Viking women proud but hurt after a WNIT snub

• Under coach Sherri

Everybody has been congratulating coach Sherri Murrell and Portland State players on their great season, but it hasn't meant much to them yet.

'Right now, we're all disappointed,' says Murrell, who guided the Viking women's basketball team to a 22-9 record in her first year.

The Viks lost a tough Big Sky Conference tournament semifinal to Montana and then got passed over for a Women's National Invitation Tournament bid.

The WNIT took Idaho State, the Big Sky's second-place team, which lost to PSU by 40 and 18 points, and Gonzaga, which fell to the Viks 75-72 in nonleague play.

'We all have a little hangover,' Murrell adds. 'It was a fun year. I'll feel good in a couple weeks, but …'

If anything, missing out on March Madness should help the young Vikings prepare for next season, Murrell says. Only one senior, Delaney Conway, departs, and Murrell has four freshmen coming in to complement the returning team led by point guard Claire Faucher, Kelsey Kahle and Kelli Valentine.

Murrell expects the Vikings to be picked second in the Big Sky next season, behind Montana.

'I really believe what happened to us, the sitting and waiting for somebody to tell us if we're going (to the WNIT) will help us,' she says. 'Their chest is at the (finish) tape, they're almost there, almost ready to cross to break into some serious success.

'We have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle to have success, I really believe. Barring injuries that would hurt a team, we have the ability and the experience (to win the Big Sky). I don't believe this year's success will get to the kids' heads. These are quality kids, and smart.'

The Viks suffered only two double-digit losses - 14 to Montana, 18 to WNIT-bound UC Davis - and they also beat NCAA-bound UC Santa Barbara in the preseason.

'There were a lot of highs,' Murrell says.

Sophomore Faucher set the Big Sky record with 274 assists and leads the country at just under nine per game. In her last three games, she had two triple-doubles and then 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the great 94-80 battle with Montana. She averaged 13.9 points.

'I can't even describe what she meant to us,' Murrell says. 'What a gamer.'

The offense ran through her, and less through Kahle, who faced more double teams and still averaged 14.9 points and shot .528. That allowed others to step up, including Valentine, who, along with Kelly Marchant and Lexi Bishop, played about 20 minutes per game as freshmen.

The four incoming freshmen are point guard Eryn Jones of Meadowdale, Wash., guard/forward Stephanie Egwuatu of Auburn, Wash., post Katy Wade of Central Catholic and post Kimberly Van Dyke of McMinnville High.

'Eryn Jones was one of the best point guards in Washington, and she can play the off-guard position, too,' Murrell says.

• Lincoln High's Omar Leary and Oklahoma (22-11) are the No. 6 seeds in the NCAA Tournament East Regional. They play No. 11 St. Joseph's (21-12) today.

Leary has played in all 33 games, averaging 16.1 minutes and 4.0 points. He's been coming off the bench since the preseason.

If the Sooners win, they get the Boise State-Louisville winner. Boise State (25-8) made the tourney behind coach Greg Graham, the former Duck teammate and assistant of UO coach Kent. The two met in Eugene as freshmen and they have remained friends since then. 'I'm so happy for him,' Kent says. 'He's turned the corner with that program and is breaking records.'

• Warner Pacific's Scott O'Gallagher made the NAIA Division II All-American first team for the second consecutive year. Oregon Tech's Ryan Fiegi was named NAIA D-II player of the year. He guided the Hustlin' Owls to the national title, as OIT beat Bellevue (Neb.) 63-56 in Monday's final.

O'Gallagher, 6-1 and from Gresham High, led the Cascade Conference in scoring for the second year in a row (23.9 points), while shooting .544 from the field and .890 from the free-throw line with 85 more attempts than the next best guy.

-Jason Vondersmith