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'Lo' shifts into drive after rough beginning

by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Junior guard Lariel Powell (left), from the Bay Area, has come to love Portland and her role with the Portland State womens basketball team.Lariel Powell is a survivor of sorts.

Of her freshman year at Portland State, in particular. Day after day, the rookie Viking basketball guard from the Bay Area had to go up in practice two years ago against established stars Courtney VanBrocklin and Eryn Jones.

“My first year was tough,” she says, “being on the losing team in practice, getting outscored every day, and getting yelled at by my coaches.

“I lost a lot of confidence, and for a while I was questioning my decision (to come to PSU) because it was hard for me to adjust to the Portland lifestyle.”

All things freshman must pass, though, and now the 5-8 junior is the Vikings’ starting off guard.

“I learned a lot about myself,” she says.

Powell’s first season wasn’t all bad — she played in 27 of 29 games, averaging 10 minutes, 2 points and 1.4 rebounds, and she made the Big Sky All-Academic team that winter.

She played 17.7 minutes per game last season, working her way more into the Vikings’ rotation.

And now, after being heralded mostly for her defense, “Lo” has the green light to go for more on the offensive end as well for the Viks, who are 1-0 in conference going into home games at 7 tonight against Idaho State and 2 p.m. Saturday versus Weber State.

Coach Sherri Murrell “wants me to attack the basket more and shoot more 3s, while staying aggressive on defense,” Powell says.

Offense was a challenge for the Vikings until last Sunday, when they ripped off season highs of 86 points and 50.0 percent field-goal shooting to win at Eastern Washington 86-74.

Senior guard Kate Lanz from Central Catholic had the fifth triple-double in PSU women’s history (22 points, 11 rebounds, career-high 10 assists), but even that game was a collective effort.

“Usually we have one star player and this year we really don’t — it’s kind of a better team dynamic, with different leading scorers every night,” Powell says. “This team has way better chemistry than any other year I’ve been here.”

Powell has started every game for the 3-7 Vikings and is averaging 29 minutes, 9.8 points, 3.2 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals.

Powell is shooting 40.0 percent from the field but is only 5 of 17 (29.4 percent) on 3-pointers.

“I feel most comfortable driving to the basket, definitely to the left, and I’m getting more comfortable with my 3s,” she says, critiquing herself. “My mid-range game is a little shaky.”

Powell also has grown to like Portland and PSU even more than when she chose to come here from Bishop O’Dowd High in Oakland, Calif.

“I love it,” she says. “I love the people; they are way nicer and more welcoming than the people in the Bay Area. The city is really pretty and clean, and everyone is so green and aware about their environment.”

Powell lives in a house near campus with teammates Emily Easom and Cynthia Arata, and other Vikings hang out there often.

“We watch movies, sometimes play cards, just hang out or play Wii,” Powell says.

She is a psychology major, minoring in criminal justice.

“I want to work in a detention center with delinquents, more as a mentor than a counselor,” she says.