Portland State cruises past Montana schools to the top of Big Sky
The young Viks have risen to the top. Heading into the weekend, the Portland State volleyball team (13-11, 9-3 in conference) sat in second place in the standings, but after a dominating weekend at home against the Montana schools, the Vikings find themselves leading the Big Sky conference for the first time this season.
Portland State lit up the Montana State Bobcats in a sweep on Friday, then Saturday evening the Vikings easily overcame the Montana Lady Griz in four sets. The young Viks, a team with 10 underclassmen on the roster, are now riding a five-match winning streak.
Friday night’s match highlighted Portland State’s annual Dig Pink night in support of breast cancer awareness. The match was also the second meeting of opposing sisters, Portland State sophomore setter Garyn Schlatter and the Bobcat’s freshman Kasey Schlatter.
Unfortunately for Kasey Schlatter and her team, the night was short on celebration, as the Vikings swept Montana State (3-20 overall, 2-10 conference) in three sets. Portland State beat the Bobcats in nearly all areas, especially when it came to offensive efficiency, posting a .310 hitting percentage compared to .160 for visitors.
Portland State displayed their developing wealth of outside hitters. Vikings overall kill leader junior Megan Ellis only grabbed nine kills against the Bobcats, but the newly forming duo of sophomore Aubrey Mitchell and freshman Tineke Bierma were all over the net.
With freshman outside hitter Cheyne Corrado still struggling with a foot injury, Bierma has stepped up in recent weeks, grabbing a career-high 12 kills Friday night. Meanwhile, across the net from Bierma, Mitchell posted 11 kills and a .474 attack percentage.
On Saturday evening, Ellis returned to form, leading the Vikings to a 3-1 win over the Montana Lady Griz (8-12 overall, 2-9 conference) with a game-high 20 kills. Ellis also had a double-double, adding 12 digs on the night.
“She matched up really well with [Montana]. Her style swing [makes her] a gap cross court hitter, so I think for that reason she had a lot of success,” head coach Michael Seemann said of Ellis. “At the same time, I think she probably was a little not as pleased with her performance [Friday] night, so I felt like maybe she wanted to prove something.”
The match against Montana appeared to open as if the Vikings would take home their second sweep of the weekend. They dominated the opening two frames, winning 25-16 and 25-19, but in the third set the Lady Griz made their comeback.
Back-to-back kills gave the visiting team a four-point lead at 20-16. The Vikings closed the gap to two points, but a final kill by Montana kept the match alive for a fourth frame. The Grizzlies kept it close in the fourth, but a late-match six-point run by the Vikings sealed the victory 25-21.
Seemann said about the Vikings closing out Saturday’s match, “We put the ball in-play so that gave us an opportunity which we weren’t doing early in that set…it’s kind of a tricky thing because you want to keep the serves aggressive, but at the same time if you’re not serving-in then you’re not giving the defensive chances to keep the play going.”
Solid serving allowed for solid defense. Led by freshman Katie O’Brien who had eight blocks on the night, Portland State outblocked the Lady Griz 14-7 as a team. Freshman Leigh-Ann Haataja put up six blocks while Mitchell added seven.
“[Coach] talks about it all the time, if we serve them out of system then it’s really easy to predict returns,” Mitchell said. “So then it makes our jobs easier as blockers and defenders in the back row.”
Portland State now hits the road for one of the most anticipated matches of the season, as they will battle the second place Northern Colorado Bears for first place in the Big Sky conference on Friday night. The Vikings then take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in an away match on Saturday.