On March 3 in Greeley, Colo., an unfamiliar feeling set in for the PSU women’s basketball team: Their season ended without a trip to the playoffs. Last season was the first since 2004–o5 that the Vikings failed to qualify for the Big Sky Conference tournament, the first in head coach Sherri Murrell’s five-year tenure. They return four starters and nine letter-winners who seek to improve upon last season’s 15–14 campaign.
Portland State welcomes back junior guard Kate Lanz, who led the team in scoring (15.6 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 rebounds per game) last season. Lanz is currently sidelined with a high ankle sprain but is expected to return to practice soon. Sharpshooting senior guard Courtney VanBrocklin (90.1 percent from the free-throw line) also returns, coming off a season in which she led the team in steals (1.6 steals per game), was second in assists (2.6 assists per game) and third in scoring (13.2 ppg). Senior Karley Lampman (7.4 ppg, 1.2 spg) is expected to be a key contributor as well.
The only starter from last year who will not return is Eryn Jones, who led the team in assists (4.2 apg) last season and was second in scoring (13.3 ppg). Jones played in a record 127 games during her career at PSU, and finished as one of the five best three-point shooters in team history.
A lack of presence in the post was a major shortcoming for PSU in 2011–12. The Viks will look to junior Angela Misa, a 6-foot-1-inch transfer from Oregon State University, to remedy this situation. At the PSU basketball preseason luncheon on Oct. 18, Murrell attested to Misa’s strength and athleticism. “You won’t see anybody else like her in our conference,” Murrell said. The team will rely on Misa to provide some much-needed rebounding help six of their 14 losses were by eight points or less last season.
The Big Sky Conference has added the University of North Dakota and Southern Utah University for women’s basketball this year, expanding it to 11 teams. The conference tournament will now include the top seven teams, with the top seed earning a first-round bye. In the preseason coaches poll, PSU was ranked fifth.
“We were picked fifth, and I’m really excited about that,” Murrell said. “Every time they pick us low, we always go high.”
The Viks will begin their season at home on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. with an exhibition against Warner Pacific College.
Other notable home games this season include Gonzaga University on Dec. 7, the University of Montana on Jan. 5, the University of Northern Colorado on Jan. 17 and Idaho State University on March 9.
With the lion’s share of starters returning conference-wide, Murrell expects a great deal of parity this season. “Six teams could probably win the championship,” she said. “It’s that good.”