By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — This is Portland State’s first trip to the NCAA women’s tournament, and as a 15 seed, the Vikings are prohibitive underdogs against Texas A&M. But despite the bright lights of the tournament and some pretty long odds, a number of Portland State players will feel right at home tonight.
“It’s really exciting to be back playing in Seattle,” said junior guard Eryn Jones, who played at Meadowdale High School. “It feels like I’m in high school again. We played here for the state tournament. So I’m just excited to be home.”
Jones is one of eight players on the Vikings’ 13-player roster who hails from Washington, five of whom are from Western Washington. Included in that group is a pair of Snohomish County athletes: Jones, a starting guard, and Karley Lampman, a freshman guard from Snohomish.
Jones helped Meadowdale to a fifth-place finish as a senior, and a sixth-place finish the year before, playing a total of six games at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the site of tonight’s game.
“It’s awesome that we get to come back here,” said Jones, who averages 10.1 points for the Vikings, and is the team’s leading scorer over the past 11 games. “It brings back a ton of memories and it’s definitely a comforting feeling to play in a gym you’ve already played in. Growing up close to here, it’s fun to be back and to have friends and family be able to come.”
Portland State tied for fifth in the Big Sky Conference, but ended up a surprise tournament winner, so no one was really expecting to be rewarded with a first-round game so close to home. Yes the Vikings will have their hands full with the Aggies, the ninth-ranked team in the country, but at least they’ll be doing so in a familiar city and arena.
“I was so shocked,” Jones said. “I was blown away. I really though we’d be going somewhere else, not have a big crowd, parents wouldn’t get to see me. It’s going to be fun to have a lot of friends and family be able to see this big exciting thing happen to all of us.”
As a freshman, Lampman isn’t a regular in the rotation like Jones, but she’s just as excited to be so close to home.
“I love it,” she said. “When I found out our first-round game was in Seattle, I was pumped. Being from here, I have lots of friends and family that can come and watch and not have to travel far, so it’s exciting.”
Bulldogs playing underdog
Gonzaga may be a No. 7 seed playing 10th-seeded North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs feel like the favorite, and perhaps with good cause. Not only are the Bulldogs facing a perennial women’s hoops power in North Carolina, but they don’t even get recognized in their home state.
Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves was delayed getting to Friday’s press conference because he wasn’t wearing the proper wrist band, and staff members didn’t recognize him to let him in.
“So obviously we’re not all that well known,” he joked. “We’re going to do our best tomorrow to make it sure that gentleman knows who we are. It kind of puts you in your place.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.