Incoming freshman Devon DeNecochea sharpens her hitting skills. Courtesy of Scott Larson

Serving up the heat

PSU’s volleyball team is ready as ever

As the unyielding heat of the summer refuses to let up—mirroring the spirit of Portland State’s volleyball team—the anticipation for the upcoming season couldn’t be higher.


Fueled by a mix of seasoned players and fresh talents, the team felt proud of the strong connections they made during the preseason and are ready to put their connection to the test.


In a series of interviews, Coach Michael Seemann, freshman setter Madison Friebel, and senior outside hitter Makayla Lewis shed some light on the team’s aspirations as they work towards another promising season.


Emerging from a scorching fall season in 2022—during which they secured an impressive second-place finish in the fiercely contested Big Sky Conference alongside Weber State—the team displayed their mettle with an exceptional 11-5 conference record and an overall standing of 18-13.


However, their journey toward triumph came to a halt in the third round of Big Sky. Despite their valiant efforts, they narrowly missed clinching victory. Northern Colorado—the formidable, top-seeded contenders—secured a hard-fought 3-2 victory for gold.


For Friebel, the preseason is a vital period of self-improvement and adaptation. She has her sight set on honing her skills during this vital time. “My serve was inconsistent, but I’ve put in the effort to add more power and consistency,” she said. With her commitment to enhancing her game, Friebel reflects the team’s overarching philosophy of refining every facet of the game.


Freshman Libero and Defensive Specialist Paige Stepaniuk dives for the ball during practice. Courtesy of Scott Larson


No athlete’s journey is devoid of challenges. It’s how players grow to be top competitors. Friebel shared her engagement with a game the team plays called stolen—a drill which hones precision and fosters muscle memory. “It’s like sixes,” she said. “We repeat actions until they’re perfected, allowing us to redeem ourselves and build muscle memory.”


As the head coach of the team, Coach Seemann shouldered the responsibility of charting the team’s course through preseason and beyond. Coach Seemann emphasized their comprehensive approach to preseason practice. “We focused on all aspects of the game,” he said. “With new team members, it’s crucial to establish a structure for our defense and refine offensive permutation.”


Coach Seemann acknowledged the significance of drills for serving and passing. “Though not as exhilarating as hitting or blocking, they set the tone for the rally,” he said. “Without lineup changes, these drills are even more vital.”


Each year, it is inevitable to lose a player to graduation or transfers, so there’s always work put into the team camaraderie. Coach Seemann’s strategy is clear—a strong start to the rally is the foundation for overall success.


The team will introduce the fans to PSU’s newest additions, including the junior transfer and outside hitter, Delaney Nicoll. She was a standout player for the Idaho Vandals during their 2021 fall season, averaging 3.01 kills per set and 2.51 digs per set.


“Delaney has to excel,” Coach Seemann said. “But she needs time to adjust to our system and her new role on the right side.” This blend of experience and fresh talent sets the stage for an exciting season of growth.


Also joining the team are three incoming freshmen, including libero and defense-specialist Paige Stepaniuk from Ridgefield high school; middle-blocker Naomi White from of Palo Verde high school in Las Vegas, Nevada; and outside-hitter and opposite Devon DeNecochea, who attended and played for Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, California.


As a red-shirt senior, Makayla Lewis brings invaluable experience and leadership to the team. “I transferred here during my junior year, and it’s been a transformative experience,” she said while reflecting on her journey. “We are building a new team culture, and the camaraderie is inspiring.”


Lewis emphasized the power a strong sense of unity gives the team. “We’re playing more freely and supporting each other—building a culture of positivity,” she said. “Our mission is to go out there and have fun, be loud and boost each other’s morale.” The team’s synergy extends beyond the court, fostering a bond that has transcended the game.


Lewis’s optimism is palpable as the team prepares for an exhibition game against Oregon State. She expresses excitement for the upcoming Freshman Idol tradition, which promotes camaraderie and eases nerves before the competitive season. “It’ll help us connect and get ready,” Lewis said, underscoring the importance of shared experiences in fostering unity and resilience.


Fresh from a trip to the Oregon Zoo, the team planned another preseason bonding experience, but they had to bring a different set of skills to the party this time. They’re heading to Bend, Oregon, for a day of swimming and enjoying the sun, and then a night of the near decade-long team tradition dubbed Freshman Idol.


This tradition helps bring memories and joy to the players and coaches but also brings forward a team-unifying humility to magnify the importance of team sports of working together as one. Time will tell how this year’s team responds to this traditional annual right of passage.


Communication remains at the core of PSU’s strategy. “Using specific names for effective communication clears up confusion,” Lewis said. The team’s commitment to this principle has led to a more cohesive on-court performance, creating an environment where players can thrive individually and collectively.


As the PSU volleyball team emerges from preseason ready to shout their way to a championship, the collective journey that Friebel, Coach Seemann, and Lewis give us exemplifies that pursuit’s essence.


Friebel’s dedication to refining skills, Lewis’s emphasis on unity and leadership and Coach Seemann’s straightforward, strategic approach are vital components of the team’s trajectory.


With each player showcasing unique strengths, the PSU women’s volleyball team appears ready to leave its mark on the upcoming 2023 season. As the anticipation mounts and the first serve approaches, the echoes of their preseason efforts resound, setting the stage for an exhilarating journey filled with determination and triumph. Follow along their journey of heading to the championships!

Freshman Middle Blocker Naomi White practices her setting. Courtesy of Scott Larson