting better. It’s going to be a matter of chemistry and how hard they work this spring and summer,” Elliott said.