PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland State volleyball team is grooving. Not to anything @ejthatdj (the Vikings’ in-house DJ) was playing, though that was good, too. No, the Vikings were grooving on the court Sunday, earning their second straight sweep with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-19) win over a Cal Poly team that had taken No. 24 Pepperdine and No. 13 Washington to five sets earlier in the week.
The Vikings (4-5) set a season high for hitting percentage in their second straight match and did so while hitting over .300 for the first time this season – and the first time overall since hitting .398 against Idaho on Sept. 30, 2021. The Vikings hit .324 against the Mustangs (0-7) at Viking Pavilion, while recording 47 kills in only three sets. The mark against the Mustangs topped the Vikings’ .274 hitting percentage a day earlier in their 3-0 sweep of North Texas at the Asics Invitational in Corvallis.
“My speech to the team was that this team [Cal Poly] is probably road-weary [after playing three matches in Seattle earlier in the week]. They played really grueling, tough matches [in Seattle]and so we needed to take advantage of being the ones at home and come out strong,” Portland State head coach Michael Seemann said after the match.
“I thought we established ourselves early. And yeah, we did a great job of handling the first contact, and that allowed us to have a high sideout percentage.”
In finding their groove, the Vikings also solved their issues with the third match of the weekend. The Vikings had lost in three sets, fairly decisively, in their third match of the previous two weekends between a 3-0 loss to then-No. 19 Oregon on Aug. 28 and a 3-0 loss to New Mexico on Sept. 3. This Sunday, the Vikings flipped that, beating Cal Poly in three sets.
“We made it a point to say to the team that we haven’t been good in our third match [of the weekend]and they dug in a little bit in response,” Seemann said. “I also think it helped that we had 24 hours from our last match and using more than just two outsides for the weekend also helped us quite a bit.”
Sunday’s performance against the Mustangs was also impressive given Cal Poly’s strength at the net. Cal Poly came into the match ranked 14th in the NCAA for blocks, as they averaged 2.85 blocks per set, but the Vikings actually out-blocked the Mustangs, 8-to-4. The four blocks for the Mustangs was well below their average coming in, and the Vikings held Cal Poly’s Meredith Phillips – ranked 13th in the NCAA with 1.65 blocks per set individually – to only one block in the match.
“Zoe [McBride]in particular, did a really good job of just hitting high hands. And we just kept our swings out of trouble. I thought we tipped smart when we needed to and that was where I thought we maybe saw some of the fatigue from Cal Poly, since they didn’t run some of those tips down,” Seemann said of dealing with Cal Poly’s block.
All of the Viking hitters did well against the Cal Poly block. Parker Webb – who by playing in Sunday’s match tied Garyn Schlatter for the Division I program record for matches played (125) – finished with her best offensive match of the season. Webb recorded a season-high 15 kills on .619 hitting in the match, and also chipped in two blocks. Fellow right-side hitter Jasmine Powell also had a strong match with eight kills on .263 hitting.
Part of the Vikings’ groove offensively has been finding the team’s right-side hitters more. Setters Madison Friebel and Ella Hartford did well with that in the team’s previous two matches of the weekend. The Vikings got 17 kills from Webb and Powell against Utah State on Friday, then nearly matched that with 15 combined kills in their 3-0 sweep of North Texas yesterday. Sunday’s 23 kills from the pair were by far their most in a match this season.
“We’ve been working on that connection quite a bit,” Seemann said of the team’s success with their right-side hitters recently. “You have to be very accurate with that set. Ally [Wada, last year’s starting setter] and Parker had a really good relationship in that regard, and so with a new setter trying to set that, it’s a hard thing to set. But when we do it, you see that hitting percentage going up as a result. Kudos to Madi and Ella for dialing that in.”
It came early from the right side for the Vikings. Webb had seven kills on only eight swings in the first set, as the Vikings rode her to a 25-18 first-set victory. The Vikings trailed 8-5 early in the set, but flipped things around with an 8-1 run that featured two kills from Webb. Cal Poly got back within one at several points later in the set, but the Vikings closed on an 8-2 run that included another three kills from Webb.
Cal Poly held the upper hand for most of the second set. The Vikings led 4-3 early, but then didn’t lead again until an ace from Ellie Snook gave the Vikings a 22-21 lead. Snook came up huge again a couple points later. Cal Poly’s Maia Dvoracek was serving at 23-all, and Dvoracek’s big serve had given the Vikings’ trouble early in the set. Snook came up with a perfect pass on Dvoracek’s first serve this time around, however, which allowed Powell to put down a kill off a set from Hartford. That gave the Vikings set point at 24-23, and Powell combined with Ashleigh Barto for a block on the next point to close it out.
The Vikings held the advantage throughout the third set, going up 7-2 early and maintaining at least a three-point lead the rest of the way. Distribution became the theme of the third set for the Vikings. Three different players had five kills in the frame between Powell, Webb and Zoe McBride. McBride’s five kills came on .455 hitting and included five digs as she put the finishing touches on her first double-double of the season. McBride finished with 11 kills on .455 hitting for the match while adding 12 digs and two blocks.
In addition to the offense, the Vikings’ blocking has also found its groove recently. The Vikings had eight blocks against the Mustangs Sunday, a day after they had 10 in their sweep of North Texas. Seven of the Vikings’ eight blocks came in the team’s come-from-behind win in the second set, when Barto and fellow middle blocker Ashlyn Blotzer were at their best. Barto had all four of her blocks in the match within the second set, while Blotzer recorded three of her four blocks in the frame.
Friebel and Hartford finished with 22 and 14 assists, respectively. The Vikings’ 41 assists as a team marked their most in a three-set match this season, while their 47 kills were also a three-set season high.
The Vikings head across the river for two matches next weekend at the Portland North Marriott Invitational, hosted by the University of Portland at the Chiles Center. The Vikings open against their cross-town rivals, the Pilots, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15. The Vikings will then play a neutral-site match against Seattle University on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 12 p.m.
Match Notes: The Vikings improved to 2-4 all time against Cal Poly with their win Sunday…The Vikings out-aced the Mustangs 4-to-1 in the match…The Vikings have only had one reception error in their last two matches, as they had none against North Texas on Saturday and one Sunday against Cal Poly…Snook led the Vikings with three aces, the seventh time the Vikings have had a player record at least three aces in a match.