Women’s basketball preview

An incredible offensive showing from the Portland State women’s basketball team on Thursday gave fans a glimpse at what can be anticipated in the season to come.

An incredible offensive showing from the Portland State women’s basketball team on Thursday gave fans a glimpse at what can be anticipated in the season to come.

After some fine-tuning over the next few weeks, the Vikings will be ready to defend their title as Big Sky Tournament Champions as the season opens.

Head coach Sherri Murrell went into Thursday’s exhibition game with Western Oregon University feeling confident in her team. The Viks have been picked to finish third in the Big Sky in the preseason polls, but that has had no effect on how they played the game.

The Vikings defeated the WOU Wolves 94-83 in a high-scoring shootout Thursday at the Stott Center. The game remained close throughout most of the first half, but never seemed to be out of the Viks’ control. The team went into halftime with a 47-40 lead over WOU and was moving the ball down the court with ease.

Vikings senior guard Lexi Bishop was explosive in the second half, scoring the first six points of the half and clearly giving PSU the momentum. Bishop, who scored 23 points on the night, said she felt good about her performance, but still thought there was room for improvement.

“We showed some weaknesses on defense, but overall it was a good start,” Bishop said. “It’s good, though, because we have some time to work on things.”

Bishop ended the night with 9 of 11 shooting and two three-pointers.

Senior guard Kelly Marchant finished with 16 points and four steals, and senior forward Kelli Valentine ended the night with 15 points.

While the defense may have not been the Viks’ strong point during their exhibition, the 23 points scored off fast breaks and turnovers made up for the thin defense.

The regular season kicks off Nov. 14 as the Viks go on the road to play the Washington Huskies. Last season, the Vikings won the Big Sky Championship Tournament and went to the Division-I NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history—all after they were projected to finish fifth in conference.

Portland State finished the season at 18-14 overall (9-7 Big Sky), and entered the conference tournament as the No. 5 seed. With three tournament wins, the Vikings became the lowest-seeded team to ever claim the conference title.

The Viking women have kept it simple when it comes to being successful. Keeping a fast tempo that wears teams down has been key to their plan. The success of last season makes the Vikings the team to beat, and they will have a target on their back as others seek the title this season, a situation that coach Murrell did not seem the least bit concerned about.

“Of course, after three great seasons we are going to be targeted,” she said. “Being picked to finish third this year takes away from the heat in the Big Sky, but we are just going to try and do more of the same as last year.”

The Vikings are considered to be the conference underdogs, but with all of their recent success they have had under Murrell, it is surprising that some still doubt their chances at another title. The team has been in back-to-back conference championship games and made it to the semifinals three years ago in Murrell’s first year as head coach.

The Viks lost two seniors from last season, both of which had impressive talents that were brought to the table. The biggest loss was that of starting point guard Claire Faucher, who averaged 6.7 assists per game last season, ranking fourth in the nation. Erin Yankus, who started 18 games last season, was an inside threat for the Vikings and averaged 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

The Vikings will rely on three returning starters from last season, including Bishop, to lead the charge this year. Other returning starters include fellow senior forward Kelli Valentine and junior guard Eryn Jones.

Other players have been patiently waiting for their chance to shine, and some have already put up some incredible numbers off of the bench. Junior forward Katy Wade has blocked 86 shots in her first two years with the Vikings and is 33 blocks shy of setting the school’s all-time record.

Expect to see big numbers from seniors Merchant and Valentine, who are both close to eclipsing the 1,000-point mark at Portland State. Also, after sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, Boise State transfer Courtney VanBrocklin is eligible to play, and coach Murrell is expecting big things from her this year.

“Courtney is an incredible athlete. She is quick and will get to the foul line for us,” Murrell said.

VanBrocklin is just one of the expected leaders for the already well-seasoned team. With four seniors on the team, there is plenty of experience to go around and coach Murrell feels this is key for helping the two new freshmen to the team. A well-rounded team is what she is hoping will be the key to making it back on top of the conference this season.

“The most interesting part about leaders on this team is how many options we have. We have so many people that will step up,” Murrell said. “I think Eryn Jones will be a great leader, though, she is ready for it to be her time.”

Jones, Murrell and the rest of the Vikings will face their first test on Nov. 14, and they appear prepared to defend their Big Sky title. ?