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Local products helped steer Vikings to Big Sky crown

Kelli Valentine helped PSU win Big Sky tournament. (Jesse Tinsley)
Kelli Valentine helped PSU win Big Sky tournament. (Jesse Tinsley)

There was no magic when Portland State coach Charity Elliott recruited the Greater Spokane League a few years ago. She just sold a dream.

“They were looking to improve their program and it seemed like a great opportunity for me,” Shadle Park graduate Lexi Bishop said. “I really didn’t know much about the program.”

“When I was getting recruited, I realized it was a program on the rise and the coach did such a great job recruiting,” Mead graduate Kelli Valentine said.

Elliott didn’t stick around, heading to UC San Diego after their freshman year, but Bishop and Valentine helped make the dream come true. The Vikings are headed to the school’s first NCAA tournament after sweeping through the Big Sky Conference tournament at Eastern Washington last weekend.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bishop said. “You think you know what the feeling’s going to be like, but really it’s sort of unreal. It doesn’t feel like it’s happening yet. It’s super exciting.”

The Vikings (18-14) play in Seattle, where they’ll face second-seeded and ninth-ranked Texas A&M (25-7) at 5 p.m., just before the North Carolina-Gonzaga matchup at UW.

“I have absolutely no idea what to expect,” Bishop said. “It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

PSU’s run through the Big Sky tourney was a surprise as the fifth seed, but not a surprise considering the Vikings were favored coming into the season.

“I’m not sure if I can put my finger on what it was,” Bishop said. “All it came down to is everybody came into the tournament with a clean slate, another chance to prove who we were. I think that’s what we did.”


Idaho coach Jon Newlee was publicly reprimanded for violating the Western Athletic Conference sportsmanship code at the WAC tournament last week. During the postgame press conference Newlee “extensively” criticized the officiating in the Vandals’ 80-66 semifinal loss to Fresno State. The conference said any further violations could result in a minimum of a one-game suspension. … Gonzaga junior point guard Courtney Vandersloot is one of 22 finalist for the Wooden All-America team and Player of the Year, a first for the school. She is also a Region 8 nominee for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division I All-America team. The other Region 8 finalists are Jayne Appel and Nenkadi Ogwumike of Stanford and Alexis Gray-Lawson of California. Angie Bjorklund (U-Hi) of Tennessee is a Region 3 nominee. … Top-seeded UC Davis fell in the Big West title game to UC Riverside despite a career high 22-points from junior Heidi Heintz (Central Valley), who made the all-tournament team. Heintz, who hit 12 of 14 free throws in the title game, led the Big West in free-throw shooting at 85.4 percent. She was a second-team, all-conference selection. The Aggies (21-10) play at California tonight in the WNIT. … If Eastern Washington wins its WNIT game at Oregon on Thursday, the Eagles could play at New Mexico against Lobos backup guard Nikki Nelson (Chewelah). … WCC runner-up Saint Mary’s, with freshman Tifa Puletasi (Mead) is home Sunday against Utah in the WNIT.