Vikings topple Bears

Portland State shocked top-ranked Northern Colorado in Greely Saturday, taking the home team by surprise with a 3-2 defeat of the Bears.

Portland State shocked top-ranked Northern Colorado in Greely Saturday, taking the home team by surprise with a 3-2 defeat of the Bears. With just one match remaining in the season, the two teams are now tied with identical conference records.

Saturday’s win was a crucial one for Portland State to keep its hopes of a Big Sky title alive. To earn the regular season title and first-place seed for the conference tournament, the Viks now need a win in their final match against Sacramento State on Friday.

The Vikings (18-8, 13-2 Big Sky Conference) have the upper hand over Northern Colorado (22-6, 13-2 Big Sky). If the two teams share wins this weekend, the Viks will still take first place since they handed NC their only two losses in conference.

The Viks came out to play Saturday, easily winning the opening set 25-21. The Viks led with as many as 10 points, and after grabbing an early lead, they never trailed. The Viking offense dominated the first set with a .424 attack percentage, while the defense held the Bears to just a .250 attack percentage.

Head coach Michael Seemann said that this late in the season, teams really know each other, and that Portland State had prepared for the Bears and the match.

“The biggest thing about being on the road at that elevation is just to remain poised and have patience,” he said.

Despite the early display of confidence by Portland State, the home team was not discouraged. The Bears rallied back to win sets two and three. In set two, it was Northern Colorado that took control.

After a Viking attack error, the Bears went up 7-6 and never looked back. They finished the set with a four-point run to win the match.

Carrying the momentum from the win in the second set, the Bears gave their home crowd what they wanted—another win in set three. The Bears posted a .486 attack percentage to the Vikings just .282.

Down two sets to one, the Vikings needed a change. Midway through the set, Seemann said the Vikings’ left side really turned around their defense to help stop the attacks from the Bears’ right side. 

“I think that a couple key blocks and key stops that we had shifted momentum quite a bit,” he said.

After a back-and-forth set, the Viks pulled ahead to 21-18, but the match wasn’t over yet. The Bears rallied to tie the set at 21-all, but a timeout by Portland State broke the progression.

After the break, Phillips sealed the win for the Viks with a kill, followed by a pair of Bears’ attack errors and a Phillips’ service ace.

Seemann said Phillips has been frustrated offensively, struggling through what the player and coach say is an offensive slump. This slump was all but forgotten Saturday when Phillips came through with 23 kills and 13 digs. 

Seemann said Phillips controlled the ball extremely well throughout the match and  “did a fantastic job staying mentally strong and patient when she didn’t have swings.”

The final set remained undecided for the first half. A four-point run from the Bears evened the score at 7-all, but from there the set was in the hands of the Vikings. Defense gave the Viks their final three points as the Bears committed three straight attack errors.

Portland State needed to play big to beat the top team, and they did. It was the seniors who led for the Viks both on offense and defense. Phillips led the team with her double-double. Senior outside hitter and middle blocker Christie Hamilton grabbed 15 kills, and middle blocker Lana Zielke chipped in 13. On defense, libero Diana Villalpando had 26 digs.

Seemann said that the seniors have a strong trust in each other, which helps in tough matches like Northern Colorado.

“Between Diana and her blockers, there’s just a really good relationship between what part of the court they’re going to take on and how much court she’s asked to block,” Seemann said.

It was not just the seniors that posted high numbers. Sophomore outside hitter Megan Ellis led alongside Villalpando with 18 digs. Schlatter was the second player to pull a double-double with 49 assists and 11 digs.

Seemann said that the team has made huge improvements in terms of playing well together.

“As a team, we’re playing a lot better,” Seemann said. “We have a better chemistry. It maybe isn’t showing up in the stats, but on the floor we’re more cohesive.”

Portland State plays Sacramento State Friday at the Stott Center. The Vikings lost to the Hornets earlier in the season in a heartbreaking five-set defeat for their first conference loss. The Vikings have already secured at least a No. 2 seed in the Big Sky championship, but a win against the Hornets ensures a No. 1 seed.

The match against Sac State is slated for 7 p.m. The following weekend, Nov. 26 and 27, the Stott Center will host the Big Sky Championship. ?