Viks bring pride to Park Blocks with Big Sky win

The Portland State women’s volleyball team nearly had the tables turned on it in last weekend’s Big Sky Championship at the Stott Center.

The Portland State women’s volleyball team nearly had the tables turned on it in last weekend’s Big Sky Championship at the Stott Center.

After coming back from a two-set deficit to defeat Montana in Friday’s semifinal, the Vikings gave away a two-set lead over Northern Colorado the next night, before rallying to win the conference tournament in a dramatic five-set victory.

Portland State beat Northern Colorado, 3-2, to claim the championship title and the league’s automatic invitation to the NCAA Division-I Tournament for the second time in program history.

“I’m excited that, as a team, we were able to pull through when it started to get tough,” senior outside hitter Whitney Phillips said.

The Vikings (21-8) faced No. 7 Hawaii (28-2) in Seattle yesterday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The results of the game were not available as of press time. Portland State played in the 2008 NCAA Tournament and fell to Washington in Seattle.

The Vikings, who hosted the Big Sky tournament by virtue of winning last year’s regular season title, won the championship in their 20th-straight win over a visiting conference opponent. But the beginnings of Saturday’s match gave no hint that it would end in a nail-biting finish.

Portland State won the opening sets 25-22 and 25-18 to take an early 2-0 lead, but the Bears did not go home without a fight. In set three, UNC took a slight lead that it carried to a 25-23 win. The Bears held the momentum and won the fourth frame, 25-19, to tie the game.

The tiebreaker stayed close and featured six tied scores as the top two teams in the league fought to continue their season. A Bears’ attack error put the Vikings at match point, 14-11, and gave Phillips the serve.

The estimated crowd of 900 fans rose to their feet as Phillips delivered what could have been her last college serve. Her serve was good and the Viks and Bears kept up a long volley, but the point eventually went to the Bears.

PSU called their final timeout, and the break was just what they needed. Sophomore outside hitter Aubrey Mitchell, assisted by freshman setter Garyn Schlatter, delivered a kill from the right side to earn the Vikings a 15-12 victory in the deciding frame.

“I thought the fifth set was a battle,” head coach Michael Seemann said in a statement released by the school. “I felt we had some timely blocks at the end there that swayed it in our favor. We also served tougher there in that last set to get them out of system.”

Led by Phillips, who earned her sixth-consecutive double-double with 17 kills and 22 digs, four Vikings recorded kills in the double digits. Seniors Christie Hamilton and Lana Zielke each had 11, while sophomore Alexa Rosendale had 10 to go with her 15 kills for the only other double-double of the night.

Northern Colorado’s Kelley Arnold led the floor with 20 kills.

“We made it a point to make sure that we did a good job of carrying out the scout report,” Seemann said. “And we obviously are familiar with this team, so executing was a big issue.”

The victory over the Bears was not the Vikings’ only battle they faced to win the championship title. The Viks defeated Montana, 3-2, in Friday’s semifinal.

Fourth-ranked Montana came out of the gates swinging and dominated the first two sets, leaving the Park Block fans wondering if this was the end. The Griz took the first two frames with identical 25-18 scores, and held the Viks to dismal hitting percentages of .085 in set one and an even worse .039 in set two.

“We talked about keeping our poise; we talked about things like being patient, offensively,” Seemann said. “And we did neither of those things in the first two sets.”

Against the wall, the Vikings bounced back in the third set to ensure they wouldn’t leave the weekend empty-handed. Portland State took control, and went on two four-point runs in the set.

Seemann said that he told his players at the break to be more patient on offense, and to relax and get back to the game plan he said they strayed from. And they did; the Viks took the set 25-13. Montana battled in set four, but a 25-22 win by PSU sent the semifinal to a fifth set.

Hamilton said the Vikings’ focus on keeping their composure paid off in the championship.

“We always talk about how up-and-down emotions always throw you off,” she said. “If you make a bad play, wipe it clean and ask your team to give you another pass to try to connect on the next play.”

If the Viks took one thing away from this match that they used on Saturday, it was how to handle the pressure of a close fifth set. Portland State pulled the score to 14-11, but the Lady Griz got one more point before outside hitter Rosendale sent the Vikings to the championship match with a 15-12 win.

Seemann said he was “extremely proud” of Rosendale, a player that had not seen much playing time during the season.

“She came in and took some gutsy swings,” he said. “She defended well for us.”

Phillips was the only player to tally a double-double in Friday’s semifinal. She led all players with 21 kills, and led her team with 20 digs. Zielke tallied 13 kills and senior libero Diana Villalpando recorded 19 digs.

Three Vikings earned tournament honors over the weekend. Phillips, Schlatter and Zielke were each named to the All-Tournament Team, and Phillips was also selected as the tournament MVP.

Northern Colorado defeated Idaho State Friday, 3-2, to enter Saturday’s championship match. ?