A fifth-place finish in the Big Sky and a first-ever postseason victory were reasons for optimism for this year’s Portland State spikers.

Despite losing its team captain for the season, strong senior leadership and the emergence of some underclassmen surprises guided the women’s volleyball team to its most conference victories in seven seasons.

The Viks got off to a hot start at 4-0 for the second straight year but then went 3-5 against a slew of more talented pre-season rivals.

Disappointing losses to Northern Arizona (7-19) and Montana (8-17) kept the Viks from exceeding last year’s win total of 14 and breaking even in conference play. Still, the fifth-seeded spikers earned a third straight trip to the Big Sky conference tourney where they faced off with the fourth-seeded Idaho State Bengals.

Led by the offense of freshman Melissa Osterloh and the defense of senior Kristin Ratzlaff, the Viks dispatched the Bengals 3-1 and avenged their loss to the Bengals in last year’s postseason.

Any confidence from the victory did little good the next night against the eventual conference runner up Eastern Washington Eagles who swept the Viks.

After being forced into duty by a knee injury to team captain Stephanie Lavigne, junior setter Rachel Stevens keyed the Vikings attack and led the Big Sky in assists per game with 12.72.

Sophomore hitter Jessica Brodie led the conference in aces with 46 and earned second-team all-conference honors. Niki Lambert earned all-conference honorable mention and figured among conference leaders with a hitting percentage of .258.