Volleyball ready to dominate!

    The Portland State volleyball team opened the 2006 season in dramatic fashion, splitting their first preseason matches by easily rolling over UC Irvine in three games and battling with the University of Oregon to a hotly contested five-game loss.

    Typically, the preseason, regardless of the sport, is viewed as an insignificant period because the games are meaningless to the standings. However, for Vikings’ head coach Jeff Mozzochi, the preseason games are anything but insignificant. During the preseason the Viks are granted a break from practice and the first opportunity to compete against another squad in an actual game atmosphere, allowing Mozzochi to assess his team as a whole and tighten some loose ends.

    Mozzochi had his first glimpse of his entire squad in action against UC Irvine. Both the young and veteran Viks shined brightly in their opening match against the Anteaters, leading them to a dominant three-game victory. One Viking that shined particularly bright was senior outside hitter Jessica Brodie, who finished the match with 15 kills and 10 digs. She was just one of a host of veteran players that really made the difference against a younger, less experienced UC Irvine squad.

    ”What really showed up was our experience and their youth. Our veteran players came and did a terrific job,” Mozzochi said. “Some of the times when the games got particularly close, the veteran players stepped up and made plays so that we controlled that match. When we needed some big plays the older players came up with them.”

    With longtime Viking setter and undisputed team leader Stephanie Lavigne graduating after last season, the opening game of the season marked the beginning of a new group of leaders for the Viks. Brodie, senior middle blocker Michelle Robertson and senior outside hitter Jessica Frederick take the reins and hope to repeat last year’s great season.

    ”It was different without Stephanie on the floor because she was our leader and captain for the last couple of years,” Brodie said. “Michelle and I are the captains this year and we are really lead-by-example players, we aren’t going to yell at anybody. So, we pretty much just lead by example with our play on the court.”

    Last year the Vikings posted their best record since entering Division I competition with an overall record of 21-9. They finished second in the Big Sky Conference regular season with a conference record of 10-4.

    After getting the jitters of the year’s first game out of the way, the Viks increased the intensity against a more challenging opponent in U of O. Although the match was competitive, Portland State nearly let the game slip early on as they narrowly lost the first two games and found themselves struggling to contend in the third game. But they rallied to win the tight third game 32-30 and then continued their improved play with a 30-26 victory in game four. In the fifth game, the Viks and Ducks exchanged points for the first 16 points of the game, until Oregon eventually pulled away to win the game 11-15.

    ”The Oregon match was a great early-season match and I felt our team showed a lot of character,” Mozzochi said. “Oregon is much improved, so that is a quality team we played in their own gym during the first weekend. The first weekend can be very ragged but I thought that both teams really played some great volleyball and both teams played some predictably sloppy volleyball.”

    Once again Brodie led the Viks on the stat sheet, enjoying possibly more success than she has ever had in a Viking uniform. The talented senior finished the match with a career-high 33 kills and 27 digs, putting her in elite company by not only attaining her 1,000th kill but also accumulating the second highest amount of kills in a five-game match in school history.

    ”Brodie had a phenomenal match,” Mozzochi said. “Not just the offensive numbers, but the defense and ball handling. That may have been the best match I have seen Jessica Brodie play.”

    Despite the loss to Oregon, the Viks had an all-around successful first weekend of preseason play. They learned a lot about their team, established some sense of the roles they will assume once the regular season rolls around and, much to the liking of coach Mozzochi, discovered a few areas to improve on. If they keep this up, there may be a Big Sky championship to celebrate at season’s end.

    ”I am very excited because I think that this is the team that could take us all the way,” Frederick said.