Sharp serving, passing behind Vikings' success

by: COURTESY OF SCOTT LARSON/PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Leigh-Ann Haataja serves for Portland State.If there is a motto for the Portland State volleyball team, it’s “one point at a time and hold your serve,” coach Michael Seemann.

Not the catchiest marketing slogan, but it’s working for the Vikings. They won their last nine matches to gain the No. 1 seed in the Big Sky tournament, Friday and Saturday at Stott Center.

PSU and No. 2 seed North Dakota tied at 17-3 in the regular season; the Viks got the higher seed by outscoring UND in their head-to-head matches, both 3-2 finals.

The Vikings will play a 7 p.m. Friday semifinal against the lowest advancing seed from the 10 a.m. match between No. 6 Northern Colorado and No. 3 Idaho State and the noon match pitting No. 4 Northern Arizona against No. 5 Montana.

North Dakota plays the higher advancing seed in the 5 p.m. Friday semifinal.

The championship match is 7 p.m. Saturday, and the winner goes to the NCAA tournament.

The key for Portland State, Seemann says, will be the team’s staples: serving and passing.

“To be a great team, you have to do those things really well, and we’ve been consistent at them,” he says.

The field is deep, Seemann says, with North Dakota in its second year of Big Sky play and Idaho State and Northern Arizona sporting improved programs. ISU gave PSU fits last Saturday, when the Vikings had to rally for a 3-2 victory that clinched the top seed.

“The conference is far better than it used to be,” Seemann says. “It’s going to be a very competitive tournament. There’s going to be a lot of five-set matches.”

Defense always is a big part of the PSU plan, too. The Vikings’ opponent hitting percentage, .187, was third-best in the Big Sky.

The serving has a lot to do that with.

“We’ve got seven or eight servers who can really bring it,” Seemann says.

PSU has four of the Big Sky’s top eight in aces per set.

And junior Kasi Clark is on track, the coach adds, to repeat as conference libero of the year.

“She’s a tremendous digger, great defender, great setter,” he says.

On offense, a handful of Viks share the wealth, and setter Garyn Schlatter (10.7 assists per set) spreads it.

Four Viks have 200 or more kills: Leigh-Ann Haataja (200, 1.87 per set), Jaklyn Wheeler (222, 2.71), Aubrey Mitchell (297, 2.78) and Kaeli Patton (329, 3.07).

The balance has been such that, until Patton was honored last week, no Viking had been named Big Sky player of the week.

“We don’t have a superstar attacker, but Schlatter’s distribution allows all of our attackers to be successful,” Seemann says.

• Two Ivy League women’s basketball teams on a West Coast swing will stop at Stott Center to play the Portland State women. Princeton plays the Vikings at noon Saturday. Columbia takes on the Viks at 2 p.m. Sunday.

• The PSU men’s basketball team takes a four-game winning streak and a 4-1 record on the road when it plays at Boise State at 5 p.m. Friday.

• The Vikings’ football season came to an end Saturday at Eastern Washington, where Portland State fell 42-41 in the final seconds to the No. 3-ranked Eagles.

PSU had lost in the closing moments the week before at Jeld-Wen Field, 43-42 to Sacramento State.

The Vikings finished with a 6-6 overall record and a 3-5 Big Sky mark. The Viks were ninth in the 13-team conference.

DJ Adams wound up his PSU career with a 1,600-rushing yard season (6.2 yards per carry) and 19 touchdowns.

Kasey Closs totaled 61 catches for 1,167 yards and 8 TDs this year.

PSU averaged 31.0 points per conference game (fifth in the league), while allowing 32.5 (ninth).

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